Sixteen years after competing in his first motorsports race on the Camden Yards parking lot, Monkton professional driver Marc Bunting is returning to the drivers' seat and his roots.
Bunting is putting together Team Baltimore Racing, a sports car team, that will compete in the American Le Mans Series race here Sept. 2 as part of the Baltimore Grand Prix weekend.
"With the Baltimore race happening, it renewed my interest," said Bunting, 42. "It will be fun to race around Baltimore — legally. And it's exciting to think about racing in my hometown. I think Baltimore is a great place for a race, that it's a great idea and a great opportunity for Baltimore to get some positive public relations."
Bunting is teaming up with local businesses and colleagues to create the team. The effort is the only team of its kind in Baltimore, giving the city the opportunity to support a local driver and the community in the Grand Prix. Team Baltimore Racing is aligning with The Racer's Group (TRG) to drive the No. 68 Porsche 911 GT3 in the ALMS. Bunting will be driving the car, along with co-driver Dion Von Moltke.
"One of my greatest passions is racing and I'm thrilled at the chance to launch the only local racing team effort to participate in the Baltimore Grand Prix Race weekend," Bunting said. "Team Baltimore Racing provides a platform for local companies and fans alike to get involved with an event that will have an unprecedented impact on the city. Having grown up in Baltimore, I am confident that our team and the city will highlight the community's positive spirit to a world-class audience, and will ultimately root home a strong finish."
The team is aligning with local charitable causes, including Catholic Charities and the Boy Scouts of America.
Bunting grew up in Monkton, graduated from Dulaney, where he played lacrosse, and from Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University). He got the racing bug from his dad, who was into sportscar racing when Bunting was growing up. But though he always seemed to like speed — whether it was downhill skiing or bike riding, Bunting's first opportunity to race didn't come until he was 26 and Major League Baseball was on strike.
While the Orioles were sidelined, the Sports Car Club of America staged auto crosses on the Camden Yards parking lots and Bunting competed.
"After that, racing was almost an addiction," he said. "I started racing a 1977 Rabbit at Summit Point (W.Va.) and worked my way up. Now, it seems I'm returning to my roots. The paddock area for this race will be at Camden Yards, too."
Bunting, who owns and operates a retail food service business, raced professionally from 2000 to 2008, along the way winning the 2004 Rolex Grand Am SGS Championship and the 2006 Grand Am Rolex GT Championship and finishing second that same year at the 24 hours of Daytona. Three weeks ago he tested the Porsche he will race here at Road America and said he was "pleasantly surprised" by his times. He will also race in the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Challenge on Aug. 6 to get some seat time.
"The 2008 season was my last," he said. "My kids, Jessie, 13 and Calli, 12, were getting bigger, the economy was in the tank and it was getting harder and harder to get rides if you weren't at the track full time. So I concentrated on my family and my business. But when this race was announced, I thought it was a great opportunity to give people a chance to really participate in the sport and give something back to the city."
Bunting's long-time friend and associate, Kieffer Rittenhouse, another Baltimore native, is acting as the team's head of operations. As he brings sponsors on board — like Planit, Goetze's Candy Company, Charm City Hospitality, Alpine Bagel and Brews and Insurance Office of America — he hopes to open eyes in a number of ways.
"The whole focus is showing off the Baltimore community," Rittenhouse said. "There is a lot of good stuff going on in Baltimore, made possible by the businesses or organizations here that no one hears about. We've picked some out-of-the-box organizations, like Catholic Charities, to prop them up a little bit, to show others what they do.
"And, we are committed to showing our community the benefits that the Baltimore Grand Prix will bring to the city. We know Baltimore is a great sports town, but it doesn't get racing yet. I think once they see it is a legitimate experience, they'll appreciate it."
There's at least one resident here that's already getting it.
"When I told my daughters that I'm forming a team and going to race on Grand Prix weekend, my 13-year old told me it makes me cool again in her eyes," Bunting said.