- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

D.C. council members and critics have made Bobby Goldwater out to be Al Capone in the controversy over the Cadillac Grand Prix.
What they should do is appoint him mayor.
In a town where nothing ever seems to get done right, Goldwater, the executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, pulled off an impressive feat. He had a race track built in three months in the parking lot of RFK Stadium and this weekend successfully staged probably the most un-Washington-like sporting event this city has ever seen.
RFK neighbors may not have liked the races and the noise that came with them, but a lot of other people did winning driver David Brabham said organizers did "a fantastic job" based on the crowds that came to watch. And it was an interesting crowd not a NASCAR, redneck contingent, but a real mixture of people, economically and racially. Close to 70,000 people attended over the three days of racing which ended yesterday.
"We felt good about the concept of this event," said Goldwater, who hoped to bring in about 50,000 fans (race organizers estimated they drew about 40,000 fans yesterday alone) for the inaugural Grand Prix. "To have it go this smoothly and exceed expectations is gratifying."
If the District really has any hopes of hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics, it has to show the sports and marketing world that it can do something right, particularly an event put together under tremendous logistic and time constraints. That's even more important after the embarrassment of losing the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight to Memphis.
Now, this three-day racing event is something the city can put on its resume. Instead, some leaders seem more interested in subpoenas than success. (I wouldn't worry about any long-term contracts signed with race officials, though. If there are city documents, there's a good chance Ted Williams' or Marilyn Monroe's signatures are on those papers, especially if they went through the mayor's office.)
Maybe if the sports commission had invited Tyson to drive in the race, people wouldn't be so angry about it.
They didn't bring Tyson in, but they did invite a genuine American icon to be part of the event. Anything that brings Robbie Knievel to Washington is OK with me.
Like the Grand Prix, Robbie Knievel is as un-Washington as you can get. He is part of that tradition of traveling carny acts that play in places like Tacoma and Toledo. Granted, he is a Knievel and as a member of the Royal Family of American Extreme he plays on the biggest stages, such as Las Vegas.
Before the start of yesterday's racing, Knievel took his motorcycle high over 25 American flags placed on temporary flagpoles. He jumped them literally in a blaze of glory, surrounded by pyrotechnics. He was looking forward to his first jump in Washington, and wanted it to have a patriotic theme. At first he sought to jump over tanks, but the Defense Department wasn't keen on that idea, so flags had to do.
The excitement built up as he played around with the ramps, adjusting them as he prepared for the jump. What the excitement was building to, though, is not always clear. Do people want to see him make the jump or miss? It's the old argument about race car fans drawn to the sport for crashes, and is also present in the whole emerging extreme sports culture. Kids buy videos of skateboarders and other extreme sports athletes to see them wipe out as much as they do to see them succeed.
Knievel disappointed somebody out there yesterday, I'm sure, as he effortlessly made the jump, with all of his broken bones intact. "I should have been dead a long time ago," Knievel said. "I'm just happy to be alive."
He has the reputation as a crazy man, which is what you would expect from someone who jumped over the fountains outside of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a speeding train, and the Grand Canyon. However, he just turned 40, and says he has gained the wisdom that comes with cheating death for a living. That's what you get when you have lived longer than you ever bargained for.
"I think I will be even better in my 40s," he said. "I'm more on top of things now."
Knievel, of course, is the offspring of one of the icons of the 1970s, Evel Knievel (still alive, stitched and patched together and living in Butte, Mont.). Evel once captivated a nation with his motorcycle jumps that eventually made their way onto "ABC's Wide World of Sports." He jumped over buses, the fountain at Caesars (crashing spectacularly in the process, which put him in a coma for 28 days. Twenty years later Robbie successfully made the same jump) and his fizzled rocket launch over the Snake River Canyon.
If you trace the evolution of the extreme sports craze, the family tree goes back to Evel Knievel. Robbie followed in his father's tire tracks, and he appreciates the style and attitude of this new generation of daredevils that have fine-tuned and legitimized a lifestyle that made Evel and Robbie Knievel once seem like outlaws. "I think what those kids are doing is excellent, that stuff you see in the X-Games," Robbie said. "But I think I still got them beat on distance, though."
Robbie is in the thrill business, and, surprise, surprise, that goes over pretty well in Washington. There were people who stood and watched as his crew loaded his motorcycles into a van. There were many others who got their thrills by watching Audis, Panozs and Corvettes race around the track at more than 90 mph.
Bobby Goldwater was in the thrill business this weekend as well. He did something far tougher than a 180-foot jump. He engineered a successful, world-class sporting event, the like of which had never been seen around here before.


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