Among the tens of thousands of fans who came this weekend for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix were a large number of racing rookies. They were attracted for a variety of reasons — fast cars, a party atmosphere and the idea of supporting their hometown.
For Tim Trochimowicz of Pasadena, it was the free tickets he won in a raffle outside the local Giant supermarket.
"There was a band playing outside the Giant and people were putting their cards in for a raffle," Trochimowicz recalled. "When the tickets came in the mail, I had to go online to make sure they were real."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake greeted Sunday's crowd, which she said "exceeds anything anyone expected." An official count of attendees was not yet available. She spoke from the stage at victory lane during the final stretch of the three-day event, which officials hope will come back to Baltimore for several years.
"Welcome to Baltimore," the mayor shouted over the roar of engines. "You are welcome to return. God bless and have a great race."
Trochimowicz, it turns out, had won a pair of tickets for each of the three days. His wife, Liz, went with a friend on Friday and, after giving the pair of tickets to friends for Saturday, decided to return with her husband and buy a ticket for their 8-year-old daughter, Anna, for Sunday.
His wife "had so much fun she wanted to come back," Trochimowicz said as he and his family stood trackside as the race cars whizzed by during the Star Mazda Championship Series race.
Said Liz Trochimowicz: "I'm glad I came. It's fascinating. I want to come back next year and if I have my way, we'll stay at a hotel."
Ronny Bass of Randallstown has long had a "love of fast cars" and currently drives a 2003 Corvette.
But he had never been to an auto race until this weekend.
"I thought coming down to see it for the first time would be an amazing experience, up close in our town," Bass said as he watched some of the IndySeries cars being brought to the paddock.
Hearing the roars of the engines from a distance, "I knew they were going really fast," Bass said.
Not that Bass ever envisions recreating what he saw Sunday any time soon once the cement barricades are removed and the safety fences come down.
"With downtown traffic, you're not going to get anywhere near that speed," Bass said with a laugh. "On Pratt Street, near the Inner Harbor, you can forget that."
Even as race cars sped around the track in preliminary races, fans packed into the paddock at the convention center. Most headed right for Danica Patrick's trailer.
"It's obvious," said Chad Jarvis, an avid auto race fan from Ellicott City, explaining the draw to Patrick. "She's young and she's pretty."
Jarvis marveled at her marketing as her staff chatted with Baltimore's police commissioner. His 10-year-old son Campbell sported a Danica hat.
Jarvis has been to two other grand prix races, most recently in Montreal, and he said the crowd here was far larger. "I didn't think Baltimore could pull it off," he said. "But look at all the people here. It's impressive."
Richard Katz of Lutherville had no interest in auto racing but decided months ago to buy tickets for he, his wife Martha, and their 20-year old daughter Meredith for Sunday's races.
"This is a cool event," said Martha Katz.
The Katzes were successful among a horde of fans trying to secure the autograph of Danica Patrick. "She's like 2-feet tall," Richard Katz said. "My wife wanted to know how she can reach the pedal."
Richard Katz said that he hoped the event would change the "life on the streets from homicide to Grand Prix."
Over at turn 1, at Pratt and Light streets, where numerous cars in early races and practices wiped out on the sharp U-turn, Chris Clifford held up his cell phone to relay the thundering noise to a friend lunching in New York City.
"Hear anything?" Clifford shouted amid deafening noise from the cars just a few feet away, the sounds shaking the street as drivers revved up as they came out of the turn and sped up a straight section.
Clifford came from Salisbury at the urging of his wife, Tanya, and he's been to one other race, in Australia. "To have a grand prix so close to us is terrific," he said.