The race car — what's left of it — sits in a yard in Middle River, a rusty hulk entombed by weeds. The engine's gone; the tires rotted.
"It ain't very pretty to look at," Pete Kantorsky, Jr. said of the 1937 Ford. But one man's junk is another's treasure. Sitting by his old jalopy, which he drove at Dorsey Speedway in the 1960s, Kantorsky pats the side of the run-down stock car as a jockey might greet an aging racehorse.
"I see this car and I think about the good times and the bad," he said. Like the race in which he crashed into a fence and broke his shoulder. And the many races the Overlea native won during three decades of competing on dust-choked dirt tracks during the sport's heyday in Maryland.
Kantorsky, 85, is but one character in Maryland's long history with auto racing, a history that connects only tangentially to this weekend's third Grand Prix of Baltimore.
When it comes to motorsports, Maryland is no Indiana or North Carolina, states where major races are among the most anticipated dates on the sporting calendar. But since the early 20th century, pockets of local enthusiasts have maintained an under-the-radar passion for racing. Whether on a dirt track in Hagerstown or a drag strip in Mechanicsville, the sport lives among us.
Tim Mayer, the Grand Prix's general manager, said hardcore racing fans probably account for 10 to 15 percent of his audience. The event drew 131,000 over three days in 2012, and economic impact studies have found that about 75 percent came from Maryland. Organizers said they must market primarily to casual sports fans and festival goers.
"For the race to be successful, I cannot rely on a pure motorsports audience to be excited about it," Mayer said.
But he added that if the event remains in Baltimore for years, it could eventually create a new generation of fans, some of whom might funnel to the grass roots side of the sport embodied by dirt tracks and drag strips.
"I think it's a matter of time," he said. "You have to remember that the Indy 500 has been running for 100 years and the Daytona 500 for almost 60. But in Baltimore, the Grand Prix is the first major motorsports event of the modern era."
Pikesville resident Mike Levitas said he was surprised how many local fans he met once he started racing Porsches out of his TPC Racing shop in Jessup in the 1990s. He said he believes the Grand Prix can be a unifying event for Maryland gearheads.
"This area has got a huge amount of enthusiasm and club racers, and it has for years," said Levitas, who will drive his Porsche in the Grand Prix's IMSA GT3 Cup races on Saturday and Sunday. "The Grand Prix, and the camaraderie that goes along with it, could spark a lot more interest."
To this day, you can find live racing in the state just about any weekend between March and November, with some events drawing more than 10,000 fans.
A non-fan might assume the Grand Prix — which puts some of the planet's most talented drivers and most painstakingly engineered cars on local streets — would be manna from above for the state's racing lovers. But not necessarily. Motorsports encompasses many genres, and the walls between mom-and-pop racing and the high sheen of IndyCar are not always permeable.
"Probably a very small percentage of my audience would go there and vice versa," said Royce Miller, owner of Maryland International Raceway, the drag strip in St. Mary's County's Mechanicsville. "It's like sheepherders and cattlemen. They're both working with livestock, but that's where the similarity ends."
Racing in Maryland
Maryland's fascination with racing is nearly as old as the automobile itself. No sooner had cars hit the market than races were being run on horse tracks like Pimlico and two nearby ovals, Gentleman's Driving Park and Electric Park.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1900, in a two-auto race thought to be the first in Maryland, Thomas Goodwin of Baltimore climbed into a Locomobile steamer and chugged over the half-mile track at Electric Park in 3 minutes, 17 seconds.
"This, everybody must admit, was 'some going,' " The Sun wrote, though horses went faster.
In 1906, a five-mile event featuring the celebrated Barney Oldfield drew nearly 6,000 people to Pimlico. Two years later, six international drivers gathered at Old Hilltop for a 100-miler, but tragedy struck before the race began. During a test run, world record-holder Emmanuele Cedrino of Italy was killed when thrown from his Fiat Cyclone after a front wheel collapsed.
As a witness, patrolman Martin McGuire, told The Sun: "I was walking along Belvedere avenue when I saw an automobile leap at least 20 feet into the air. It turned two somersaults and a man shot out of it as if he were a piece of wood. The man fairly flew into the air, turned over and over and landed on the ground. I ran to the scene. The man was dead. Blood was pouring out of his head and his brains were lying on the ground."