Several groups are angling to seize control of Baltimore's Grand Prix as city officials seek a new management team in the wake of the financial collapse of the company that organized the inaugural race.
At least two teams — each headed by a former organizer of IndyCar races elsewhere — plan to submit proposals to take over the racing festival, according to people close to the negotiations. Others, including the head of an Owings Mills-based contracting company and a former racecar driver, have expressed interest.
Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos said she has asked interested parties to submit a proposal by Saturday that demonstrates that they have the money and management experience to run such an event.
She declined to identify the groups but said city officials remain in discussions with "a couple of people." The city announced last week that it was severing its contract with Baltimore Racing Development, which put on the Labor Day weekend event.
Sources close to the negotiations say Dale Dillon, owner of an Indianapolis-based construction company, has emerged as a front-runner to take over the racing contract. Dillon did not respond to requests for comment.
Dillon has helped organize IndyCar races in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Toronto and is part of a team trying to bring a race to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He served as Baltimore Racing Development's general manager in the final weeks before the race, and many in city government saw him as the savior of the event.
Dillon is in talks with Felix Dawson, a former Constellation Energy executive, who could help manage and fund the race, sources say.
Dawson, a Baltimore resident, has close ties to one of Baltimore Racing Development's managers, Walker Mygatt, and had proposed a plan to take over the struggling company. Under Dawson's proposal, Dillon would have played a key role in the reorganized company. Dawson did not respond to a request for comment.
Coverage of the city's dissolution of the contract has led to interest from a new group which, like Dillon, has helped run Toronto's race.
Geoff Whaling, CEO of North American Motorsport Events Inc., said he plans to submit a proposal to manage the race in 2012 by Saturday's deadline after reading about the event in The Baltimore Sun.
"I'm interested in ensuring that it continues," he said of the Baltimore Grand Prix. "I'm really excited by the race's potential."
Whaling, who is married to former racecar driver Trisha Hessinger, partnered with actor Paul Newman to bring urban races to New York and Philadelphia.
Whaling, the former head of economic planning and tourism for the city of Toronto, said he designed and implemented a plan for that city's race, called the Molson Indy Festival.
"Our event was successful because we knew not everybody was going to be a race fan," he said. "We really turned it into a festival."
He declined to reveal details of his proposal for the Baltimore event, but said he planned to run it as a nonprofit.
After weeks of warnings, city officials announced that they were terminating their contract with Baltimore Racing Development, which has more than $12 million in debts, including more than $1.5 million in unpaid city taxes and fees. It is unclear whether the company will file for bankruptcy and whether it will be able to pay its debts. The company lacks a chief executive and chief operating officer, and a five-member management team has struggled to reach a consensus on plans for a turnaround.
Parthemos, the deputy mayor for economic development, said she hopes to present a contract with a new team to the city's Board of Estimates for final approval by the middle of next month. Timing is important "in order for us to make sure the new team is able to secure sponsors and begin ticket sales," she said.
Racing analysts say the new group must take over by March to prepare for an event in September.
City officials said they would be open to a new proposal from Baltimore Racing Development but stressed that the group would have to become solvent and demonstrate a plan to effectively manage the event.
The company's debts include millions of dollars owed to vendors, more than $450,000 in city amusement and admissions taxes and $750,000 for city workers who staffed the three-day event. The group failed to replant scores of trees cut down for the race, the removal of which provoked many complaints from city residents.