2011 TrackChaser Report #106--Baltimore Inner Harbor, MD
After taking Pam to the West End Fair on Monday (we did not go to the races), and taking my mom to the Allentown Fair after work on Tuesday (she hasn't missed one since 1938!), it was finally time for....FOOTBALL! Thursday after work I met Pam at Bloomsburg as we watched the nationally ninth ranked Huskies open with a win against Ashland, OH. Friday after work it was drive home, and then turn right around and drive back to Bethlehem with Pam to see the Bethlehem Freedom Patriots (my school) beat up on East Stroudsburg South, while our other high school, the Bethlehem Liberty Hurricanes, beat up on the Glen Mills reform school of Philadelphia. When Penn State won on Saturday, it meant that all our teams won this week. Off to a good start of the season.
Saturday we were off to Baltimore for the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix at Inner Harbor. Major league street races are just about my least favorite kind of racing, because it is usually expensive and the general admission ticket usually doesn't get you a seat in any grandstand or give you any good locations to see. I've "once and done" these events in Detroit, DC, Toronto, Montreal, and Saint Pete just to name a few. I'd have to say that that Baltimore was my least favorite of them all, worse than Detroit when it was downtown and Kevin Eckert and I drove towards the Goodyear Blimp to find the track.
The day started well as the parking situation was good. They rented two auxiliary lots away from the Inner Harbor. We parked at one of those (the one off I-83), where there was no parking charge, and then were bussed into the Inner Harbor area (also no charge). A parking pass near the track cost something like $30 plus a service charge. Once we got downtown, it was pretty much chaos. When we got off the bus, there was no sign to direct to the ticket windows. We picked a direction which turned out to be the wrong one. Walking around the outside perimeter of the track, we could see the Indy Cars qualifying from several different spots. I stopped to ask a security guard where to buy a ticket, and she sent us to a bridge to the infield. We waited in a long line to get to the bridge, and they told us that was the entrance, but you couldn't buy tickets there.
Next I asked a BGP person who told me that we had to go to Gate B all the way on the other side of the track. Hard to believe there was only one ticket booth for an event that had an estimated 40,000 people on hand just on Saturday. We walked around and I saw the track from more locations. We finally found the ticket booth and all windows were mobbed with long lines. The line to get across the bridge to the infield on this side of the track was even longer than on the other side. They said that one of the bridges for general admission that was available on Friday was closed as it was rented for the day by a private party. I later read about a couple that it took 3.5 hours to get seats, as the seats they purchased in advance were in a grandstand that ended up not being built and they were never informed. At this time we came to the conclusion that we would be able to see from the outside of the track looking in for free just about as good as we could see from the inside of the track looking out for $30 with so many people crowed around the limited viewing spots. We later ran into Gordy and Mike, who had come to the same conclusion. Mike said Paul Weisel was coming, but we didn't run into him. No surprise with tens of thousands of people milling about.
At places like Montreal and DC, there were so few people that bought grandstand tickets on the Saturday prelim day that we were eventually allowed to enter the grandstands to watch with just the general admission ticket. At Toronto and Saint Pete, there were hardly any people but the grandstands remained empty. At Baltimore, even though a seat cost minimum of $70 on Saturday and $80 on Sunday, they were full. When I talked to mom this afternoon (Sunday), she said they said on TV that the Sunday attendance was 75,000. If they had 40,000 on Saturday and almost doubled that on Sunday, I have no idea where all the people would go.
We walked around and I got some decent shots from around the course, especially on a bridge that connected two buildings outside the track. That worked for awhile, as the Baltimore cops were cool about it, but when the Inner Harbor Security arrived they were determined not to let anyone get any good pictures from the bridge and when the scene started getting nasty, I made my exit.
For the US Formula 2000 Series race, we found a decent viewing spot at the end of the long front straight. I could see the cars come through the hastily added chicanes, come down the frontstretch past the flagger, and into the very tight first turn. Of course the 19 car starting field stacked up in the first turn on lap one. It took a third of the timed race to get that cleaned up. The race ended up being only 15 laps, of which only ten were run under green. The "US" Formula 2000 Series race was won by a Irishman, a Finn finished second, and a Canadian was third. Ironic.
The other race of the day was for the American Le Mans Series. Even though my namesake Guy Smith was on the pole, we decided not to stay. One race was good enough for me. I got enough good pictures and video to satisfy, so I asked Pam if she wanted to get out of there and go see some short track racing. She agreed that the short tracks are where we feel most at home and was more than willing to exit Baltimore. Our trip to Camden Yards for an O's game earlier in the summer worked out far better than this trip to the city.
We returned to our bus lot pickup point, and the bus arrived almost immediately. The remote access parking system continued to function well, and soon we were back in the car and on the road back to Pennsylvania for some laid back dirt track racing. There was a lot of complaining about the traffic jams and road closures by the people of Baltimore during the past week. But with huge crowds on all three days, I would guess the Baltimore Grand Prix will return next year. It is doubtful I would go back again. Big time street courses are not my cup of tea. Being a "once and done-er" seems to work out well for me with this type of racing.
Guy Smith 2011 tracks--70 New, 104 Total. Lifetime total tracks--1,406
Pam Smith 2011 tracks--61 New, 68 Total. Lifetime total tracks--772
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