- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Washington finally has figured out a way to move cars rapidly through town.
Well, sort of.
The city's Sports & Entertainment Commission yesterday announced a 10-year deal with the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) racing circuit to hold Grand Prix auto racing each July on the grounds of RFK Stadium. The newly created National Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., will be held July 21, 2002, and then each year through 2011 on a 1.7-mile temporary road course along the north parking lots of the stadium.
The international race, which will include four types of cars comprising both open- and closed-cockpit designs, represents the first major auto racing to hit the area in many years and will be televised on NBC. The three-hour race will be preceded by two days of events that will include a celebrity race, a fan festival and qualifying races.
"There have been a lot of famous sayings uttered here in Washington, but never 'gentlemen, start your engines,' " D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams said. "That's about to change."
The event is the result of more than two years of on-and-off negotiations between the commission and ALMS, a circuit created in 1999 to build upon the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race. After current commission president Bobby Goldwater started the job last November, he negotiated with both ALMS and the larger Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit to hold a Washington-based race.
Both outfits initially wanted a true road course that would send the drivers throughout downtown, similar to CART's popular road event in Long Beach, Calif. That option, however, likely would have required blocking some streets for several weeks, a near impossibility given the needs of the federal government. ALMS then showed a willingness to remain on RFK property, and a deal was struck about two weeks ago.
"It's not inconceivable that something might ultimately happen with CART, but a road course does open up a number of additional complexities," Goldwater said.
Washington is clearly a neophyte in playing host to auto racing. But Goldwater and his staff are already consulting with engineers on crowd control, safety, repaving the parking lots with racing-friendly materials and building a course that will reduce some of the noise into the adjacent Ward 7 neighborhoods.
City and ALMS officials are expecting as many as 75,000 for the race and anticipate a $350 million economic impact for Washington over the life of the deal.
"This is really the confluence of mutual needs," said Christopher Lencheski, chairman of National Grand Prix Holdings, which is organizing the event for ALMS. "We were looking to hold an event in the nation's capital, which we think is a real up-and-coming market for racing, and the city was really looking for economic development through sports."

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