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History of the Cadillac Grand Prix

Possibly the American Lemans finest two-hour, 45-minute sports car endurance race took place during the innaugural Cadillac Grand Prix. . The 'Spirit of America' duo Jan Magnussen and David Brabham overcame the fierce challenge of the factory Audi team to record a stunning victory in a race where the gap between the top three cars rarely exceeded five seconds. The Cadillac Grand Prix, marked the first major automobile racing weekend ever held in the District in over 80 years.

The Cadillac Grand Prix received intense local and national media coverage comperable to when the Washington Redskins were Superbowl contenders . The Washington and Baltimore media gave the event a tremendous amount of coverage, both in advance and during, including in print, radio and television outlets. National media outlets such as Associated Press and USA Today increased the coverage normally given to the ALMS. The race was shown live on NBC Sports, and Saturday's companion Trans-Am Series event was live on CBS.

According to the event organizer, a weekend crowd of 70,000 attended, with nearly all available tickets sold for Sunday's American Le Mans Series event. Legions of excited fans from accross the country boosted tourism dollars to the District's economy.

A Grand Idea

National Grand Prix Holdings (NGPH), LLC, a Delaware Limited liability Company was founded in 1999 by Syracuse University graduate, Christopher Lencheski to develop and execute the National Grand Prix of Washington, D.C. - A three day Motorsports event festival featuring an internationally sanctioned racing event in the District of Columbia. Mr. Lencheski is also the chief operating officer of Innovative Motorsports, Inc. Innovative Motorsports, founded in 1998 and headquartered near Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., is part of a triad of companies controlled by George deBidart and Chris Lencheski, including sports and entertainment agency The Source International (TSI), and National Grand Prix Holdings, LLC.

On June 1, 2000 The American Le Mans Series working with the National Grand Prix Holdings began negotiation disclosing a Memorandum of Understanding with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to hold a sports car endurance race on a temporary racing circuit in the capital city of the United States.

"We have a very strong interest in holding a race in Washington," said Don Panoz, founder of the American Le Mans Series. "The strong international flavor of our series would be a very good fit in the nation's capital, and our racing teams have already demonstrated their outstanding abilities on any kind of racing circuit. We feel that this would be a sporting event for everyone in the Washington area to enjoy."

Panoz founded the American Le Mans Series in 1999 after forging a history-making agreement with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizer of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. The series was designed to bring smaller versions of the world's most famous endurance race to venues in North America, as well as other parts of the world, in a series of events that would determine an overall champion.

On August 9, 2001 the National Grand Prix Holdings formed an agreement with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission to hold its an International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) sanctioned Grand Prix race at RFK Stadium for the next 10 years. The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, an independent agency of the District of Columbia government, is responsible for the management and operation of RFK Stadium, the D.C. Armory and its adjacent facilities and for presenting and promoting sports, entertainment and special events in the District. The races economic impact to the city is expected to be approximateley $350 million. The American Le Mans Series was founded by entrepreneur Don Panoz in 1999 and is based on the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans; the world's most famous endurance race.

"Professional racing showcases some of the world's greatest cities: Melbourne, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Montreal. I'm proud that Washington, D.C. is a member of that group," commented Mayor Anthony A. Williams. "With our world-class hotels, restaurants, transportation, shopping, entertainment and cultural attractions, we're the ideal city for racing enthusiasts - and their families - to spend the weekend."

"This is a tremendous development for the American Le Mans Series and for motorsports in general, said Scott Atherton, president and COO Panoz Motor Sports Group, which includes the American Le Mans Series. "This event will showcase our series and motorsports to the world from our nation's capital. Washington, DC, joins an elite group of cities from around the world in hosting this type of racing and we are grateful to those who have made this become a reality."

Neighborhood Dismay

On September 5 neighborhood residents shared serious concerns regarding safety, the environment, cost, and the livability of the neighborhood during the event. No environmental authority -- not COG, nor the DC Department of Health's Office of Environmental Health, not the Mayor's Special Assistant for Environmental Issues, was consulted prior to the August 9 press conference, although planning for the project began in 1999. July according to the Council of Governments (COG), is the worst month for air quality in the metropolitan region, with the most code-red health advisories because of high ozone levels. (On code-red days, COG discourages all daytime driving and refueling.

