BALTIMORE GRAND PRIX TRAVEL LOG
What is the best way to travel to a street race? Faced with either a seven and a half hour drive, which would take us through New York City or an hour and a half flight from BOS to BWI, we had a decision to make. Let’s see, city traffic and bad drivers, versus body scans and radiation. Arrive two hours before take off, airport parking and the added expense of airline tickets; traffic jams didn’t seem so bad after all. At least we knew we would have good music to listen to. It’s a street race, we drove.
Leaving Thursday, before the Labor Day Weekend, we really were involved in weekday traffic. The usual hazards (pick up trucks with ladders questionably secured to roof racks) and commuter traffic was the scene of the day. Some back ups in Connecticut and construction before the George Washington Bridge were all we really encountered. Luckily, we were heading South and not North on 95. As we approached Baltimore, 95 North was backed up for miles.
Because of the race course set up on the streets of Baltimore, our intended exit to Route 395 was closed. We took the next exit and ended up in a less than desirable location. A quick U turn and the visual aid of M&T Bank Stadium got us on track. The closer we got to the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards, the theavier the traffic got. The entrance to the parking garage on South Eutaw Street was closed, since just beyond it was the front straight of the street course on Pratt Street.
In the middle of the gridlock a giant Baltimore Traffic Cop was waving all cars onto Lombard Street, which wasn’t moving at all. I knew we wanted to go beyond the road closure, so instead of waiting for the jam to clear, I jumped out and approached the cop and told him I wanted to go on the wrong side of the street and beyond the road block to our destination
He took one look at me and said, “What are you, from Boston?” I didn’t know whether he could tell by my unorthodox request or my accent. I said, “How did you know?” He said, “Because I’m from New York. Go ahead.” I punched him on the arm and proceeded to the garage.
We checked in to the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards and asked the concierge for some place close by to grab some pub food. He recommended the Pratt Street Alehouse and gave us two vouchers for a microbrew of our choice. Happy people.
On our way to dinner we met the guys from Dyson Racing walking the track, which just happened to be Pratt Street. Their attention was on an exposed steel rail from the tracks that crossed the street. The hazard had tire puncture written all over it. After exchanging stories of Hurricane Irene storm damage to New York and New England, we left in pursuit of free beer.
The handcrafted English style ales are brewed on premises by Biochemist Brewmaster Stephen Jones who studied and brewed in England, before coming to Pratt Street’s Oliver Ales. We paired a strong English Brown Ale, called 3 Lions Ale with a Buffalo Bite appetizer, Caesar Salad and Quesadillas. The waiter, who was training somebody, was very attentive. The Ales were great and the food was too. The Pratt Street Alehouse is right on the front straight, which was open to the public and made for great people watching. A guy wandered up to our table and struck up a conversation on his way back from a screening of Senna, which was hosted by KVRT Lotus driver Tony Kanaan. It wouldn’t be our last time there during the weekend.
Credential pick up was in the University Room of our Hotel and that was our first stop Friday morning. Then it was off to the photo meeting with 249 other photographers, 150 who were being told they weren’t getting a vest. Originally I was one of the forlorn, but upon appeal (and a viewing of the Sarni Motorsports website) I was granted diplomatic immunity.
The reason for the photo gaffe was due to a departed press room manager and a race track that was still unfinished, including an adequate number of photo holes cut into the catch fence to accommodate the number of credentialed photographers. We were told in the media center to stand by for Friday’s practice and qualifying schedule, while final touch ups to the track, including the exposed rail track, were addressed. Time to go hang out another outdoor café and have lunch on Pratt Street.
Luna Del Sea is a European style Steak & Seafood Bistro. They offered a three day VIP Party Package, with food, drinks and front row table right on the race track. The grilled chicken sandwich came with some of the best fries ever. Seriously. The cheese cake, with a four inch chiffon topping was an indulgence we shared.
