Rest-In-Peace Boston GP

The Boston GP, like so many IndyCar races before it, has been relegated to the ash heap. Never in the history of motorsports has a race series failed so many times
The Boston GP, like so many IndyCar races before it, has been relegated to the ash heap. Never in the history of motorsports has a race series failed so many times

When the Grand Prix of Boston Powered by LogMeIn was announced last May, I'll admit I was as intrigued as anyone. With a population of nearly five million in its metro area, the coveted Northeast market, a scenic backdrop, what looked to be a racy layout and a chance to benefit off the traditional 'move-in' weekend for America's most famous college town, Boston certainly boasted more than its fair share of promise.

Of course, that promise never materialized. A week and a half ago following 11 months of haggling and uncertainty about permits, construction, meeting deadlines, financing, a less than transparent process, and a myriad of other convoluted issues drenched in endless layers of red tape and strong civic opposition, race organizers Grand Prix of Boston euthanized the troubled event. And with the news that there will be no race this coming Labor Day Weekend in Beantown, Boston became the latest event to join a crowded ash heap of failed IndyCar events.

So, what happened? Why did an event that began with so much promise, quickly morph into another cautionary tale? Today, AutoRacing1 will walk you through the mess that was The Grand Prix of Boston.

No parallel

To begin, I think it should be acknowledged that while there have been numerous IndyCar events to experience turmoil in recent seasons, don't spend too much time looking for a parallel to Boston; there isn't one.

Remember, most IndyCar events which are taken off the schedule are removed due to economic factors. The promoter was unable to sell enough tickets, concessions, merchandise, etc. to make the event worthwhile and therefore the event was discontinued. This isn't to say the promotion group would not have encountered economic difficulties had they raced in Boston. But we don't really know what the promotion group's economic situation was because we never actually got to that point, because local opposition never allowed it.

Also, before moving ahead I think it's important to acknowledge the role of INDYCAR, the sanctioning body, with regard to the happenings in Boston. Yes, INDYCAR signed a contract with Grand Prix of Boston to conduct a Verizon IndyCar Series race in Boston, and the promotion group in turn had a contract with the City of Boston. INDYCAR was largely a witness party to the breakdown that occurred between the City and promotion group.

Now, I say this not to absolve the sanctioning body. After all, the merits of a business model that so often places the series in these type of situations is certainly a worthy topic to explore. For today, however, the focus will be on the breakdown between the City and organizing group to which INDYCAR like the rest of us, could only watch from afar.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]So, what in fact killed the Boston GP?

Sorry, this is going to be somewhat long, because there really isn't a short answer. However, I think a good place to start however is with Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

You might remember an article I wrote in November, which outlined the situation in Boston and talked in detail about Walsh's failed Olympic bid. While I won't repeat it all here, very briefly, Walsh's office made a very public play for Boston to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Due to a variety of factors, there was great opposition, and Walsh came out looking like a clumsy amateur. One example of this is the Mayor signed a $25 million deal insuring the City against overruns, and admitted he did so without actually reviewing the formal bid.

Further, when it became known that many with personal connections were working on the Olympic bid, the somewhat sinister image of an incompetent politician operating in a clandestine fashion to line the pockets of his friends took root.

Here we go again

Although it would be foolish to say Walsh's failed Olympic bid doomed the IndyCar race, it would be just as foolish to say one had nothing to do with the other. As Walsh moved to his next sporting project many of the same factors that detonated the Olympic bid and the incompetence displayed by Walsh and his office would again rear their ugly head.

Shortly after the race was announced, an inquisitive media and public began digging around for information. And what they found certainly lent credence to the image Walsh had already cultivated.

For example, June 5, 2015 in Boston Magazine, David Bernstein wrote about the estimate suggested by Ken Brissette, the Mayor's director of sports and tourism that the race would bring an estimated 250,000 spectators over three days. Bernstein noted:

“From what I can tell, that statement appears to be an unadulterated lie (emphasis mine): The only IndyCar event that purports to draw 250,000-plus spectators is the iconic Indianapolis 500, which is not at all similar to anything like the event being planned in Boston. Kate Norton, a spokesperson for the Grand Prix, could not provide another example of an IndyCar race that draws those numbers."

Being entirely realistic regarding what we know about IndyCar it cannot be disputed. And the estimate of 250,000 was flat out absurd. And the image of being less than truthful combined with the fact people with connections to Walsh and the Olympic bid were now working on the race, meant a 'here we go again' attitude took root. And again keep in mind, this was last June – nearly a year ago.

A Skeptical Public

If you paid any attention to social media over the last few months, you know the anti-race Bostonians were a rather noisy bunch. And although it would be convenient to casually dismiss those against the race as some obnoxious grassroots mob of self-important pot bangers, such thinking would be a big mistake. The reality is the opposition to the Grand Prix of Boston was an educated opposition that was as organized and effective, as it was noisy.

Sensing very early their Mayor was again giving them the run around (again), a group of citizens began to voice their concerns about the disruptions to the city, less than transparent process, skepticism as to the actual economic benefit of the event. By January they had obtained legal representation and organized a movement aptly, named “No IndyCar Boston." From there, they used their knowledge of local law and procedure to rally local officials and other citizens to probe deeper into the viability of the race. Not buying what Walsh and race organizers were selling this educated opposition began looking into the fine print.

I can give many examples of this, but let's start with the use of public funds.

Of course, race organizers insisted throughout the process that the race was occurring without taxpayer money. However, 'no taxpayer money' didn't necessarily mean 'no cost to the city.'

A Memorandum of Understanding was agreed to in May of 2015, which outlined the parameters in which the City and promotion group would do business. One term of the Memorandum noted that The City shall:

Repair, maintain and prevent disturbance to the Race Circuit and the area within, and within ninety (90) days prior to the beginning of the Race Event provide that such area complies with City Standards and meets the standards set forth in the FIA Bulletin attached hereto as Exhibit C. 6.4 A. (1)

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]In other words, to “repair" and or “maintain" the Race Circuit would obviously cost the City money. Now, the promotion group might have argued that these were 'already accounted for' funds. While I would entertain a debate of such word parsing at a later date, the point is such arguments didn't hold water with City residents. Rather they only served to galvanize the opposition.

What about the media?

As a member of the media, and someone who knows how media works, I often take exception to the convenient placing of 'the media' under some overarching umbrella. Further, because media essentially reacts to events, I don't believe media has the impact many would have you believe. And in this particular case, the media coverage seemed more a reaction to public opposition and a clumsy process rather than the driving force behind the negativity and uncertainty surrounding the race. In other words, I don't think the media sabotaged the event.

That said, a little impartiality and due diligence would have been welcome. From the very beginning, the Boston Herald seemed to be more concerned with weaving exaggerations into their desired narrative rather than informing the public of valid potential issues for the event. There are many examples I can give, but one I'll cite is the suggestion that an IndyCar might explode during the race. Yes, you read that correctly. Check it out its In the November 25, 2015 edition of the paper.

And yes, I suppose an IndyCar could randomly explode, but very minor due diligence would have shown it to be highly unlikely, if not a near impossibility. With such a far reaching claim, it's fair to ask if The Herald was even trying to be impartial.

And the Boston Globe wasn't much better. Sensing The Herald's anti-race sentiment,The Globe inevitably adopted the counter role of pom pom waver for the race. All told, neither local paper covered itself in glory, and merely seemed shills for whichever side got their attention first.

What about the promotion group?

I think it's fair to say Grand Prix of Boston walked into a buzzsaw of opposition they could not have totally predicted. For example, the Olympic disaster was not their doing, nor did they know that it would have such an impact in creating the uncertain climate it did. But there were also instances in which Grand Prix of Boston didn't do themselves many favors.

Again, I can point to many, but let's go back to the April 5 hearing last month when organizers were asked about the speed limit. What gave them a right to have cars drive in excess of local speed laws?

Funny, but the answer to the question is actually is quite simple: the speed limit is for road travelers. And per the group's contract with The City, race organizers take control of the circuit for the race period for the express purpose of conducting an automobile race. This would be similar to a music festival organizer taking control of city property for a Metallica concert. Metallica would likely violate a local noise ordinance, however the noise ordinance applies to pedestrians and citizens. And for the designated race period, the streets of Boston would have become a race circuit assuming proper FIA grading and the like.

However, race organizers merely stated that their attorneys had informed them it wasn't a concern. Again, the answer was not satisfactory to local opposition.

Granted, I'm not sure what would have satisfied the tsunami of local opposition. However, keeping in mind the image of an incompetent mayor ham-fistedly ramming a disruptive event down the throats of unconvinced locals, “our lawyers said it's cool," wasn't exactly going to sway the masses.

Of course, whatever efforts the race organizers out forth were not helped by Boston's Mayor. Having talked to people with experience organizing such urban events, many have noted that a salesman so to speak in upper-level local government is vital for the success of such races. When it comes to working with local agencies and residents in obtaining permits, disseminating information and the like, a local face that people like and respect is very helpful.

Walsh was not that guy.

From his failed Olympic mess to the recent probe into an accusation of local union strong-arming, Walsh as the local face, did no favors for the Grand Prix. If anything, he worked counter to the race's success, giving the opposition an easy poster child of incompetence and dirty dealings.

Cutting Bait

After 1800-some words, you should have an idea of the circumstances which shut down the Grand Prix of Boston. A mayor residents distrusted welcoming in an outside event that would cause disruption and generate no tangible benefit for the city became the perception which took root. And when the Boston Conservation Commission overruled a city council ruling late last month that the promotion group had to go through a lengthy process of obtaining permits before construction on the race circuit could begin, the writing was on the wall. With Grand Prix of Boston staring at a lengthy appeal process that had to go their way to even begin construction, they made what was not the best or right decision, but the only decision, to cut their losses and put the troubled race out of its misery.

Lessons Learned

Pass the bacon please. IndyCar gets egg on its face so often they should replace Verizon with bacon as the series sponsor
Pass the bacon please. IndyCar gets egg on its face so often they should replace Verizon and name it the 'Bacon and Egg IndyCar Series'

The Verizon IndyCar Series is probably better off with the turmoil of Boston in the rearview mirror. With the series now headed to Watkins Glen for this coming Labor Day Weekend, there is a glimmer of hope a relationship can be rekindled with the iconic course in New York's picturesque Finger Lakes Region. Still, it would be wrong to merely dismiss Boston as water under the bridge.

With a crowded ash heap of failed races you do wonder how much egg can one series get on its face before it learns its lesson. I will say that as outlined, there were circumstances unique to Boston that I'm not sure anyone could have entirely predicted.

Still, I think the takeaway here is INDYCAR once again placed itself in a position in which the whims of local government agencies, a high-profile disaster fresh in everyone's mind, and a Mayor local residents didn't trust, determining when and where the series races. Because as we've shown the series had absolutely zero control over what transpired in Boston.

And as crazy as this whole saga was, at the end of the day, that remains the craziest part of all.

Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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