Where NASCAR Failed, Formula E Prevailed
by John Chuhran and Warren Rosenberg, MetroSports Magazine
July 17, 2019
Above: 2019 FIA Formula E series champion, Jean-Eric Vergne with the Championship Trophy. Photo Credit FIA Media
It isn't widely known, but New York City has a long history of automobile racing.
The second race ever staged in the nation was the 1896 Cosmopolitan Race (sponsored by Cosmopolitan Magazine) that began in the Bronx and ended at Irvington, the Westchester town located some 30 miles north along the Hudson River.
Over the next century, more than three dozen venues in the Big Apple and the surrounding area hosted auto races, but that practice gradually faded away as industrial and residential development in the tri-state area left little space for a racing facility. It seemed that the last race within the New York City limits would be nothing more than the answer to a trivia question; it was a three-quarter midget race held at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
But racing fans in the area took notice in May 2004, when NASCAR attempted to end that drought by announcing plans to build an 82,000-seat, 3/4-mile paved oval in Staten Island. The track would have bordered a stretch of waterfront on the Arthur Kill, and it would have provided spectators with a scenic overlook of the industrial oil tanks and smokestacks of Linden, New Jersey.
Despite the less than glamorous vista, the folks from NASCAR pushed ahead with their plans, but community resistance, excessive expectations of financial contributions, transportation challenges for spectators, and environmental concerns all combined to destroy the financial viability of the project. NASCAR abandoned its plans less than two years later.
Just over a decade after NASCAR’s failed attempt to bring professional racing back to NYC, entrepreneur Alejandro Agag entered the picture as he attempted to start an international series for electric race cars, Formula E. Waiting until his series had established its image and formalized its technical specifications, Agag and his team approached the New York City government about staging a race in the City That Never Sleeps.
Above: Formula E race cars navigating turn 10 at the 2017 NYC ePrix. Photo Credit Warren Rosenberg
The Formula E team had something that NASCAR did not: an urban-friendly product. The Formula E concept is based around bringing racing to the people on temporary tracks located in major cities around the world. With no emissions and minimal noise, the Formula E cars were exactly the type of motorsports that city dwellers and politicians could embrace.
All parties worked hard to find the right location and together it was decided to set up a temporary track in the vast parking area for the Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal adjacent to the East River. It was a site that provided a backdrop that TV producers can usually only dream about -- a stunning view of the southern tip of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
Above: HWA Racelab's Stoffel Vandoorne locking the brakes on entry to turn 10. Photo Credit Warren Rosenberg
In mid-July, the NY City E-Prix was staged for the third time. Each year, the race has gotten a little bigger in terms of spectator attendance and sponsor support. This year was the first utilizing a second generation race car that is giving Formula E a unique identity.
In addition to the two races of the NY City E-Prix, this year’s race weekend featured NYC’s first look at the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy racing series featuring modified street-legal passenger sports cars. With forward-looking green technology vehicles, high-level fan involvement in race-associated gaming activities, and the NYC skyline and lady Liberty as a backdrop, the FIA seems to have found a winning formula.
Above: Jaguar I-PACE eTrophy series driver, Katherine Legge, experiencing NYC's bumper-to-bumper traffic. Photo Credit Warren Rosenberg
And how was the actual competition? Find out with full event coverage in an upcoming issue of MetroSports Magazine.