Baltimore Grand Prix leader got his start in Harford

Jay Davidson, the man bringing IndyCar racing to the streets of Baltimore in a few weeks, started out as a police reporter for Harford County's two newspapers more than two decades ago.

Fresh out of Princeton University in 1989, Davidson landed a job as a reporter for The Record in Havre de Grace. He also began handling the police beat for The Aegis when the two publications' news staffs were merged in 1990.

More than 20 years later, Davidson, 43, is the chief executive of the Baltimore Grand Prix, which is coming to the Inner Harbor the weekend of Sept. 2-4. This year is the first for the event, but Davidson said they have a five-year agreement with the city.

Getting into the international auto racing business was not Davidson's original intent. It's something he says he sort of fell into.

After leaving The Aegis in 1991, Davidson, who grew up in Baltimore's Roland Park neighborhood and graduated from The Gilman School, continued on to law school at George Washington University. Following law school, he then spent several years with various firms in Washington, D.C., before becoming the associate general counsel for U.S. Food Service.

When U.S. Food Service moved from Columbia to Chicago in 2009, Davidson chose to not uproot his family, having married in 2002, so he left the company. He and his wife have a 5-year-old daughter.

Davidson next took a job with the Baltimore Racing Development, a group of local investors committed to bringing Grand Prix racing to Baltimore.

He had never been to a NASCAR or IndyCar race, he added, prior to going to a race in Detroit in 2009.

"I was just blown away," Davidson said, later adding that it felt "dangerous," but "kind of cool at the same time."

Now, a few months from the big weekend, Davidson is the president of Baltimore Racing Development, LLC.

Even though he lacks a background in auto racing, Davidson is no wallflower when it comes to sporting activities. He played football at Gilman and at Princeton, and his former newspaper colleagues say they remember getting into plenty of pickup basketball games and golf matches at his instigation.

"One thing I can tell you about Jay is he doesn't like to lose," Aegis Managing Editor Allan Vought, who worked with Davidson at the newspaper, said. "He's competitive, and that should serve him well in his current business venture."

Keeping up with the race has been a "hard project," Davidson said, and a very big development project for the area.

"You're basically creating a city within the city," he explained.

The Grand Prix will last throughout the weekend, and two of the biggest races will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 3-4. The American Le Mans Series will be on Saturday and feature various sports cars, including Porsches and Ferraris.

Sunday's feature is the big one, however, with the IZOD IndyCar race coming to Baltimore, with the same teams and drivers of the Indy 500, Davidson said.

Although the Grand Prix is a festival of sorts, Davidson said, "most people are there because they want to see a car go 180 miles per hour down Pratt Street."

In addition to the racing, however, the event will also feature 10 different bands with two headliners. Collective Soul will perform Saturday and The Bridge on Sunday.

"It's going to be a big sort of festival," Davidson said.

They will also have go-karts, climbing walls and beer and wine gardens, he said, adding that they expected more than 100,000 people in the three days of the event.

So far, there has been a pretty good response from the public, too, Davidson said, even though the preparations have impacted people's commutes. Most of the street repair work involved was already scheduled for the city, he added, but was just moved up in the timeline because of the Grand Prix.

They have also held 45 community meetings, he said, and "people think [it is] pretty positive."

Baltimore Racing Development also made a commitment to provide $100,000 to the neighborhoods around the race course and a few weeks ago, they made the first $33,000 donation, Davidson said.

The past two years planning this have been hard, Davidson said, adding that he has been "fully engaged" in the Grand Prix. But with Labor Day weekend only weeks away, all the planning is coming together.

"We feel like we're on track to bring a great event to Baltimore," he said.

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