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A story published in the TimesLedger last week said rumors about the future of the Aqueduct Race Track may in fact turn out to be true, that the worlds fastest sport, stock car racing, might find a home in Queens.
NASCAR reportedly is interested in the Queens raceway if the facility, owned by the New York Racing Association, ceases all gambling operations.
What a gas, no pun intended.
Just last week I wrote a column calling for a new stadium in Queens to lure the New York Jets back to the borough, and out comes this story about stock car racing. It seems everyone wants into the borough except my favorite football team.
But hey, why not?
I will not attest to being the biggest NASCAR fan, but I do admit I get a kick out of it every now and again. And now for the crashes, which everyone likes to point to. Stock car racing is a legitimate sport and certainly something that could make good use of an otherwise ailing facility well past its prime.
Aqueduct, located just north of the Belt Parkway in South Ozone Park, is one of two horse race tracks in Queens, sort of. The more well-known Belmont Race Track is technically located just across the Cross Island Parkway in Nassau County, but thats just nit-picking. Its as close to Queens as Aqueduct is to Howard Beach, which is to say, walking distance.
Belmont also hosts one leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. Aqueduct hosts its share of horse races and is open from January through March and late October through early December. State officials, however, announced earlier this year that 4,500 video lottery terminals aka slot machines were to be installed at Aqueduct. An NYRA spokesman also said the track would likely double the number of hours it is open and start offering late-night, year-round horse race simulcasts.
The race track held its first race Sept. 14, 1959 and is the second track to bear the name. The first Aqueduct was located on almost exactly the same site before being demolished in the 1950s.
I attended an event at Aqueduct not too long ago, a boxing card held by a local promoter. The facility seemed like it was ripped out of another era, like something from an old movie. If you have never been to a race track before, try imagining one and you probably have a good handle on what Aqueduct is like.
Besides, with the amount of horse racing or lack thereof that goes on at either Aqueduct or Belmont, one facility could shoulder the burden of both. The NYRA could easily sell off one of the sites Aqueduct, in this case while barely losing stride. It would probably not only save the organization money in its annual budget but make money on top of it. (Having taken a peek at the local real estate market, anyone selling that kind of property would be hard-pressed not to make money on the deal.)
Of course, the state could just keep the land, raze most of the current structures, build a new facility probably at taxpayer expense and get NASCAR or some other organization to pay outrageous rent. Thats probably how it would end up, with our taxes going up.
It certainly would be different. I wouldnt necessarily want to live next door on race day, but the current race track has plenty of parking and plenty of land. All it would take to reconfigure the facility for car racing would be a little planning and reconstruction, all of which could be done relatively quickly.
A track built for cars would not be in perpetual use, so I dont think quality-of-life issues would be a concern. The major beef would probably be noise, but with John F. Kennedy International Airport less than a mile away, everyone is probably used to a little engine noise, anyway.
Then again, this is NASCAR. Would an event held in New York City generate the kind of buzz needed to make it a success? I would bet on it. The great thing about stock car racing is a spectator doesnt have to be a brain surgeon to figure out whats going on. Unlike football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer, car racing is a pretty simple sport first one to the finish line wins.
NASCAR is also incredibly popular. With national television audiences tuning in every week, the sport is primed to expand farther out of its home in the south. The stereotypical NASCAR fan is a beer-swigging hillbilly with three teeth, a huge belly and no shirt in sight. That isnt exactly how Id describe my fellow New Yorkers, but judging by how people drive on the Jackie Robinson Parkway, NASCAR would be a perfect fit.
I am all for the idea. I think a NASCAR race inside the boundaries of the five boroughs would be a huge event and one that would only serve the city and NASCAR, but this is far from a done deal.
According to Councilman Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), such a move could only go forward with the support of the community, but if there has been any conversation, it has only been as an idea.
But at least its a good idea and one worth looking at.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2003 Community Newspaper Group
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