After weeks of hype, headaches and heated bickering, the Baltimore Grand Prix is in the history books. Massive crowds turned out (somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 depending on whether you’re talking to police or Grand Prix officials), and, despite not having an official analysis of the fiscal numbers available, city officials are already declaring the Labor Day weekend event a success.
The jury will be out for some time as to whether the race served as a financial boon for the city, but as an event, it was worthwhile, if not without its headaches. As a first time IndyCar spectator and Baltimore sports fan, here’s are some lessons I learned attending this year’s race:
Yes, it’s a party, but make the racing the focus. The Baltimore Grand Prix boasted beer gardens, local celebrity appearances (hey, Michael Phelps!) and a full concert series, but the cars are the reason to go. I’m not a gear-head by any means, but I was in awe of the power of Sunday’s IndyCars and Saturday’s American Le Mans Series vehicles as they burned down Pratt Street. Double points for buying paddock pad tickets, which provided an inside view with all the race teams.
Make new friends, especially with the hardcore race aficionados. My tickets were in Grandstand 6, with a nice sight line of the Pratt Street straight away and a view of Light Street at the infamous Turn 1. The folks around me were big race fans, and talking and listening to them made it much easier to follow the action.
Even if you’re not going to the race, don’t be afraid to go downtown. As a daily commuter with a downtown parking pass, I was able to make it from North Baltimore to the Pier V garage in 10 minutes, faster than my regular workday drive. Anyone who wanted to take a trip to East Baltimore could have done so with ease. Precautions were understandable this year, but in the future the city will need to make sure those businesses in neighborhoods like Fell’s Point, Canton and Little Italy aren’t compromised by unwarranted traffic fears.
Improving logistics will be key to this event’s future. I arrived a few hours before the main event Sunday, and made it through the Inner Harbor’s Light Street pavilion entrance in 15 minutes. Others I spoke to, however, were stuck in entrance/exit lines for hours, waiting for police to let them through. There were fan reports of issues with VIP tickets and amenities, and other reports of grandstands missing entire rows of seats. As a first-year event, these types of issues are inevitable. Fans won’t be so forgiving if these issues occur again in 2012.
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