City officials believe that the Grand Prix also burnished Baltimore's reputation as a destination. But the race never reached as many television viewers as originally hoped. While projections suggested that it would be seen by 3.5 million in the United States, domestic viewership for last year's IndyCar event reached only 247,000.

Meanwhile, the Grand Prix inconveniences many local businesses and those who live and work downtown. For example, the Maryland Science Center, a popular destination for families, closes for the weekend. Organizers shortened the time it takes to build the track and have managed to keep more of the city accessible during construction, but downtown still feels constricted for nearly a month.

The race also polarizes residents of nearby neighborhoods.

"I'd say it's 50 percent excited about the race, and then near 50 percent against it," said Bill Reuter, who has coordinated Grand Prix-related events for the Ridgely's Delight neighborhood association.

Those in favor of the event have embraced its festival nature, projecting movies about racing onto a white wall and sipping cocktails in 2012, he said. They've planned a big wheel race for this year.

But others in the neighborhood, which sits along the western side of the track, have chosen to leave town during the event. Amy Schneider's 2-year-old son enjoys seeing the cars, but she said the family leaves because the event is too much of a nuisance.

"There's just too much inconvenience for too long," Joanne Drummond added. "We're accustomed to big sporting events, but this ruins our quality of life in many ways for weeks, and it has not had the positive impact we hoped for on our local businesses."

The race came to Baltimore amid optimism for a rebirth of IndyCar's popularity. But the CEO hired to re-energize the sport was ousted after last season. And open-wheel racing continues to spin out with today's racing consumers. This year's Indianapolis 500, the sport's signature event, garnered a 3.8 television rating, the lowest ever and a 7 percent drop from 2012.

"This was something of a rebuilding year," acknowledged Mark Miles, IndyCar's new CEO.

Miles said IndyCar remains committed to hosting a race in Baltimore, as long as Race On can secure a date. He's pushing to make the circuit more appealing to fans by ending the season with a three-race series showcasing the circuit's three kinds of racing — on an oval like the Indianapolis 500, on a permanent road course and on a temporary track like the one in the Inner Harbor — while drivers chase points for the championship.

That would give the Grand Prix of Baltimore an opportunity to become a signature event.

"These have a chance to become really important for us, and Baltimore is in the discussion," Miles said.

After three years, though, those involved in planning the race have a better understanding of the impact of turning over a large, busy part of the city to what has increasingly become a niche sport.

Jay Davidson, who led original organizer Baltimore Racing, which struggled to pay bills owed to the city and vendors and lost its contract, is no longer sure the race will be successful in Baltimore.

"From where I stand now, I'm not convinced it can work," said Davidson, who acknowledges being jaded. "I hope it can, but I don't know. There's a lot to deal with."

The race's fate rests with Grant, the financier. He needs to negotiate a new date for the next two years and decide how much more money Race On can stand to lose.

"Our focus is on this year's race," Grant said. "After that, we need to sit down and see where we're at. I still see the potential. But I also see some things we need to work out."

Baltimore Grand Prix 2013 news from The Baltimore Sun