Race fans, and vendors, take to the streets for Grand Prix of Baltimore
By By Justin George and The Baltimore Sun
Sep 01, 2013 | 7:56 PM
As excited kids clung to fences and people packed grandstands to catch glimpses of IndyCars blurring around the streets of Baltimore, other Grand Prix of Baltimore attendees could be found in unlikely places Sunday.
Exhausted, they were reclining on chairs in Convention Center nooks, stacked up like cordwood in a downtown sandwich shop and decamped like heat-seared refugees to the orange and blue carpet of the Baltimore Hilton's air-conditioned walkway.
"It's a lot cooler in here," said David Allen, 19, of Baltimore County, who sought shelter in the hotel walkway, which stretches to the Convention Center and offered a clear view of the track, sheltered from the heat of the day. The spot came in handy Sunday as temperatures rose into the upper 80s, and humidity hovered around a soupy 66 percent, according to the National Weather Service.
On a day when many of IndyCar's biggest names were knocked out by crashes or mechanical problems, French driver Simon Pagenaud survived to win his second race of the year. American rookie Josef Newgarden finished second, followed by another Frenchman, Sebastien Bourdais, in third.
Some saw Baltimore as a winner, too. Organizers and many vendors said throughout the event they believe the third annual Grand Prix surpassed last year in attendance and revenue, and showcased the city as a major league racing venue. About 130,000 people attended last year's Grand Prix, according to race organizers.
Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, said he believes this weekend's crowds were "similar if not even better" than 2012, easily in the tens of thousands of spectators.
"This is a beautiful day and a perfect day for racing," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. "Great, positive exposure."
Exposure to heat, however, took a toll.
Paramedics attended to 24 patients on-scene, mostly for heat-related symptoms, while three people were taken to area hospitals, none for serious conditions, according to the Baltimore's Office of Emergency Management. Firefighters assigned to monitor the race pit were cycled in and out throughout the day to protect them from the heat, city emergency management spokesman Connor Scott said.
No race-related arrests or ejections were reported throughout the weekend, Scott said, and complaints to the city's 311 service about traffic snarls and roadblocks dipped from 47 last year to nine as of Sunday afternoon.
Downtown hotels reported being at or over capacity while Tim Mayer, the race's general manager, said both event attendance and revenue were up — though he couldn't immediately provide figures.
"Our vendors came back and said we're up 25 percent year over year; that's for Friday," he said. "Revenue is up and we've managed to contain some of the expenses."
Not everyone had such a sunny outlook. Taxi drivers complained of slow business, some repeat fans remembered bigger crowds in the past and at least one street entrepreneur said he's seen better sales.
Theodore Miller, 52, born and raised in Baltimore, stood on the corner of Eutaw and Redwood streets midday yelling out "$1 colds" as he sat on a blue cooler filled with ice cold water, Gatorade and Sunkist sodas.
"I'm doing fair," Miller said. He estimated attendance seemed off a bit this year compared with last year. Still, he saw the final race day as, "an opportunity to make some bill money."
"Yesterday I did a pretty good profit," he said. "Today I've got to grind it out."
Inside the chain-linked confines of the 2.4-mile raceway, vendors crowed about their success.
"We're running out of food," said Germano Fabiani of Germano's Trattoria of Little Italy, a first-time vendor dishing out grilled chicken and lasagna.
Next door, customers eyed twirled rolls of sausages sizzling on a grill while orders of battered Snickers bars and Oreo cookies came steadily throughout the day, said Brian Schiff, who ran the tent.
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."