George Gurley, who was president of the River Terrace Community Organization last summer, said he "found out through the grapevine" about the planned auto races. Gurley lives in River Terrace, which sits across the Anacostia River from the stadium grounds. He said his neighborhood "will be directly impacted by this," yet the mayor and the sports commission "never told anybody" before announcing the contact.

"We are totally against this," he said.

Kingman Park Civic Association President Frazier Walton said he was approached by representatives of the Grand Prix event to attend what he called "an opening." Walton said he declined the offer, because it seemed to him that the representatives were announcing the event without getting input from his neighborhood, which is adjacent to the stadium grounds.

"It’s not even negotiable with us. It’s just out of the question," Walton said.

Area residents such as Gurley already refer to their neighborhoods as the "death zone" because of existing environmental hazards. They are concerned with the carbon monoxide fumes the race cars will emit, that the race will attract large amounts of traffic to their neighborhoods, and that the sewage-polluted Anacostia River may be damaged further.

While the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, has not yet taken an official stance on the race, club activist Julie Eisenhart said she is concerned about the environmental ramifications. Eisenhart’s role in the Sierra Club is to support community campaigns, which sometimes obtain the organization’s backing.

"They’re building a grease pit next to the Anacostia River," Eisenhart said.

Race cars, she said, pollute more than other cars. They’re "designed to create large amounts of pollution to go faster," she said. She also said the cars use a higher octane fuel that is "more flammable and more dangerous."

Kathy Etemad, a spokeswoman for Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, acknowledged hearing of complaints from neighboring residents, but added that these are "premature" and "based on a lack of information."

Sports commission President Bobby Goldwater said he is "excited" because he believes the event will improve the environment. He said the race will actually decrease traffic in the area because Parking Lots 6 and 7 will be used for the racetrack, rather than parking, and the sponsors will be "shuttling people in."

There will also be "long-overdue improvements on the parking lot" as the potholes are filled in, Goldwater said. He said that this "environmental improvement" will ensure the lots are "better maintained [for the] flea markets and farmers’ market" throughout the year.

Prior to coming to the Nation's Capital, Bobby Goldwater spent his entire career at the two most prestigious addresses in the business. He served 24 years at Madison Square Garden in New York City in a number of executive positions before leaving in 1998 for STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, first as Senior Vice President and General Manager and later as Senior Vice President, New Business.

Designing a Grand Prix Race Track

On October 9 Veteran race track designer, Lance Shafer began planning a temporary seven-turn racing circuit of 1.661 miles in length constructed in the massive parking lots of RFK Stadium, former home of both the Washington Redskins (NFL) and Washington Senators (Major League Baseball) and current home of DC United (Major League Soccer).

“This track design will be very exciting for drivers and fans,” said Lance Shafer. “We will have a number of passing areas where drivers will have an adequate amount of room to overtake other cars. We are also going to make sure that fans will have the best site lines possible.”

Putting it All Together

On November 11 -- National Grand Prix Holdings opened opened an office at RFK Stadium at the site of the event.

In December, outside lawyers for the commission examined the law on whether an environmental impact statement is required for the race and concluded that a grand prix held three days a year for the next decade did not meet the legal requirements for preparing an environmental impact statement.

On Dec. 12, 2002 National Grand Prix Holdings, LLC, announced Safety-Kleen as the official environmental partner of the National Grand Prix of Washington D.C. The partnership with Safety-Kleen will ensure the highest standard of environmental safety and protection for the July 2002 race.

The Columbia, S.C.-based company is known as North America's premier environmental services company. Safety-Kleen works with all major racing circuits such as NASCAR, IRL and CART and has contracts with more than 60 tracks and 80 race teams. Through their 400,000 nationwide customers in various disciplines including, aerospace, hospitals and healthcare, local and national government agencies among others, Safety-Kleen collects approximately 250 million gallons of used oil annually, and produces over 80 million gallons of re-refined base lube oil.

`'We are excited to work with the National Grand Prix to provide the best environmental protection possible,'' said Drew Patey, Safety-Kleen Motorsports Manager. "We have conducted studies that show grounds where a race is run are actually cleaner than a parking lot full of cars for a traditional event.''

January 3, 2001 - National Grand Prix Holdings, LLC today announced two additional corporate partners: Cinemagic Corporation, a leading interactive web design company in the entertainment and sports industries, will develop the official web site with exclusive multi-media content. The Source International (TSI), a leading sports marketing and licensing company, will act as global master licensor for the race and related merchandising and licensing initiatives; TSI will also develop and administer significant administrative operational responsibilities.

