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Recapping the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix

The first thing is the sound.

The moment I stepped off of the Light Rail Sunday afternoon I felt it. Felt — not just heard. It isn’t like any other sound if, as was my case, you’ve never been to a live race before. It’s loud, sure, but that’s not the thing. It envelops you.

I crossed a bridge over the track — with cars from the Indy Lights series running below — and headed to the race grounds near the Convention Center and Eutaw Street. There I found food, drink, merchandise trailers, stages for entertainment, and general mingling. It was weird to see such a normally traffic-choked area of downtown cordoned off for a festival scene. Weird, but good.

And that may be the best way to describe the whole of the Baltimore Grand Prix experience: weird but good, where “weird” in this case is not at all a bad thing. “Weird” meaning different, unexpected, and surprising.

So many people in attendance. Way more than I thought I’d see. And all different kinds, as well. I saw young and old, white and black and brown, male and female. Plenty of each. Mst importantly, they all seemed to be having a genuinely good time. I didn’t see any fights or any standoffs. I didn’t really see anything negative. It was like a classic Baltimore street festival writ large, albeit with far more corporate sponsorship.

So much ink — both digital and actual — was spent over the past few months debating whether or not this event was “good” for the city. Whether or not the money spent to host it was worthwhile in light of this city’s many needs and whether or not the inconvenience of closing the roads was worth it. This being an election year, plenty of folks lined up to take sides.

I can only say this: having been there, amongst the crowd, this was definitely a good thing.

I’m not alone in that assessment. John Oreovicz at ESPN gushed about the event, concluding that:

For three decades, street races from the Meadowlands to Miami have been jockeying to call themselves the “Long Beach of the East.”

And in the Baltimore Grand Prix, it looks like INDYCAR finally found one that deserves that crown.

Whether or not the BGP ends up being a long-term Baltimore tradition remains an open question. We don’t even definitively know if it will return next year. I hope it does.

(Note: the video above is admittedly nothing special but I think it provides at least a little bit of a window into the feeling of “being there” for folks who couldn’t be. Turn up your speakers for maximum impact.)

14 comments to Recapping the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix

  • dan the man

    Good stuff, I’m glad this was able to happen with at least relative success. Who cares about traffic, deal with it, I say. I remember first reading about the potential of the BGP right here at TLC, so it’s great to see finally happen.

    1. Lot of talk about the bad MD uni’s, but also lots of talk, period. And I think that’s the whole idea. Ugly or not, I think it’s an unquestionably good move on the part of MD’s PR/Marketing department.

    2. Neal, I’ve got another Steelers fan question for you, even though you claim Buffalo allegiance this year. Maybe you can’t answer this since you live in Baltimore, but does Pittsburgh sports radio go around proclaiming “It’s Ravens Week!”? Because I have to say, I find that really annoying. It’s not Steelers Week, it’s Week 1 in which the Ravens play the Steelers. I just can’t imagine that if we beat Pittsburgh even half of the times we played them, we wouldn’t be naming an entire week after our opponents.

  • Andrew G

    @ dan the man:

  • dan the man

    @ Andrew G:
    Not saying I disagree. But if you want to recruit and get some buzz going and get people talking about the least-talked-about college football program ever, it’s one way to do it. And anyway, I hate college football, so it’s not like I’ll watch anyway. Just my two cents.

  • dan the man

    Garrard for backup QB, calling it now.

  • neal s

    @ dan the man: I don’t listen to much Pittsburgh sports radio so I can’t really say. I do read the Pittsburgh sports pages and I don’t recall any of the columnists there talking that way, but I don’t know whether or not “Ravens Week” is a thing among the fans.

    I agree with you, though, that it’s annoying. Rivalries are fun but it seems a little weird to organize your season around them. The rest of the division games count just as much.

  • neal s

    Going back to the Grand Prix, I really would love to hear from anyone else who went. I thought it was great but I wonder if there are any bad experiences out there I should know about.

    I did have one bad experience that led to me not being able to pick up my press credential but I managed to track someone down who (mostly) fixed the problem. No real harm done.

  • Mike R

    @ neal s:

    I went down saturday and bought a general admission ticket. It is annoying that for a 2.4 mile track there were only 4 exits and entraces. I heard some of the lines to get over the temporary bridges were backed up for 4 and 5 blocks. However I went in late, and left early missing most of the entry and exit crowd.

    I had a good time, but not sure if I would partake in the more expensive race day tickets. It was really cool to be up on the fence when they would fly down Pratt street, but after 15 or 20 minutes, it was like, ok. Its just that the kind of racing I find exciting are the ones with multiple lead changes and lots of passing. I mean, Will Power for the last 20 laps was ahead by a good 12, 15 seconds. While I appreciate the skill it takes to drive road courses, from a fans perspective, I don’t like how you can only see whats in front of you. If I really like a certain driver I want to see what their doing on the whole track.

    Either way, I hope it actually was a hit, and it’s event that is here to stay for many years.

  • Mike R

    On another unrelated note, why the hell are the Orioles trying to play tonight. They started 3 hours late, it’s still a monsoon out there, and they’re spending more time dumping that drying agent on the dirt than actually playing.

    Never heard of double headers? How about suspending the game and resuming it tomorrow? I hope we come ack and beat the Yanks so bad. I feel like their sticking it to us after whining about having to play on their offday thursday

  • Adam

    @ Mike R:
    Agreed. I can’t imagine there’s any way this game is played if the O’s were playing, say, the Royals.

  • Big Ben's Motorcycle

    grand prix sucks. pittsburgh swallows. ’bout it.

  • Andrew

    @ Adam:
    well duh. they had to play this game because: there’s more bad weather a-coming and precious few days to actually make up any more games. Further the game, believe it or not, had playoff implications because of the seeding race the Yankees are in with the Red Sox, so the game had to be played.

    This isn’t that complicated. It sucked, but what can you do?

  • ryan97ou

    i was at the grand prix all three days. partly because i was intrigued by the event, partly because i had a friend going who was huge into indy, and mainly because since i had to deal with all the horrendous traffic for about 9 months there was no way i wasn’t at least going to the thing. keep in mind i know pretty much nothing about indy racing.

    so having dealt first hand with all the headaches (my commute takes me down russell st. to 295 and back) there was certainly some bitterness built up in me about the event. so keep that in mind.

    it took me about 30 minutes on friday afternoon, sitting on pratt st. enjoying a beer as the le mans cars flew around the chicane (sp?), and seeing everyone around me generally smiling and in wonder (from ALL walks of life…even some pretty rough lookin dudes) to get over said bitterness. there was a buzz in there air that i haven’t felt for a while in baltimore and it was pretty cool.

    friday overall was pretty light and you could see a good amount of the track without tickets through the fence.

    saturday we headed down around noon and we had tickets for grandstand 8 by the science center. we walked in pretty easily and watched the qualifying rounds of indy.

    then we headed into the “infield” and that’s when it became VERY obvious there weren’t enough bridges into that area. it was bordering at times of the “revolt” mentality of the masses waiting to get up the bridge on charles st. but we eventually got in and i was amazed at the amount of people inside the grounds. TONS. easily the most people i have ever seen downtown.

    we went into the paddock, which was VERY cool (highly recommended) and basically the entire bottom floor of the convention center was filled with big rigs and well done up areas for all of the cars to be worked on, taken apart, etc. basically a mini city of cars, scooters, tire stacks, drivers signing autographs, cars pulling around tires and gear to/from the pits, et. al. We were able to get right up next to the indy cars as they were wheeling them in from qualifying. one of the highlights of the weekend.

    we then headed around towards camden yards, took in the crowd enjoying themselves. a pretty cool fan village by the light rail stop that had food/drink/trophy stage, etc. camden yards’ eutaw street was opened up as if there was a game and all of the out of towners was taking pictures of camden yards and enjoying some boogs.

    we then walked out to the “fan village” where it just so happened all of the indy drivers were signing. got our obligatory picture of danica then headed back towards the inner harbor (after another long wait to get across the bridge) for our seats for the le mans.

    the pre-race coverage of the le mans was pretty sweet hearing every person interviewed talk about how awesome the crowd was and how they had never seen anything like this in a street course, the city, crowd, support, amount of people there. they seemed to genuinely mean it, which was cool.

    (note: if you’re in the grandstand you can see the jumbotron and hear most of the commentating as long as the cars aren’t flying by you at the time…very valuable if you have no clue what’s going on)

    the race itself, while cool seeing ferraris, porches, m3’s, etc. became hard to follow pretty quickly since there were 4 classes within the race, which lead to some moments of “ok, i get it…what’s next?”.

    sunday i headed back to the md science center grandstand in time to see the finish of the u2000’s indy cars, and then the grand finale of indy. it was just as packed as saturday if not more, hard to tell since i wasn’t inside the course, but even more excitement. despite a HORRIBLE national anthem, the jet fly over got everyone excited and as the cars made their first turn and into the u turn by our seats everyone in our bleachers stood up to see the cars (this happened every green flag).

    the race was MUCH easier to follow with the indy cars, only getting slightly confusing during pits, etc. but since the cars weren’t as spread out as during the le mans you could hear a lot of the commentating during the race. although there wasn’t much passing, when there was it was pretty dicey and it was especially cool seeing that huge bottlneck/stall-fest right in front of our seats.

    after it was all done (which went by surprisingly quickly) i was shocked both days just how easy it was to get out of the city. i grabbed a cab very quick saturday, and although i walked home sunday, a cab would have been just as easy. i also saw a lot of people on bikes (smart).

    as for the grounds…the food looked to be pretty standard, and although the beers were $8, at least they were 24 oz’s.

    i will say that i did visit some periphery restaurants that weren’t in the immediate vicinity who were told to expect an uptick in business and I was told weren’t seeing much difference (alewife on friday, cinghale on saturday night). i know a lot of people who were leaving town because of the grand prix and i’m sure they weren’t alone, so i wonder if the businesses that weren’t directly near the track didn’t actually see a decline in #’s when compared to other labor days (my bet).

    which leads me to my overall breakdown. since i was somewhat hating on the issues it caused leading up to it (despite having tickets) i have to eat a little crow and admit that it actually exceeded my expectations by a lot. and the things i thought would be the bad thing (traffic, mishaps, city screw ups) actually didn’t happen nearly as much as i expected.

    as for next year, i bet some of those people that were scared out of town or who didn’t go downtown might check it out due to the good reports, and i also bet some of those people who did check it out this year might not bother again next year. but don’t include me in the later. i’m in.

  • ryan97ou

    sorry for the novel.

  • dan the man

    Chris Davis has a golden sombrero today.