Jay Davidson is, admittedly, no gear-head.
But as the president of the Baltimore Grand Prix, Davidson has been living and breathing all things IndyCar the past several months.
The inaugural race will bring dozens of high-speed open-wheel cars to Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, competing on a roughly two-mile course through downtown.
To prepare, city workers have had to shut down sections of major roads for repairs, angering many commuters. But the race and the festival that surrounds it will be worth all the aggravation, Davidson promises.
What's the fastest you've ever driven through Baltimore?
I've been in a car going 162 mph down I-83. I wasn't driving — I won't mention who it was — but there's a local guy who had a [Porsche 911] GT3, I'm almost embarrassed to say. I didn't know he was going to go as fast as he did, but he hit 162.
How'd that feel?
Pretty scary, actually. Pretty scary.
What car do you drive?
I drive an Audi A6. It's actually pretty slow.
Does it hug the turns?
It does hug the turns pretty well.
Have you ever been on your way to a meeting in Baltimore and found yourself 20 minutes late due to construction from the Grand Prix?
[Laughs.] We get blamed for every piece of construction in Baltimore City. Yeah, I've been impacted by the construction on Pratt Street as well.
How do you take all that? People must be shaking their fists at you right and left.
It goes with the territory. This was all work that was going to be done anyway. The city was going to do the work in the next three years and they pressed it for the event. It's interesting for me to be a fairly public figure on a big event like this.
Have you had people come up to you complaining about it?
I've had people come up to me and say, "This is really irritating," but generally people understand this is a really big event for Baltimore. People get that the inconvenience in one year is worth it to have roads that will be great for five years and beyond, and to have an event like this for many years.
Do you think blue-collar Baltimoreans are going to buy into something that's so European?
So far, it seems like people are. We're getting fans from all over the place. There are a lot of NASCAR fans that are interested in checking out a street race like this. You've got Danica Patrick, who is a crossover driver. You can bring the event to people, as opposed to having to ask people to go out and watch a race at an oval.
On paper, it sounds a lot more exciting than NASCAR. Yet NASCAR is NASCAR.
Sure. It's a great series, and it's done well. But racing is not the only thing happening here. I remember coming down to the city fair, and having places be packed downtown around the harbor. This is kind of like a city fair on steroids, with cars whipping around at 180 mph. We're going to have bands — all kinds of things to do.
You've seen these races before, in other cities. What was your first impression?
I'm not a gear-head by nature. I went up to see a race in Detroit, and I was awestruck by the power and speed. It was a qualifying day, and a car wound up hitting a fire barrier. I was like, 'my God, this thing is fast and dangerous.' Seeing the size of the event, the number of people out there, I thought, 'Wow, this is a really cool thing.'
Have you driven one of these cars yourself?
I have not. I've been on the track at the Indy 500, which was kind of cool. I went on a pace car lap. But I've never driven. I think I'd probably hurt myself or somebody else if I did.