Kevin Cowherd: Here's hoping Baltimore Grand Prix takes off

August 28, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Let me start by saying I'm rooting hard for the Baltimore Grand Prix.

I hope this weekend's big IndyCar race through the downtown streets is a huge success that drowns out all the whiners.

I hope the city makes money and the bars and restaurants make money and we don't see any cars crash and go spinning into the Inner Harbor, which tends to upset the tourists climbing onto their water taxis.

I hope race organizers get the 120,000 or so spectators they're hoping for and Baltimore becomes known for throwing a great road race, instead of for how many bodies they find on our streets.

But, boy, has this race been slammed by bad publicity so far.

First, you had folks who live and work downtown complaining about the street repairs and traffic congestion caused by race preparations.

Then you had people freaking out about all the trees (136) that were removed downtown to improve sightlines for race watchers.

(Look, I'm a tree-hugger myself. But how do you tell someone who paid good money for a race ticket: "Just peer between the branches of that dogwood over there and you'll be fine"?)

Then The Baltimore Sun published this big story about race founder Steven Wehner, with all sorts of inconvenient and unsavory details about his business struggles and prior addictions to cocaine and crack.

Then news broke that Wehner had filed a lawsuit alleging that the current race organizers had defaulted on payments to him.

And now Danica Patrick, a huge IndyCar star and a one-woman marketing machine in the world of motor sports, has announced that she'll race full-time in NASCAR next year.

Is that perfect timing or what?

I bet Jay Davidson, the CEO and president of the Baltimore Grand Prix, went nuts when he heard that one.

At a news conference called to announce her decision a few days ago, Patrick said: "Moving to NASCAR is where my heart is and where I really feel my future is, and not about the money."

Translation: It's about the money. Oh, you betcha.

But at least Patrick isn't blowing off the Baltimore Grand Prix, which would've really dealt a body blow to the race.

No, she'll be showing up here for one of her last IndyCar races, and I'm looking forward to seeing her, since she's about the only driver I can recognize without a program.

Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay — they might be big-name drivers on the open-wheel-racing circuit.

But they haven't appeared in a popular GoDaddy.com commercial wearing a sleek black racing outfit, full makeup and high heels. And I hope they never do, quite frankly.

Marco Andretti, he's got the famous name and the racing genes, courtesy of his father, Michael, and his legendary grandfather, Mario. But I wouldn't know Marco Andretti from Adam.

(Uh-oh, I just discovered — this is absolutely true, you can look it up — that GoDaddy has signed Marco Andretti to be another of its spokespersons. No word yet on what kind of attire he'll wear in the commercials. We can only hope it's not … no, let's not even go there.)

Anyway, with or without an appearance by Patrick, I'm looking forward to the big race this weekend.

I'm looking forward to seeing high-performance racecars screaming around the city streets at 180 mph, especially since I'm usually doing a robust 5 mph when stuck in traffic on those same streets, like Pratt and Conway.

I drove part of the course the other day — this wasn't even rush hour — and got up to a whopping 15 mph on Russell Street, at which point I felt like strapping on a racing helmet, we were going so fast.

Have you been downtown lately? With the grandstands lining the streets and race walls and safety fencing in place, it looks like a foreign city. Monaco on the Patapsco, maybe.

But the truth is, I hope the Baltimore Grand Prix does really well this weekend.

I know the race is a big gamble for a town like Baltimore, which is sometimes leery of big ideas and big projects — especially something as exotic as a road race plunked down in the middle of an urban setting.

And I know IndyCar races failed famously in places like Detroit and Washington and San Jose, Calif.

But I want it to be a big hit here.

This city needs a big hit. Needs it in a big way, too.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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