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Thursday, August 13, 2015

By the time I got over to the grandstand ...

by Peter Lawrence, Contributor to VFTRG
(Editor Comments at end)

... Saturday, Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands, the races were over.
(I'd spent the day at the paddock, my favorite part of any racetrack - along with the stable areas - visiting trainers, grooms, owners that happened by, and, of course, the horses.)
And in this photo, out there by the half-mile pole, sits the old, original grandstand.
Not meaning any disrespect to the new one, which I've yet to remotely warm up to, but I sure wish we could return to that old one.
There was NOTHING like the atmosphere of the old front paddock, especially right before a big race, like the Hambletonian or the Meadowlands Pace.
Just about every major owner, trainer, driver, visiting racing official, plus the occasional celebrity, like Spuds McKenzie (and the Spudettes), found their respective ways down to the front paddock, to see and be seen.
A hundred, maybe two hundred people could comfortably mill around and be accommodated, and best of all, the front paddock was actually attached to the box seats, the drivers' lockers, the grandstand and the below-ground tunnel, with its shuttle bus to the back paddock, which ran continuously, regardless of whether a race was being run or not.
You could even walk to the back paddock, and return, whenever you wanted to, which you can't do anymore.
Again, not meaning any disrespect to the new Meadowlands, which is, in many ways, very modern and nice, but I haven't warmed up to it yet. Well, it's only been two full seasons already.
OK, back to reality ... see the old Meadowlands grandstand out there on the backstretch?
It ain't coming back.

Peter Lawrence's photo.

Editor Comments: Why I understand Pete's love of the old grandstand with regards to the amenities for the owners and the convenience to do his job, I shed no tears for the old grandstand.  I never warmed up to old grandstand since it was initially opened back in 1976.  I will admit, when it first opened, back when cashing windows were on he opposite side of the teller's area (and selling windows were designated by dollar amount) there was some panache thanks to the neon signs over the teller's bays but once those signs were eliminated, the grandstand lacked any character; it was a hulking behemoth of steel and lacked any character,  As time moved on, it became even more undesirable as the facility started to look frayed with concession stands closing and even fewer people attending; the place started looking like a mausoleum.

Don't get me wrong, I like older facilities.  I loved the old Freehold grandstand prior to the big fire.   To this day, the new grandstand is a slab of concrete; I look back fondly for the days of the bubbles which were used during reconstruction.  Yet, I realize the times have changed.  Your don't get the attendance racing used to get so there is a need to right-size grandstands.  Not only do you lose the mausoleum feeling, it is much more efficient to maintain.  With the old grandstand, you needed air conditioning or heating,insurance, and manpower for unused areas, all year long.  The taste of the customer has long changed.  A facility which is built solely for racing will not attract younger generations; there needs to be another reason for them to attend.  And remember, without customers there is (or shouldn't be) no business..

Time marches on.  While getting to the paddock may be harder, the Meadowlands has provided new amenities for owners. Reality trumps nostalgia.

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