- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 20, 2002

Neighborhood frustration over the new racetrack at RFK Stadium climaxed yesterday as the opening of the inaugural Cadillac Grand Prix brought deafeningly loud cars to within 50 feet of homes in the Northeast neighborhood of Kingman Park.
Sound barriers, which race officials had promised would be up in time for the first race, were only 75 percent installed when the first cars took the track at 9 a.m., and residents questioned their efficacy once they were fully in place about noon.
The sound of the cars, which reach speeds of more than 150 mph, reached a roar each time the cars made their way around the track and onto a straightaway parallel to Oklahoma Avenue NE. Residents' gripes primarily targeted Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a big supporter of the races, which run through Sunday.
"This is blatant disrespect on the mayor's part. Our neighborhood might not be as high-income as the other side of town, but that doesn't mean you can ignore us," said Vince Jackson, an Oklahoma Avenue resident.
Residents and D.C. Council members have criticized the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission for not properly engaging the community in its plans for the race. Complaints have ranged from concerns about parking and air pollution to escalating construction costs.
Yesterday, the primary concern was the noise.
"My 84-year-old mother can't even hear her TV. This is ridiculous," Mr. Jackson said.
From the second floor of Mr. Jackson's apartment, the sound barriers seemed insignificant. Windows stayed closed, and sturdy walls vibrated as the cars rounded turns four and five.
"I work nights, but there's no way I can sleep today with this," Mr. Jackson said.
All along Oklahoma Avenue, residents were grumbling.
One resident tried unsuccessfully to battle the noise by banging out a drum riff from an open second-floor window. In the end, engine beat man, as the roar of the cars at their closest easily drowned out the music.
Eerie moments of silence set in between races and during the racers' hourlong lunch break.
Mr. Williams defended the track earlier this week, saying the benefits far exceed the costs to the city. A 10-year contract between the city and race promoters is estimated to provide a $350 million boost to the city.
Mr. Williams has said the project is also seen as an important part of the District's bid for the 2012 Olympics.
Yesterday afternoon, sports commission officials worked to calm residents' anger, offering accommodations away from the track and promoting the availability of free race passes for those affected by the noise. The commission provided a phone number residents could call for more information: 202/608-1130.
But even with Mr. Williams' assurances and the sports commission's offer, it appeared the mayor was in danger of losing votes over the track.
"I voted for Williams last time, but I'm not going to this time," Mr. Jackson said. "I never voted for Marion Barry, but now I'd think about it. He'd respect the neighborhood."
"Ask Anthony Williams why he didn't build the track in his back yard," said John Jones, who was working on a car on Oklahoma Avenue and shouting over the race's roar.
Wanda Pope, another Kingman Park resident, said that although the sports commission may have been directly responsible for the imposition yesterday, blame fell on the mayor.
"This was a secret to us, but it wasn't a secret to him," Miss Pope said of plans for the 1.7-mile track. "And it's not rocket science that you don't build a racetrack in a residential neighborhood."
Many residents said that despite the ticket offer, they had little interest in attending an event that was shattering the silence.
Inside the track, several thousand spectators attended the first day of racing watching one qualifying race and a dozen practice rounds, including the dry run for a celebrity race scheduled for today that will include actor William Shatner, rapper Coolio, and the star from the sitcom "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," Melissa Joan Hart.
Those attending said they enjoyed the event but that they hoped their enjoyment didn't come at the expense of those who live nearby.
John and Suzie Kyle, who described themselves as die-hard NASCAR fans from North Carolina, said they had spoken with residents on their way into the track.
"It sure sounded like [the city] could have communicated better with them," Mr. Kyle said. "I hope they work out their problems with the neighbors."
One spectator said that although he was sympathetic to the concerns being voiced outside the track, his mind was on different matters. Jerry Eastridge is director of planning with the Alpha Corp., a firm that oversaw construction of the track. He said he was proud to see so many people's work come to fruition.
Showing off the track yesterday, he couldn't hide his happiness. As a car screeched around turn three, Mr. Eastridge said, "That's my pavement."
The three-day Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., is the first major auto-racing event in the metropolitan area in more than 80 years. The races will feature 200 Formula-1 cars in races from four sanctioning bodies: American LeMans, Trans-Am, World Challenge and Star Mazda.

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