Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Could Brooklyn's loss be Newark's gain?

I don't know if you've been following the velodrome folly in Brooklyn lately.  Joshua P. Rechnitz, a  reclusive philanthropist and bicycle enthusiast offered $50 million to build a velodrome on the Brooklyn waterfront.  Somehow Brooklyn was not able to turn this major gift into a reality, so the offer has been withdrawn, for now, and Rechnitz is looking for a new home for his gift.  That could still be in New York City or it could be somewhere else in the Metro area.

Frank Kramer.  Photo - Bibliothèque
nationale de France, département
Estampes et photographie
But not far away from Brooklyn, a few miles west of the Hudson River, New Jersey's largest city has a long lost but storied past with regards to track cycling.  Back in the early 20th Century,  Newark was once the epicenter of bicycle racing the US and was home to several velodromes in its heyday.  The most prominent were the Vailsberg Velodrome and the Newark Velodrome on South Orange avenue which was called the "cradle of cycling."  All of the great American cyclists and many greats from around the world also raced in Newark.

One of the greatest of those early American greats was Frank L. Kramer, of East Orange, winner of 16 consecutive US Titles.  He won most of those titles in Newark.  And the one and only time Kramer won the UCI World Title, he rode to victory on the track in Newark.  And one of the few times Kramer lost a US title, he lost to his good friend and the greatest African-American cyclist of all time.  Equally legendary 'Major' Marshall Taylor beat Kramer at the Vailsberg Velodrome in 1900 (unconfirmed).  And for those that don't know, it is likely that Taylor would have challenged Kramer for many more US Titles hadn't racism made it much more appealing to Taylor to race in Europe and elsewhere abroad.

So here is my simple proposal.  Why not approach Mr. Rechnitz to bring his velodrome to Newark?  His gift could go a lot further in the Brick City than it could in Brooklyn.  It could also be a new focus of community reinvestment and sports culture in Newark.  Despite the plague of doping in the professional sport, bicycle racing is bigger than ever with amateurs.  A velodrome in Newark would bring hundreds if not thousands of cyclists to the city with money in hand.  With Newark's and New Jersey's storied history as the epicenter of bicycle racing during the Golden Age of Bicycling a hundred years ago, Newark is the natural choice for Mr. Rechnitz' velodrome.

1 comment:

pommes said...

Nice idea. Theres no lack of cycle racing fans in the immediate area. Also the PATH offers excellent transportation link to NYC.