National Broadcast Event

On January 22, 2002 The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission and National Grand Prix Holdings announced that both NBC and CBS networks will air live coverage of the National Grand Prix in Washington, D.C. The National Grand Prix will be the only Grand Prix in the United States with live racing coverage on two major networks.

This news comes after the Trans-Am Series announced that its July 20, 2002 race will be broadcast live on CBS. NBC had already announced its intentions to broadcast the American Le Mans Series race on July 21, 2002.

"These live broadcasts will not only provide positive visibility for Washington, D.C, but will also significantly increase awareness of the National Grand Prix," said Chris Lencheski, founder and chairman of the board, National Grand Prix Holdings. "We are very excited to have this level of support from the networks in our first year of racing in our nation’s capital."

Getting Sponsors

"One of the great benefits of bringing an event of this magnitude to the nation’s capital is the visibility it creates, in large part through television coverage," said Bobby Goldwater, president, D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. "We are delighted that these two networks which are known for outstanding auto racing production will be here."

February 8, 2002 ­ National Grand Prix Holdings, LLC today announced Accelics, Inc. as the first major corporate sponsor for the 2002 National Grand Prix auto race to be held in Washington in July.

Accelics develops, markets and applies knowledge creation software solutions to dramatically improve the performance ofpharmaceutical and chemical R&D organizations. The Research and Development Enterprise Management solution­REM^Á System ­ created by Accelics, enables R&D scientists and managers to accelerate the innovation process. The experimental design system (patent pending) is the heart of the REM architecture that also includes knowledge creation and management tools, modeling and simulation applications, plus data management and automation modules.

On February 5, 2002 the National Grand Prix officially kicked off ticket sales when Chris Lencheski, founder and chairman of National Grand Prix Holdings presented Harold Brazil, Washington, D.C. City Council Member and Chairman of Economic Development, the first official ticket to the July 2002 event. The event will offer numerous events to the neighborhood and residents in the RFK area and improve facilities adjacent to the Anacostia River.

Cadillac Grand Prix

On April 11, 2002 – Cadillac agreed to sign on as the title sponsor of the July 2002 auto-racing event. As part of the sponsorship agreement, the race would now be known as "The Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C."

“We are especially pleased to be a part of bringing the most competitive in international endurance racing to the nation’s capital,” said Mark R. LaNeve, Cadillac general manager.

"We are honored to have Cadillac as the title sponsor of this race,” said George deBidart, co-founder, National Grand Prix Holdings. “Cadillac has a rich and proud history in the automotive industry, and they are a perfect fit for this event."

Building the Track

On Thursday, May 16 Cadillac Grand Prix organizers contracted Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) flag marshals in the Washington DC Region to provide assistance and inspect the race track. The SCCA flag marshals reported over 80% of the total site had been paved. Concrete trucks were rolling in and jersey safety wall baracades were poured continuously on both sides of the track, as opposed to the natural-terrain road courses on which the series normally runs. Two cross track “mirror” stations were created in order to have flags where the drivers can see them and other workers where there is downstream visibility for each station.

''The race will come down to a strategy of staying off the walls,'' Biela later commented. The GTS class drivers saw the walls an opportunity.

''Some of my biggest success has been on street circuits in Europe,'' Maassen said. ''For a street circuit, this is wide and very good. The braking for turn 1 will be very exciting.''

"There is plenty of concrete barriers and protection to ensure that all vehicles stay inside of the course’s perimeters," Goldwater said. "This is standard for any auto racing event."

Grand Prix organizers created a sound-dampening fence wall as a cutting-edge measure and said they hoped it would ease nearby residents' concerns about the noise generated by cars speeding within 50 yards of neighborhood homes.

Golden Dollar is the Official Coin

May 17, 2002 The United States Mint today announced that the Golden Dollar will be the “Official Coin” of the Cadillac Grand Prix auto race, which will be held on the grounds of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., from July 19 to 21. Four sanctioning bodies will participate in this first major auto-racing event in the D.C. metropolitan area in more than 80 years. The Parade Car will feature the Golden Dollar, and Golden Dollars will be distributed through concessionaires. Golden Dollars also will be dispensed at a number of racetracks across the country in 2002.

