Between May 6 and May 8, the Formula One circus will descend on the bedroom community of Miami Gardens, which lies roughly 20 miles from Miami proper. The Miami Grand Prix is ready to carve its place in the F1 calendar, but there’s just one problem: No one is listening to the locals whose home town will be playing host to a multi-million dollar enterprise.
Miami Gardens residents have been pushing back against the Grand Prix since it was first announced; they don’t want to deal with the noise or the traffic, and they certainly don’t appreciate their town being used as a dumping point for a race track whose attendees aren’t even pushing money into the local economy. And no one is listening.
Including me. Earlier this week, I posted a frankly bad take about the locals who have been trying to sue the city and race organizers to prevent the Grand Prix from happening. I fell into the trap of traditional motorsport press, where my enjoyment of an event should take precedence over everything else — something I’ve actively tried to avoid. I was, frankly, ignorant.
I’m grateful to the wonderful hosts of the Racing Incident podcast, who reached out to me to tell me I didn’t have the full picture. They encouraged me to listen to their most recent episode titled “Out of Touch with Reality” to get a better sense of what I was missing. It’s a fantastic episode, and it left me wanting more context.
And after scrolling through news archives and motorsport-focused coverage of the Miami Grand Prix, I now see where I erred. The Miami Gardens residents have been battling for almost 40 years for the right to have a say in what goes on in their community, and we need to be listening to their concerns.
The Hard Rock Stadium
To truly understand the context here, we have to go back to the very construction of the Hard Rock Stadium itself, originally named the Joe Robbie Stadium. Locals objected to the building of the stadium when it was first announced in 1985 — and the argument hedged largely on the fact that minority communities felt they were being ignored. From the Washington Post:
Since the stadium was approved in 1985, its owners have fought a bruising legal battle with a predominantly black group of residents who insist that Robbie’s organization and Dade County violated their civil rights by locating the stadium in what was supposed to be a residential neighborhood.
“It’s horrendous,” said Betty Ferguson, a neighbor who was been a leader of the homeowner group. “We feel like they steamrolled over our legal rights because we were perceived as a powerless black community.”
Nor are these residents pleased about the 500,000 square feet of office space or the 750 hotel rooms that were supposed to have sprung up by now on the acres of empty fields surrounding the stadium. Though some say it is the residents’ lawsuits that have choked development, others lay the blame on merely the dynamics of the marketplace.
Tensions remained for years. The Washington Post article cited above was from 1992, and things just weren’t working out. Since then, locals have refused to use their tax money to renovate the stadium, and there have been regular complaints about stadium traffic and other concerns. Tensions, though never fully solved, had been somewhat relaxed.
And then F1 decided to come to town.
Miami And Motorsport
Miami has played host to street races in the past, but none were ever quite the massive success they were pitched. Open-wheel machines in the form of the CART series took to the streets of Tamiami Park in the University Park suburb in 1985. Race promoter Ralph Sanchez then brought IMSA and Trans-Am racing to Biscayne Bay followed by CART in 1995, which lasted in some form or fashion until 2003.
The most recent Miami street race, though, was the 2015 Miami ePrix during Formula E's first season — and it was a mess of an event that would have left a poor taste in anyone’s mouth. Taking place on part of the former CART Biscayne Bay street circuit, race organizers failed to erect the barriers in time for the start of race day, leaving teams and drivers with little practice.
But the reintroduction of street racing to South Florida via Miami Gardens came loaded with other connotations of race, class, and privilege.
Pushing Back Against F1
The Miami Herald first went into detail about concerns from locals on October 16, 2019, just as F1 signed a deal with the owners of the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens:
There has been pushback from Miami Gardens residents, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Hard Rock Stadium, and Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert.
A once-fraught relationship between the Dolphins and the surrounding community has improved significantly in the last three decades, but the team and a group of neighbors led by community activist Betty T. Ferguson, disagree on whether the event should be held at Hard Rock Stadium. [...]
Residents fret about traffic, noise, and pollution.
Note Betty T. Ferguson’s involvement — she’s had a longtime stake in the health of the Miami Gardens community stemming back to first days of the Hard Rock Stadium.
Of course, F1 also pushed back, claiming that the benefit to the local economy and the short-lived nature of an F1 event should ease all concerns.
In that same Miami Herald article referenced above, though, the real issues start to come to light:
Originally the plan was for F1 to race on a downtown Miami street course. But that was scrapped due to concerns about business interruptions. The three-month construction of the racetrack every year on city streets would have caused big headaches for PortMiami, the Florida East Coast Railway, the Miami Heat, and other residents along Biscayne Boulevard.
The response, then, was to push the event into Miami Gardens, a community whose 2020 census revealed a community composed predominately of people of color: 61.87 percent Black and 32.88 percent Latinx. The fact that Stephen Ross, owner of the Hard Rock Stadium and its surrounding grounds, would cover the multi-million dollar race costs was of little consolation. The simple fact was that a value judgement was made, and the Miami Gardens community didn’t appreciate that the value of their lives, homes, and businesses were deemed of lesser importance than those of wealthier Biscayne Bay residents.
