Donning a fire suit and full face helmet does something to your state of mind. Do it at City Hall, where you've just swapped drivers in an actual pit lane, and the effect is astronautical. Government Center isn't the moon, but for four hours, with Cambridge Street walled off so two dozen go-karts could skid and slam into each other, this was alien territory.
That's what I felt like three years ago. Two Saturdays from now, the 5th Boston PAL Grand Prix will close part of Seaport Boulevard so racers can duke it out near the Moakley courthouse, without fearing any reprisal from police. The event, sponsored and led in part by F1 Boston owner RJ Valentine, supports the Boston Police Athletic League, which organizes sports teams and after-school programs for city kids. But really, it's here so Mayor Menino (and whomever succeeds him) can get comfortable with street circuit racing and one day, invite national race teams with full-size cars to blow through our beautiful downtown.
After donning a fire suit at the Baltimore Grand Prix over Labor Day Weekend, I'm convinced Boston needs to host its own race. We've got the Marathon and the Santa Speedo run -- there's no shortage of foot-friendly rallies all year long -- but no race where a Corvette blitzes past the Commons at 100 mph. Granted, the American Le Mans Series and IndyCar are not charitable organizations, but then again, none of Boston's professional sports teams are. Hearing and seeing a field of race cars up close, where you usually walk the dog or booze with friends, brings the city into a brand new light. Just as if you were a visiting alien.
I may like the scent of unburnt gasoline more than most, but if managed properly, a Grand Prix lets everyone win. Hotels and other retail businesses see a surge in sales, kids and families have fun, and the Mayor's dream to see big-time national groups book the mostly vacant seaport convention center could actually come true.
Here's my proposed route, with limited rendering from Google Maps.
The sharp left-hand turn leading onto Storrow Drive (not shown well above) could be the course's most challenging corner, and we can't leave Cambridge Street out of the loop, since go karts have already raced so successfully there. As an alternative, race cars could roar up Atlantic Avenue past South Station and then make a nice, long loop around Commercial Street in the North End, jump over Haymarket and swing back around City Hall. Or we could have them floor it down Seaport Boulevard. But I'm more convinced that the Commons and the Public Gardens represent the core of the downtown -- not to mention the ability to throw up nice grandstands along Arlington and Boylston Streets.
There are always problems with street races, namely the traffic problems that Boston already faces when there aren't barricades and closures. But for a city that's outlasted the Big Dig detours for nearly two decades, what's a few days?
Sure, it'll cost the city money. More overtime pay for police and fire fighters, more security hassles, countless DOT studies on how the streets could be further ruined and crotchety Bostonians bitching about their cars being towed and the buzzing engines ricocheting off the rooftops. Baltimore has hosted a Grand Prix since 2011, and already the Sun's editorial board is berating Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake if it's "worth it" over most of these exact points.
And I get it. Neighbors surrounding the beautiful Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., force the track to limit its days with noise regulations, and the folks in Monticello, N.Y., are no more receptive to a race track in their own backyards. Taxpayers in Austin, Texas, had to foot a $25 million bill for the city's first-ever Formula One race last year, and will have to do so every year now that the brand-new Circuit of the Americas is up and running. Racing is a money game. But so are colleges, and while everyone complains about dumb kids trashing neighborhoods and urinating in public, we all like taking their money. We deal with the hassles because the good triumphs.
But for a Boston Grand Prix, the total hassle would be a month, tops -- setup, cleanup, all of it. Baltimore just did it and did it very well. The city's gorgeous Inner Harbor and the brick-lined Oriole Park was the perfect backdrop for a street race. To my eyes, it couldn't have been a better opportunity to attract visitors and let citizens, race fans or not, enjoy the city like it was their first time.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee