Schiff, who runs Mac Brand Foods of Richmond, Va., said his business was up compared with the 2012 Grand Prix.

"Who doesn't want fried food?" Schiff said. "Who doesn't want an Italian [sausage] with peppers and onions? Who's next?"

Jihad Swan, working promotions at a two-story hospitality tent for Revel resort and casino in Atlantic City, said more people had stopped by the tent than had during other events the casino sponsored, including those surrounding the Miss America pageant. By early afternoon, the hotel had gathered more than 2,500 email addresses from potential customers, luring them in with a free photo booth, massages and games.

Improving vendor relations was a key goal after complaints the race was "chaotic" and poorly planned last year, Mayer said. Organizers better mapped and marked stages and event areas, established special golf cart paths that didn't conflict with pedestrian traffic and carefully scheduled installation of temporary concrete barriers and fencing so as to minimize disruption to Inner Harbor businesses.

While Mayer said the Grand Prix will not turn a profit this year, organizers are pleased with "metrics," which they see trending upward.

"I sincerely hope we're not five years down the road and not showing a profit," he said. "It's building a house one brick at a time."

Organizers have said the race's future depends on increased revenue and finding the right dates that don't conflict with events at M&T Bank Stadium and the Baltimore Convention Center. But officials with the IndyCar sports organization said they are committed to returning to Baltimore.

"We're really delighted to be here and hope to be here for a real long time," Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent company of IndyCar, said. "We want to be here. The promoters want us to be here. I understand the city fathers do. We're working on finding a date that doesn't fluctuate too much year over year, but we definitely want to be back in Baltimore."

As the checkered flag was about to drop on Sunday's premier IndyCar race, Ben Ward, 12, pushed in his ear plugs and prepared to catch a glimpse of the roaring cars speeding by just beyond a chain-link fence. His father, Tim Ward, 54, did the same as sweat dripped down his face.

They came from Marriottsville because Ben wanted to attend the race. But Tim Ward said he found himself having a good time, impressed by how the city had turned itself into a professional racetrack for just one weekend.

"It's pretty cool seeing the city change like this," he said. "Everyone's having fun, real good, even for families."

Baltimore Grand Prix 2013 news from The Baltimore Sun