Finally, after noon cars were on track. A strange thing happened while the finishing touches were completed on the track. Fans were streaming into the stands. The stands were full on a Friday. Good news for a city that had rolled the dice and didn’t know how the public would respond. The event put thousands to work in a down economy and visitors spent millions. The people that we talked to were from Maryland and Virginia and many of them had never been to a race before. Exposing new fans to Motorsports, through the appeal of a street carnival type atmosphere, provides a gateway to building interest in racing. In addition to locals attending the race, there were diehard race fans, who saw the debut Baltimore Grand Prix as a destination event. Friends form Florida and England flew to Baltimore for the race.
Saturday dawned overcast and the chance of showers became reality during the ALMS warmup. As a clap of thunder had a track Marshall reaching for rain gear, I instinctively blurted out, Auntie Em! Just then, the PA played Somewhere Over The Rainbow. If we weren’t on the same page, we were at least in the same movie.For some brainless reason, we left our rain gear in the hotel. So we decided to duck into the Kona Grill for some cover and lunch. We ordered a pizza that was truly memorable. Grilled Chicken, with Gouda, Cheddar and Parmesan Cheese, Garlic, Shaved Red Oonion, BBQ Sauce and Chopped Cilantro.
The track dried in time for the green flag of the two hour ALMS race. All around the track people were enjoying the hot and humid weather and patronizing the drink vendors. There was a stage set up with bands playing throughout the weekend; including the Swing Blues band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
That evening, we were back at Luna Del Sea and we both enjoyed an excellent Fettuccine Alfredo. Back at the Marriott, there was a great Jazz trio entertaining in the lobby. Raceday would start early, with a 7 AM photo meeting.
Luckily, it was just a ten minute walk from the Marriott to the Convention Center, where the Media Center was located. I’m convinced they schedule these early meetings to deprive me of my beauty rest. After coffee and donuts the past two mornings, I decided after editing a few photos to meet Sharon back at the Hotel for a proper breakfast
During driver introductions for the IndyCar race, it was apparent just how popular the event was. The pace was packed. In the middle of the whole scene, David Flintom, a Facebook friend from Florida, picked me out of the crowd. He said that he recognized me because of my moustache!
That scene was repeated, but with even more fans during the victory podium celebration. During the post race press conference, the drivers were all blown away by the reception and support of the fans at the Baltimore Grand Prix. Will Power said that it was the best victory podium he’d been a part of.
That evening we made it down to the Inner Harbor. Being a Holiday Weekend, Sunday evening on the waterfront was hopping. Some interesting people watching that evening, including a guy walking around with a snake around his neck. It was another beautiful evening, so we dined once again outdoors at J. Paul’s in the Light Street Pavilion. Great seafood and burgers, street performers and a scenic harbor view made for a pleasant conclusion to a long eventful day.
Labor Day was our travel home day and we both agreed that the race organizers got lucky with the weekend weather, as Monday would be a washout with remnants of Tropical Depression Lee moving into the area, which the weekend before weathered Hurricane Irene. Power Company Truck convoys stretched up and down the Northeast corridor. The weekend warriors on the ride home consisted of left lane cruisers, who were not there to pass and the new phenomenon/road hazard; adventure sport wannabes with kayaks and mountain bikes precariously perched on their rooftops. Do you trust these people and their securing skills?
The Baltimore Chamber of Commerce, Mayor and Race Organizers all hoped that the media would go home and talk and write about what a great event they hosted. Did it have teething problems? Of course; all first year events do. It is how they are dealt with that matters and every challenge was met. The mood of the fans and competitors turned from tolerant to ecstatic throughout the weekend. We have attended street races in Monaco, Adelaide and Long Beach and Baltimore is now another great destination not to be missed. We chose it over Monterey and Petit Le Mans this year and have no regrets. Having IndyCar and the ALMS together on the streets of Baltimore was like hitting the first pitch of the season out of Camden Yard. Now, if only the Orioles had such success…
Sharon Walsh contributed to this Travel Log.
Copyright Greg Sarni, USA 2001-2012