Television watchers can thank Peter Larsson and his fast-growing Hanover company for one of the best views available for Sunday's race through downtown Baltimore — and for just about any car race anywhere in the U.S., for that matter.
Larsson's company, Broadcast Sports Inc., makes and installs the video cameras that are placed in the cars for races. The signal is fed to television broadcasts, giving viewers a driver's-eye view of the action.
Larsson and his staff of 98 are part of a vast web of contractors, many of them homegrown but little-known, that have been working behind the scenes to prepare for the first-ever Baltimore Grand Prix. For such companies, the three-day event, which concludes Sunday with an IndyCar race through the streets by the Inner Harbor, has proved a bonanza.
Area businesses have been tapped for tasks such as welding shut dozens of manhole covers along the course, handling the delivery and construction of racecourse concrete barriers, installing fencing, suppling food to catered trackside parties and handling media requests from around the globe.
Tim Conder, owner of Baltimore-based Conder Inc., has supervised the setup and teardown of stages for concerts, festivals and corporate events. But he's never helped build a racecourse.
Conder, which coordinates schedules and materials while another company, Charm City Crewing, provides the labor, has built stages for Billy Joel and Elton John, the Dave Matthews Band, Kenny Chesney and U2. The company sometimes oversees as many as 100 workers installing spectator fencing, delivering portable toilets or scheduling headlining bands.
The contract with the Baltimore Grand Prix, to construct the racetrack wall, is among the top five in the company's 10-year history, Conder said.
"We've been working since July 25th nonstop, and this last week, like any event, the closer you get to it, the activity ramps up," said Conder, who lives in Hampden. He described his work on the Grand Prix, as on most projects, as "very resource-driven. You have to have connections to the folks who have the work and to the vendors who have the materials."
About a dozen employees have worked nights the past six weeks to erect the barrier wall, safety fence and tire pallets for the 2-mile racetrack. Another half-dozen workers have been bolting together tires at a warehouse in South Baltimore to make pallets of 25 tires each. The pallets protect drivers who skid out of control from smashing into a wall.
"We had to bolt together 15,000 tires, and that took six guys from May to July," said Conder, who once worked for a concert promoter and played in local bands, always doubling as the business manger. He switched to the production end when he started his company some 10 years ago.
While Conder's workers were installing barriers, three employees of D&T Welding Contractor were welding shut manhole covers. Tammy Lunn, who owns D&T with her husband, David, said the 10-employee company has been called on to close manhole covers before, but never in preparation for a race.
"They have to be welded down so when cars run over them so fast they won't pop up," Lunn said. "We're also on standby there Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in case one pops off."
Workers in the company's East Baltimore shop also fabricated steel wall panels to cover fire hydrants around the course, another safety measure. The company's contract, awarded in June, amounts to about $40,000.
Lunn and her husband started their business seven years ago. Work slowed down during the recession and has begun to pick up only recently with bridge and highway work.
"This was his dream … to start a business," Tammy Lunn said. "Getting the Grand Prix was good for us."
For BSI, which designs and produces the $20,000 cameras at a factory near Arundel Mills, work at the Baltimore Grand Prix comes through an existing long-term contract with the Indy Racing League. BSI supplies the eight-pound cameras to the IRL, which then sells them for each race to sponsors such as Verizon, Go Daddy and Firestone.
The company has annual sales of $30 million.
"It's entirely changed the way people view the sport," said Larsson, the general manager of BSI. "Once you got the cameras in the cars, people got a better understanding of what the driver goes through. Now you can see the skill and the beating the driver gets driving around the racetrack.
"In the early days, we were just a novelty. It was cool to get that shot. Now it's a must-have for the coverage of a car race."
The BSI co-founder spent last week working from a production trailer parked in the TV broadcast compound behind the Baltimore Convention Center. Workers had spent days setting up the complex infrastructure needed to broadcast from the track: a system of 12 microwave receiver sites around the course with antennas on cranes, 6 miles of fiber-optic cable and two broadcast production trailers.
Larsson, a Sydney native who once worked as a special-projects engineer for an Australian television network, began supplying cameras to NASCAR in 1981, landing the Daytona 500 as his first event.
He moved from Australia to Connecticut in 1983 and co-founded BSI. The company moved to Maryland in 1986.
On any given weekend, BSI sends production crews and trailers to as many as 13 events. The company's wireless camera feeds are also used in broadcasts of the PGA Tour, the Kentucky Derby, the Olympics and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Baltimore event gives BSI's Hanover-based employees a chance to see the race in their own backyard. The company bought a hospitality tent to host its workers.
"It's great that we get to work in our home state," Larsson said. "The fact that it's downtown next to the water will be great. It's so good to have it nearby, where everyone from the office can come up and see it."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun