August 29th, 2017
By Gabe Bailer
I do something every day– nearly 7 days a week, 365 days a year — that I thought I would never do. I drive on the Garden State Parkway (GSP). The Parkway was always a particular image for me, because the only reason to drive it was you we’re headed to the shore. This image has changed, because I now drive it to get home to Cranford. As I swerve in and out of the ubiquitous rush hour traffic, I find myself imagining something: All the traffic disappears and it’s just me on the road. I fly ahead and jet rocket to my exit at either 137 or 136, and I’m home in 20 mins rather than the usual 45 minutes. One can only dream of this. But with the dreams in my head of just me and the GSP, a thought came to me. Why not close the roads of GSP for one day and make it a grand prix race? I know, I know it will never happen, but is the idea that crazy? Hear me out.
There are examples all over the world of massive street races. The Monaco grand prix is a formula one motor race and is held since 1929. According to its Wikipedia page:
“It is widely considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world”. “The race is held on a narrow course laid out in the streets of Monaco, with many elevation changes and tight corners as well as a tunnel, making it one of the most demanding tracks in Formula One”.
Yes, there are race cars going through the streets. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Well that’s a European model and won’t happen in the states”, keep in mind this has been proposed for NYC several times. The last approval of the race was laid out on the streets of Red Hook Brooklyn. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/sports/autoracing/formula-e-racing-brooklyn-new-york.html There was also an ill-conceived attempt to have a race through the hills and sharp turns of West New York. I know these roads, being a resident of Union City for four years (probably elaborate a little bit here) http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2011/10/christie_announces_formula_one.html
But lo and behold the revving of the engines did actually happen along the streets of Brooklyn. But what engines are we talking about? As usual the BK has to put its own spin on everything and make it unique. So instead of the gasoline chuggers on July 5, 2017 electric formula one car racing sped around the curves of Red Hook, BK at 150 mph. http://nypost.com/2017/07/05/electric-car-racing-circuit-will-zoom-around-red-hook/ So if this can happen in BK, why not NJ?
So let’s get back to my idearrr (my NYC accent always shines through) and some back story of the GSP. According to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_State_Parkway the Parkway is a 172.4 mile limited-access toll parkway that stretches the length of New Jersey from the New York state line near Montvale to Cape May at the state’s southernmost tip. In fact the GSP actually begins in NY right off 287. The Parkway is also the longest highway in the state. Construction started in 1946 and took 11 years to complete. I’m glad beaching Christie wasn’t governor during that stretch.
YouTube has a vintage promotional video of the construction of the GSP. This video was produced in 1952 by the NJ Highway Authority to rally voters for the referendum in making the GSP a reality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JosR-zLLXmE
One of the interesting things about the GSP and all Parkways was the intention not for a highway, but rather a road for a Sunday drive and where one can stop on the side of the road for picnics. Hence the name “parkway”. But as the ubiquitous car became normalcy, you know what happened. The road became a speedway with a speed limit of 65 (but in reality 75-80) and the GSP became a major road in NJ.
Why make the GSP a one-day raceway? First of all, when you think of NJ, what are some of things that come to mind? No, it’s not the Jersey Shore punks on MTV or the barren industrial wasteland of the turnpike. For me, one of the images is the Parkway. It’s in the state’s DNA. And frankly, it’s a beautiful ride. The GSP is the connection from the mountain range of Ramapo of up north (yes there are mountains up north) to the beaches of the Jersey Shore. You can go from skiing to surfing down one 172-mile stretch of road. That was always my dream, however my recent ACL tear – my skis were graciously donated and my surf board is collecting dust waiting for a new home that is not mine.
So how can this be done with having the minimalist impact by closing the GSP. First the race will only take 2-3 hours max, and only the southbound lanes will be closed. The race will begin from the northern point to Cape May. Driving 75mph, this could take over 3 hours. Driving 150mph this will take over an hour and half. The Race wouldn’t be during the summer hours when one is trying to drive to the shore, but either in early spring or fall on an early Sunday morning.
The GSP race would start up north and end with Exit 0 down south. The characteristics of the GSP go hand in hand with the region of NJ which it serves/ There are the mountains (maybe large hills of Ramapo), from there the capitalistic side of the GSP with the shopping commerce of Bergen County. As you fly by the Route 19 the gateway into Paterson and the Great Falls, you begin to enter Essex County. With some tight corners and turns you literally cut through the center of East Orange and Irvington and bisect the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, of East Orange.
As you drive into Union County, the golf courses of Galloping Hills beckon you. Next is my Exit 137 where one can give a quick wave to Cranford. As you pass by the commercial suburban office metro park region and the Amtrak station, you head south to the massive Driscoll Bridge bridge crossing over the Raritan River between Woodbridge and Sayreville that takes you to the lands of the Jersey Shore and Monmouth County. The Edison bridge is named for our lighting forefather Thomas Edison and opened in 1940 and reopened again in 2003 to the 12 land vermouth we know of it as know https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edison_Bridge_(New_Jersey)
The Jersey Shore is approximately 141 miles of 40 communities with each town having a different character, identity, atmosphere and pride. You can witness a diversity of places only found in New Jersey, from the rebirth of Asbury Park (just off Exit 100A), to the mansions of Deal to the old missile launching area on Sandy Hook.
As you continue down the GSP you pass through the Pine Barrens region of NJ. The Pine Barrens are a heavily forested coastal plain and is known for its unique and diverse spectrum of plant life. The Pine Barrens is also home to a class bit of NJ folklore: the Jersey Devil. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil The grand stretch run to the finish line is a fitting place. From Exit 172 to Exit 0 brings you to one of the jewels of the Jersey Shore: Cape May. There, the engines come to a roaring stop, the celebration and party begins. The winners will drink out of their Garden State Racing trophy with the Cape May lighthouse and Delaware Bay in the background.
What will the positive impact be? First I think it could tie into take pride in your Garden State day– something to be proud and all NJ can connect to. It’s exciting.. Imagine being on the overpasses and hearing the engines roar by you. Visitors will flock from all over the world to witness this type of race and offset the costs involved in organizing, coordinating, safety and other means to make this race run smoothly (no pun intended).
I was not the only one thinking of this type of drag race down the Parkway. In 2012, a state trooper escorted a caravan of sports cars speeding over 100 mph. The road was not closed for this. The racecars sped in and out of traffic with a lone trooper escorting them. http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/04/nj_state_troopers_face_probe_f.html There is a video on YouTube of two young lads witnessing this race, and maybe in not their best wisdom are trying to keep up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IobNkfonHLA&t=635s Ultimately the two troopers were offered plea deals and got a slap on the wrist.
I know it’s a pipe dream and the chances of this happening are almost slim to none. But one can only dream of the GSP Raceway. Maybe I’ll hear the roar of the engines in my sleep.