That didn’t sit well with residents, but their concerns were generally given little space in newspapers. Barbara Jordon and Betty Ferguson were often given a paragraph to note their concerns about the race’s “environmentally devastating” impact — but that was it.
At least until the Bradenton Herald ran an Associated Press piece about those issues:
“We’d be absorbing all the negatives and we wouldn’t be reaping any of the benefits,” Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III said. “I can’t imagine Formula One wants to have a race in a community where the residents don’t want them.
The proposed course would include a couple of public streets near the stadium, leaving Miami Gardens to absorb road closures and days of school disruption for crowds that won’t be staying and spending their money locally, Gilbert said.
“We understand we are part of a larger economic ecosystem,” Gilbert said. “(But) we’re a bedroom community. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure. (Race fans) will be staying in Miami Beach or Ford Lauderdale. They won’t be staying in Miami Gardens.”
And that’s the crux of the issue: Miami Gardens has been made unwilling host to a massive event from which it won’t reap economic benefits. Ticket prices quickly soared into the thousands, meaning locals were priced out of attendance. Most parties or other F1-sanctioned events are taking place in Miami proper, and fans are staying in hotels 20 miles away from the track.
Miami Gardens isn’t reaping many benefits. Instead, it’s dealing with congested traffic, multiple days of noise, and more.
Small Victories And Bigger Losses
Locals immediately pushed back against the promoters and politicians, but those promoters and politicians pushed back by providing ready-made emails for fans to fill in a few pieces of information and send them off the the Miami-Dade commission responsible for voting on the race. One even ended with, “Do what is right and what is best for the community, not for a handful of neighbors who live near a stadium.”
Meanwhile, the Miami Gardens Families Unite residents’ group formed a website that said, “Big business wins while our community will suffer damage to children’s hearing, air pollution, noise pollution, traffic inconveniences and road closures. Formula 1 in Miami Gardens is a Formula for Disaster!”
The residents’ group started protests and lobbied local commissions for change. And there were some small wins: The track was totally removed from local streets and would instead be taking place entirely within the confines of the Hard Rock Stadium’s parking lots. They even managed to push further votes forward to larger City Hall meetings as a way to attempt establishing more clear-cut guidelines about hosting major events in Miami Gardens and delayed the race.
Not everyone was swayed by the concerns, as articulated by Betty T. Ferguson as such:
“We have seen too often deep pockets paint rosy pictures and have their way, only to the embarrassment of the county at a later date. Don’t allow F1 promoters to come in and roll over us over, like we’re not even humans.
“They can produce all kinds of phony statements about how they can mitigate the deadly effects, but we can never erase deadly health damage, and possibly permanent hearing loss, especially to children. Even the county’s own study verifies the deadly effects.”
The latter element about health concerns has largely been the sticking point for the pro-Miami GP faction. It is entirely possible for the noise of an F1 car to cause hearing damage, and Scientific American recommended that fans watch motorsport with both earplugs and earmuffs to avoid long term damage.
F1 cars have grown 11 decibels quieter since that article was published; even a drop of 10 decibels creates the aural impression that the noise has been cut in half, which may be why modern F1 fans perceive the hybrid cars as being so quiet. But that’s still loud, and Miami Gardens residents have recently argued that locals will be able to hear vehicles at 97 decibels within a near-three mile radius of the track.
Noise-induced hearing loss can in fact begin at that level. Anything over 70 decibels kill hair cells in your inner ear, and those cells don’t grow back. It also does take prolonged, regular exposure to noises over 70 decibels — possibly 10 years or more — to result in significant hearing damage. So while no child will totally lose hearing as a result of a three-day racing event, the Miami Gardens residents do have a point: Locals will lose inner ear hairs during the racing event, and younger children will experience some impact, which is a frustrating outlook considering this is an event they’ve adamantly opposed.
Unfortunately, counterarguments don’t really bother taking that into concern. One writer opined in the Miami New Times that Miami Gardens residents should, basically, get over it since the Hard Rock Stadium already hosts loud events like concerts and sporting events that cause noise pollution and traffic gridlock.
That author, though — like many people in the motorsport press — totally misses the context here. Many of these Miami Gardens residents that have avidly pushed back against the race never wanted the stadium in the first place. They haven’t wanted concerts or football games. They haven’t wanted this race. They’ve been fighting this battle since the mid-1980s, and their concerns have been steamrolled ever since.
How Does The Miami Grand Prix Stand Now?
The most recent appeal by Miami Gardens residents in the form of a lawsuit has been shot down by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Alan Fine, who has ruled that the race will go on. Sound levels will be monitored during the May 8 race, and that data will be submitted to the court for reevaluation at a later date. If noise levels are demonstrably harmful, there may not be a second Miami Grand Prix. A pessimist could argue, though, that this is just a tactic to continue putting residential concerns on the back burner.
But this fight has never been about noise levels or air pollution. It’s been about local communities demanding a voice they’ve long been denied in big-business concerns. It’s about the economic and racial politics involved in determining a community of color can host an event for a predominately white sport. It’s about a fight that has been raging for almost 40 years, one that traditional motorsport press — myself included — has completely ignored. It’s about setting a precedent for future events and developing a more equitable way to host a race.
And it’s about listening before launching our own opinions into the blogosphere. It’s a lesson many of us could stand to learn.