Opinion: How senior citizens owned F1 over Miami track plan

Miami’s already had one failed F1 bid, as a street circuit race in downtown that failed to come to fruition for a multitude of logistical reasons and local resident opposition. But shifting it to a new track built in the car parks around Hard Rock Stadium should be simple, right?

Wrong. Betty T Ferguson, a former county commissioner for Miami Gardens – the city in which the Miami Dolphins’ stadium is situated – has rallied a vociferous opposition group, mainly consisting of female senior citizens from the nearby community. It had already persuaded the city council to vote against the plan with its claims of ‘deep pockets overriding quality of life’; now it has managed to get two motions approved by the county that means far more bureaucratic red tape to be cleared before it can happen.

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Miami track rendering

Photo by: Hard Rock Stadium

Perhaps the most shocking thing about this meeting was how badly prepared F1 and the Dolphins were. While the opposition easily filled its half hour of initial lobbying, the ‘F1 group’ came up 10 minutes short. The opposition managed to get its attorney to speak twice, the second time to counter F1’s presentation, but the other group got no such right to reply. In fact, it took the F1-supporting county Mayor to interject and ask some questions to help its cause, including its outline of benefits to the community it would hand out – such as playground rebuilds, $25 raceday tickets, etc.

Sure, F1 had its commercial chief Sean Bratches there, and the first of the Dade county residents to speak was two-time F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi, and both spoke eloquently about the undoubted benefits that the sport would bring to Miami. But nobody was arguing about that.

What transpired was that the F1 group found nothing like the support it required in the face of the impassioned local opposition, which included a 90-year-old lady who’d lived in the adjacent area for decades. Apparently, they had all been instructed to wear orange and the impact of that was striking – no wonder Max Verstappen gets such a boost from his army of supporters! One of the few non-orange-clad supporters was a gentleman wearing a homemade ‘TRUMP SUCKS’ shirt, who bizarrely claimed F1 had “killed many with its clouds of smoke” and that “kids are gonna breathe in that stuff thinking it’s good”.

This served to echo community activist Ferguson’s opening statements about the “deadly effects” of hosting an F1 race in a city environment. What the F1 group really needed to hand was an environmental assessment report from city-based events such as Melbourne, Montreal, Monaco or Singapore. But not one shred of evidence was put forward along those lines; only economic benefits were put forward by the F1 group – which, if anything, played into the hands of Ferguson’s “deep pockets overriding quality of life” allegations. As you can see in the render below, the track would back on to residential areas…

Miami track rendering

Miami track rendering

Photo by: Hard Rock Stadium

In fact, the only scientific evidence on show was a Miami-Dade County sound study report. It stated that hearing damage was possible after eight seconds of being exposed to 132dB. Nobody stepped forward to mention the distance away the crowd would be from the cars, and it took an F1 fan to raise the point of how sound actually travels, so fans wouldn’t be exposed to constant peaks of noise.

The majority of the opposition’s scaremongering, far-fetched and borderline preposterous claims of the “deadly effects” of F1 thus went unchallenged. And the message was compounded by the current county commissioner for Miami Gardens, Barbara Jordan, who is vehemently opposed to the plan. She actually used a crash-filled showreel of F1 racing to prove her point about how impactful it would be to the community.

“Look at the racing!” said Jordan shortly before the voting took place. “There are six schools located within a mile of the stadium. One of them is across the street! Friday is a school day. How can our kids learn when you have noise levels. The lobbyists told me the cars are quieter now, 134db. Well, I dare you to stand under the decibel noise for five minutes because you’ll walk away deaf.

“Formula 1 tires: In that video you saw the smoke coming of the tires? It’s toxic. Listen, I haven’t been able to sleep over this, just thinking about those tires going around and spinning. When I was researching all of this I came across a YouTube show by a driver called Scott Mansell, it’s called Driver61, and he took a Pirelli tire off one of the F1 cars and cut it in two. And when he did it, the smoke got to him, and he had to go and put on a mask. The shavings from the tire filled his shirt – poisonous shavings! The tire particles covered his shirt as he cut it open and the mask was needed to protect his eyes from the smoke.

“These tires are soft and degradable, it disintegrates while it is racing, and those things go out into the community. That’s what we’re talking about here, putting on this event in a bedroom community within a mile of six schools. The race cannot be run on existing roads, and the work that would be required has to have racing surfaces. If they use 199th [Street] they’d have to put up guardrails and fences, and a surface so you wouldn’t be able to skid off the road.

“I just want you to get a picture of what we’re talking about here: we’re not talking about the races that go on in Homestead Speedway, they have never had a race like this in the United States, apart from Austin, Texas.”

So apart from the fact a far-louder iteration of F1 has raced on the streets of Long Beach, Las Vegas and Detroit; apart from the fact a new road surface you can’t skid off might be a good thing; I’ve never seen any scientific evidence about an adverse medical impact of Pirelli’s high-degradation tires; and why on earth would anyone think a former BOSS Formula racer’s YouTube clip of him chopping up a tire is relevant?

But the simple fact was that it worked. The commissioners voted 7-6 and then 8-5 to pass both motions, which now means a full public hearing must happen in December, and any county road closures for motor racing must be approved by the commission – adding another layer of bureaucracy.

And it was those health and quality of living fears that clearly swung it, and that was the battleground that F1 and the Dolphins group must now focus their attentions upon if this event is going to happen. Going forwards, put bluntly, it needs to shut down the bullshit claims with science.

One thing on its side is the fact that the county Mayor has a right of veto over the motions, but if he does so it will look like some blatant railroading against a community’s wishes.

The moral of the story? Never underestimate some angry old ladies, whoever you think you are.

Proposed track layout for Miami Grand Prix track at Hard Rock Stadium

Proposed track layout for Miami Grand Prix track at Hard Rock Stadium

Photo by: Motorsport.com