“This is truly an all-American agreement, which assures the Golden Dollar and the 50 State Quarters high visibility with devotees of two of America’s most popular pastimes,” said United States Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore. “This means sustained awareness before a combined audience of more than 139 million Americans collecting the state quarters and more than 72 million NASCAR fans nationwide.”

Disclosure Obstacle

On May 27, Terrance Lynch, an activist who is executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, has called on the D.C. Council to hold oversight hearings on how the The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission handles such events as the grand prix. He said that the commission has a "civic duty" to provide financial data.

"The commission could be giving away the store, and we would not know it because it is stonewalling the public. At this point, the public has no idea about how much we are spending to benefit private promoters, the commission or other special interests," he said.

Robert D. Goldwater, the commission's president and executive director, said those details will not be made public because the commission considers the information proprietary. The only cost he has revealed is that of building the temporary 1.7-mile racecourse: $3 million, which will be split with the grand prix organizers.

"The policy we had is the policy we are following: We are not releasing financial information. . . . We need to negotiate private agreements," he said. "The understanding we have with each of our promoters is such that the expectation they have is that we are going to keep financial information private."

On June 28 Mayor Anthony A. Williams expressed frustration over the way the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has handled community concerns about the coming grand prix auto race, saying that residents who will face the harsh noise and other problems caused by the event should receive some form of compensation.

Williams (D) made it administration's goal to work with the surrounding communities to "address and in some way compensate them for the fact that, yes, they are enduring much more noise and much more inconvenience than other neighborhoods."

Speaking during the "Ask the Mayor" program on WTOP radio, he added that the neighborhoods should "get some disproportionate share of the proceeds since they get a disproportionate share of the burden. To the extent we haven't done it in the past -- the sports commission hasn't done it -- we want to correct that."

Williams was not specifically referring to giving the residents money, they said, but rather to offering them such things as day trips out of the area during the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C., scheduled for July 19-21. Aides said that other ideas include giving residents free tickets to the race and possibly having the sports commission and the promoters, North Carolina-based National Grand Prix Holdings LLC, fund improvements at area playgrounds or at a community center.

"There is absolutely no amount of money that can compensate for the damage that noise and pollution from more than 200 race vehicles will cause to the health and welfare of our children and senior residents, in particular," said Frazer Walton Jr., president of the Kingman Park Civic Association. "We feel it was the mayor's obligation to protect the community and prevent the sports commission from engaging in these types of activities in inappropriate venues

On July 2 letter, promoter Christopher J. Lencheski conversed with the District's chief regulator that Calgary-based Portable Fence Systems Ltd. would install a sound-dampening barrier along an estimated 700-foot stretch of the racecourse. He also wrote that the designer would "personally oversee construction and installation" of the sound wall.

The document was submitted in response to questions from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs that were part of the city's environmental review of the Grand Prix.

But George Bittman, president of the Canadian company, said in an interview last week that his firm provides only security fences and did not erect the sound wall built for last weekend's Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington, D.C.

"Over the course of several months, they asked me details about the [sound] fence, and I told them. And that was extent of my involvement in the Washington Grand Prix," Bittman said. "There was never a firm commitment for me to come down to oversee the construction of the wall."

Celebration Begins

On July 18 Cadillac Grand Prix celebration began with an evening black-tie gala at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill to benefit Kennedy Krieger Institute, a national and international center for children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Kennedy Krieger was recognized as the official charity of the Cadillac Grand Prix. Among the many VIPs who attended the gala included Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, and Judy Woodruff, prime anchor and senior correspondent for CNN.

"This is a perfect opportunity for Kennedy Krieger to introduce itself to a new audience," said Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, chief executive officer of the Institute. "Among pediatricians, researchers and experts in the field, Kennedy Krieger is already recognized as a leader in developmental pediatrics. Families with children with autism and related birth defects come from all over the country to be treated here. We are thankful to the Cadillac Grand Prix for choosing us as a partner."

"The Cadillac Grand Prix is proud to partner with Kennedy Krieger Institute and help bring the message of its work to a larger audience," said Chris Lencheski, founder and chairman of the board of Cadillac Grand Prix Holdings. "I know the work of this fine Institute personally, and I have seen the extraordinary things it does for children with everything from birth defects to learning disabilities. We believe in the Kennedy Krieger mission and look forward to a long and prosperous partnership."

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