The head of IndyCar, the car racing league, came to Baltimore on Thursday and assured the city's taxpayers and business owners that this September's Grand Prix would not end up in financial ruin as last year's race did.
"There's no room for errors. We have to be successful and the promoter has to be successful," IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said at the Intercontinental Harbor Court Hotel before showing off the cars and new technologies that would be used in the Labor Day race.
"They feel the pressure," Bernard said of the new Grand Prix management team. "There needs to be pressure on everyone. ... We owe it to the residents of Baltimore."
Bernard said the Baltimore race could become one of IndyCar's top annual events. He was joined by Dale Dillon, one of three partners in the new team Downforce Racing, IZOD IndyCar driver Simona De Silvestro and representatives of two sponsors: Entergy Nuclear CEO John Herron and Intercontinental Harbor Court general manager Arpad Romandy.
As part of the event, De Silvestro posed in one of the race cars, and traffic was briefly limited to one lane on Light Street.
"Baltimore is a great race," the popular driver said. "I'm just really excited to be back."
City officials unveiled a contract Wednesday with Downforce Racing, composed of Dillon, an Indianapolis construction contractor, and two former Constellation Energy Group executives: Felix J. Dawson and Daniel C. Reck. The contract with Downforce Racing is to be presented to the city's Board of Estimates for a vote next week. The mayor controls three of the five votes on that panel.
City officials credit Dillon with pulling off the 2011 event when he was recruited as general manager by the previous organizer, Baltimore Racing Development, as that management team struggled with leadership issues in the final weeks before the race. The city ended the contract with Baltimore Racing Development in December.
Dillon said Thursday he is confident his team can succeed where the previous operators failed. His group plans to give away fewer tickets and also won't hire consultants or take out loans — steps that Baltimore Racing Development took and contributed to their losing money, he said. Dillon, Dawson and Reck will be the only investors the company needs, he said.
About 160,000 people attended last year's Labor Day weekend racing festival, but fewer than 110,000 paid for tickets.
"They probably went overboard last year," Dillon added. "It was inexperience that contributed the most to it. They relied on some consultants that didn't deliver. They fell into that trap and it was costly."
The city performed about $7 million in roadwork for last year's race, and the Maryland Stadium Authority spent more than $2 million revamping the area around Camden Yards that drivers used for pit stops. While Baltimore Racing Development still owes about $1.2 million to the stadium authority, that's work that benefits Downforce Racing at no cost, Dillon said.
The first race also was hurt by the lack of a title sponsor, and Dillon said the new team has started recruiting possible candidates. But he added that his group is financially sound enough that it doesn't need such a sponsor to pull off the race.
"We're one step away," he said of gaining a title sponsor. "We hope to in the next four to six weeks to announce that title sponsor. We're giving everybody a chance. We don't need that big home run right out of the box. If we find one, fantastic."
In putting on last year's inaugural racing festival, Baltimore Racing Development racked up at least $12 million in debt, according to company documents, including more than $1.5 million in city taxes and fees. Several private vendors as well as city and state agencies are among the creditors who have yet to be paid.
The new contract does not require Downforce Racing to pay its predecessor's debts. "We're going to have to pay the vendors up front to even get them to show up," Dillon said. "That's a self-check device right there."
Bernard characterized the troubles of last year's race as lessons learned that could help the new team succeed.
"I think we've been able to learn a lot already," Bernard said of the last race. "We can dwell on the negative or we can focus on the future and work to make this the best event in the world."
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has said he plans to vote against the deal when it comes before the Board of Estimates. He opposed the race in an op/ed article submitted to The Baltimore Sun, arguing that the city's time and energy should be spent instead on activities for youth, such as recreation centers.
But Dillon believes his new team can win Young back to the race he once supported.
"We will sway Mr. Young," he pledged.
And the new race leader has begun trying to win over the city's residents as well.
"Baltimore is my new favorite city," he told the news conference crowd to applause.
twitter.com/lukebroadwaterCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun