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Thoughts on the Baltimore Grand Prix

We’re less than a month away now from the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, the Labor Day weekend race that will see IndyCar drivers (along with their second-tier counterparts) take to the downtown streets for a “festival of speed”. About this, some folks are none too happy.

The “big” controversy, at least in mainstream terms, has revolved around the removal of trees to create sight lines for attendees. Anecdotal evidence shows that there’s broader opposition, as well, based on typical gripes about traffic, congestion, improper use of City resources, and/or general dislike for the very idea of an auto race in Baltimore. Plenty of people out there would be perfectly happy if this event never happens, or never happens again.

On that, I have to call a little bit of bullshit. For two reasons.

First, much of the hate is brutally shortsighted. Too much talk about how it’s not worthwhile or interesting based entirely on personal feelings. Too little consideration of the big picture.

This is Baltimore on an international stage, hosting something only two other cities in the US (Long Beach and St. Petersburg, FL) get to host. Philly doesn’t have this. Chicago doesn’t have this. Atlanta, DC, Seattle — they don’t have this. It’s a potentially transformative event in terms of the tourism (read: dollars) it brings and the way it changes perception of where Baltimore sits on the national stage. Whether or not we “like” it isn’t entirely relevant in that context.

The second — and more troubling — reason to call bullshit on the opposition is the extent to which it’s rooted in politics.

Launching this event in a mayoral election year was a huge mistake. As a result, the Grand Prix has become a flashpoint, a way for folks who oppose the current City administration to earn attention by piggybacking on something in which the media and public are already interested. For these people the bigger picture is irrelevant — they simply want what they want. That is, after all, the essence of politics. But make no mistake: their critiques have little, if anything, to do with whether or not the Grand Prix itself is a good idea.

I put up a post on Twitter a few weeks ago calling Grand Prix hate a classic “this is why we can’t have nice things” scenario. I said that — and stand by it — because I’m frustrated by how some people can’t put their personal trips aside while we wait and see whether or not this thing actually works.

Maybe it won’t work. That’s certainly a possibility. If you read this this excellent background piece by Julie Scharper and Justin Fenton at the Sun, then follow it up with this news about new legal trouble, you can see that the organizers have their hands full.

Maybe the problems are too deep to overcome. Maybe they’re not. We won’t really know until we’re two or three years in. If, after that, things haven’t gone well? I’ll be the first person to say “They gave it a shot and it didn’t work. Adios.” But I’d like to actually give it a shot because I think it could be very good for Baltimore, in much the same way that a Ravens Super Bowl win, an Orioles playoff run, or another MLB All-Star game would be good for Baltimore.

If it needs to be said after all of that, I’ll note that I fully respect the individual right to speak out, organize, and generally participate in matters of civic interest. Indeed, I’d argue that it’s more of a responsibility than a right. But I also think that folks who choose to enter that arena have a corollary responsibility to do so in a smart way. Using opposition to the Grand Prix as a way to sow personal and/or political oats is not smart. It’s not productive. It’s small. I hate to see that.

Let’s enjoy the fact that world-class racing is coming to Baltimore. Let’s let it happen, then see how it works. Let’s do this with an eye on whether or not the City wins. Let’s respond accordingly after the actual returns are in.

Surely that’s not too much to ask?

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