Grand Prix Recap: One Baltimore Spectator’s Varied POV

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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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  1. Sounds like the event was a success! I was skeptical and spent the weekend out of town, but was sure the catch the event on television. Even via my TV, the race looked like a ton of fun! Great tip about the paddock, I’ve heard everyone say it was worth while.

  2. I will be delighted if the Grand Prix turns out to be a financial success for the city. The city needs the boost. However, as a resident in one of the neighborhoods most affected, i.e., Otterbein, I am pleading for more understanding of the perspective of those of us residents who were less than completely positive about the event. I was out of town. As I read The Sun on-line I saw a caption for an article that said that “nay sayers” left town. I ask non-residents to consider what life is like in our neighborhood when there is an event like this. It is not just the traffic, or road closures. Consider that if I have to go somewhere that requires me to drive (like for some frivolous thing like groceries), I probably will not find a place to park my car when I return. (And if I park in an alley because there is no other place to park I’ll be hit with a $45 parking ticket). Also consider what life in my neighborhood has been like for months and months as we have had to endure race-course construction road closures. It is legitimate to be weary of this event when for months we have had to try to figure out how to get our children to school on time while navigating the maze of open/closed roads. This has caused me to give serious consideration to moving from this neighborhood that I truly love. So, PLEASE, any one reading this, please reserve give this perspective some consideration before being critical of those of us living at Ground Zero of this event. Thanks.

  3. I also am glad that the city got a financial boost from the event, but there were a lot of little costs to us non-racing-interested Baltimoreans. I am shocked to hear that you had an easy time getting in and out of downtown – it was a nightmare for me to get to my daughter’s daycare for the entire week leading up to the races. One day I spent two hours in the car just to drop off (normally I spend 1/2 hour), 3/4 of it within 5 blocks of my daughter’s school. The daycare closed early and was even considering closing altogether on Friday because of the traffic – many parents opted to pay out of pocket for a babysitter at home instead of bringing their kids downtown. I also heard that lots of trees were cut down to prepare the roads for the race etc. All of these small things are not a big deal individually, but together they do impact the ambiance of the city and the wallets of each individual citizen.

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