Hello, Jalopnik. Time for another introduction this week. I’m Ryan Erik King, the new weekend editor here. To be brief, I’m a sports-obsessive with a deep passion for both motorsport and history at my core. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about motorsport. Though, it has been a bit of a long distance romance for most of my life.
My upbringing largely shaped my sports interests. Some of my earliest memories are spending Sundays watching CART, Formula One or NASCAR on television. My parents from Jamaica rarely ever considered any sport too alien for my curiosity. Outside of going to college in Pittsburgh, PA, I’ve always lived in New York, NY. Growing up in the Bronx during the late 1990s and 2000s also meant the New York Yankees were nearly omnipresent in local popular culture and I naturally was/still am a fan.
The ballclub had frequently used the tagline “A Tradition of Excellence” to tie the team’s then-run of championship success to prior Yankees dynasties all the way back to the organization’s original dynasty of the 1920s, which featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Even to this day, the Yankees casually refer to its current players in the same breath as past players. It creates an environment at Yankee Stadium that feels strangely timeless. I mention slow and boring baseball because it was the kindling that sparked my interest in history. Also, it ingrained at an early age the idea that “past is prologue” to paraphrase Shakespeare.
Not only did I feel separated from motorsport in space, but also time. My childhood home is located about one and a half miles from a racetrack, except the oval had been closed since 1907. Like many early automobile racing venues in the United States, Morris Park Racecourse in the Bronx had opened in 1889 as a venue for thoroughbred horse racing. Morris Park held a prominent position in the American horse racing scene for over a decade. The track hosted Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the US Triple Crown, from its first full season in 1890 until horse racing ceased there after the 1904 season.
In 1905, Morris Park hosted the first round of the inaugural AAA National Championship (a precursor to today’s IndyCar Series). The track would be closed to automobile racing two years later. Like a lot of closed circuits, the relentless expansion of the city reached the disused facility and the land was sold off for real estate development. The area quickly became a residential neighborhood largely occupied by immigrants from Italy, still bearing the name Morris Park.
The southern boundary of the property was adjacent to the main line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Today, the New Haven main line is now Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The northern portion of the property was used for the construction of a new commuter railroad funded by the New Haven. The New Haven would file for bankruptcy in the mid 1930s and take its subsidiary railroad down with it as well. The commuter railroad would be integrated into New York City’s subway system in the early 1940s, and become a mainstay of my high school commute in the late 2000s.
My first two years of high school would be the period when I turned from curious voyeur into a then-teenaged devotee. Those years roughly coincided with Lewis Hamilton’s first two seasons in Formula One and the final two seasons the Yankees played in the original Yankee Stadium. While I’ve never felt strongly attached to any particular driver, Hamilton’s debut certainly flipped a switch in my mind. Hamilton being a British driver of Grenadian descent, sharing a similar heritage to myself. It was surreal to see some like me reach Formula One, then almost immediately become competitive and win the world championship in his second season. He made being in that other world seem obtainable. I wanted to be a part of the world of motorsport.
Knowing that I could never get into professional motorsport as a driver, I thought I could make it as an engineer. I was politely asked to switch majors after my first semester in engineering school and eventually found my way to history. I also learned there were other ways to be involved in motorsport, specifically writing. After a few years in the wilderness, I covered my first race as a member of the media, Formula E’s New York City E-Prix. I got to the track by riding in a subway car over that same line that took the place of IndyCar’s inaugural race venue over a century ago.
Now, I’m very excited to be able to share my love of both motorsport and history with all of you here at Jalopnik.