Baltimore Grand Prix viewing will be both loud and luxurious

Baltimore Grand Prix viewing will be both loud and luxurious
Edward St. John, left, and Van Reiner, President and CEO of the Maryland Academy of Sciences, stand in the Science Center, where the St. John Properties company will be renting the building (for a private party) with its great view of the upcoming Grand Prix race. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Now that Baltimore's debut Grand Prix is just days away, the trash talk is revving up by the hour. And that's not counting the race car drivers.

Nope, the motormouths trading good-natured insults are the fans who will watch the races up close and personal in the grandstands, and the fans who will view the proceedings from the air-conditioned comfort of a luxury penthouse suite.

"You can tell the people in the penthouses that we'll wave up at them from the pits," says Lori Moore, 39, of Parkville.

"I want to be down in the thick of it. I want to wear earplugs and be screaming at people. I want to smell the engines and cheer and boo and feel the cars drive past you. Watching the race from the 23rd floor would be no different from watching it on television. They can stay clean and enjoy their cocktails."

Race organizers estimate the three-day attendance for the inaugural event at between 100,000 and 200,000, and say it could generate about $70 million in economic impact.

The Grand Prix is expected to appeal to a wide swathe of racing enthusiasts. A fan who can afford to pledge $50,000 to rent out the Maryland Science Center for the weekend will descend on the Inner Harbor alongside a fan for whom a $65 ticket for a reserved seat in the grandstands is a special-occasion splurge.

On Saturday, the Moores will be sharing approximately the same city block as developer Edward St. John, who is renting a small flotilla to ferry about 600 guests to the science center, complete with on-board historians to point out local landmarks.

And, it's fair to say that the two viewing experiences couldn't be more different.

Jerry Wit, a senior vice president at St. John's firm, St. John Properties, likened the experience to those of Baltimore Ravens fans who watch the game from the stands and those who view the on-field action from the skybox.

"Personally, having sat once in the skybox, I will always sit in the skybox," Wit said. "Once you've had that experience, you can't go back."

He began to tick off the advantages of the science center location.

"We'll have air conditioning. We can bring in hot food and drinks. And when our guests get tired of watching the race, they can screen an Imax movie featuring Mario Andretti."

Then he added the piece de resistance:

"We'll even have flush toilets."

Tim Smith of Westminster thinks it's a sad state of affairs if the machinery that most excites the science center guests is the plumbing.

Smith, the finance and insurance manager for Bob's BMW Motorcycles in Jessup, has loved race cars ever since he first toddled away from his stroller while visiting his grandfather outside Philadelphia. A next-door neighbor raced on a quarter-mile dirt track on Pennsylvania's Grandview Speedway, and as a treat, he sometimes allowed the little boy to touch his car.

"A good grandstand ticket is better than any corporate suite can be," Smith said. "If you're on the 26th floor, how are you going to get a glimpse of Danica Patrick?"

Smith will make his way down to the Inner Harbor by 6 a.m. Friday, and stay long enough to run in the 5K race at 7 p.m. being sponsored by the Grand Prix. He'll return on Sunday with his wife and young son, and can't wait to see the look on 2-year-old Lane's face when the first race car roars down Light Street at upward of 170 miles an hour.

"It wouldn't be the same," Smith said, "if he had to look through a plate glass window."

Stockbroker Aaron Meisner sincerely hopes that the Smiths have a nice time sitting out in the sun over the weekend when the thermometer inches up into the 90s and the humidity rises. He'll personally feel terrible if thunderstorms (currently estimated at a 40 percent probability for Sunday) spoil their day.

But he and about a dozen current and future clients will be viewing the proceedings from a protected enclave 23 stories above Pratt and Light Streets.

"I have watched a number of races from the grandstands," Meisner says.

"I would have happily given up my seats and my earplugs to sit in air-conditioned comfort. These cars are extremely loud. My clients will be able to put their hands up to the glass and feel the vibrations. We're going to be able to hear the race up here, no problem. We'd hear it if we were two miles away."

Smith's co-worker, Eric Haffner, is certain that Meisner's business party will be just thrilling.

But he wouldn't trade the three-day weekend that he has planned with his brother, his nephew and three buddies for a Rolodex full of new contacts.

Haffner, a service advisor at Bob's BMW, notes that groundlings at the race such as himself will have access to a whole assortment of activities that the penthouse people won't be able to enjoy, from concerts to volleyball to kids' activities to block parties.

"After they announced that the Grand Prix would be coming to Baltimore, I immediately talked to my brother and friends," Haffner said.

"We got tickets as soon as they went on sale. Definitely, we'd prefer to be closer to the race. We wanted to be part of the crowd and smell the tires burning and hear everyone roar when the cars go past. No other experience will be as exciting."

Joe Zuramski knows that Haffner thinks he'll have a good seat in the grandstands, but in the past, he's enjoyed one that's far more exclusive.

"The best seat to watch a race from is behind a steering wheel," said Zuramski, who has done some auto-cross racing with the Chesapeake Region Porsche Club.

The second-best vantage point, he said, will be found on the 200-foot long balcony on the 26th floor of 100 E. Pratt St., where Zuramski will be hosting a two-day fundraising benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity that benefits severely injured members of the armed services.

"I would never sit down low if I could help it," said Zuramski, executive vice president of ReliaSource, a family-run information technology and cybersecurity firm based in Halethorpe.

"I like to be up high, because you can see the action on a larger scale. You can see how it all plays out in the passing and braking zones. You can't get that kind of overall perspective if you sit up close."

Zuramski's approximately 250 guests from the computer industry "will have a fantastic view of the harbor, and we'll be able to see the cars barreling down the straights and making the all-important hairpin turn."

While those on the streets will be purchasing overpriced snacks from street vendors, Zuramski said his guests will be sipping on mimosas and Bloody Marys while spooning forkfuls of chicken piccata. Between races, they can participate in a silent auction for such items as gift certificates to area restaurants and high-end computer merchandise.

And, he has a message for all the other grandstanders who claim that taking an eagle's-eye view at an auto race is well, for the birds.

"Tell them," Zuramski said, "that we'll wave back at them."

Baltimore Sun photographer Gene Sweeney Jr. contributed to this article.


When first published, this article incorrectly identified one the fans. Tim Smith is the finance and insurance manager for Bob's BMW Motorcycles in Jessup.