After enormous hype, speculation, and consternation, The Baltimore Grand Prix has finally come and gone. I got the chance to attend the proceedings today and I have some initial thoughts. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments as well.
1. Getting into, out of, and around downtown was shockingly easy. On Friday morning I drove downtown to the Marriott Inner Harbor to pick up my tickets, ready for long delays and detours. I had none. I barely touched the brake. Today, Sunday, I took the light rail down from Mt. Washington and that trip, too, was seemless. We got off at Baltimore St., walked a couple blocks, and—boom!—we were looking at fast cars. Coming back near the end of the big race, the light rail was certainly packed—we stood the whole way—but that trip too was seemless. I'm curious to hear the transportation experiences of those who drove, or generally came in from points south, but I, for one, was shocked how smooth that part of things went down.
2. The speed is awe-inspiring. I've never been a car racing guy and I'm not going to start now, but there's something to be said for standing close to the track as these incredible machines zoom past. You really don't get a sense of the speed on TV. We watched the cars from the Pratt St. straightaway and I actually found myself thinking about human ingenuity, that we're able to design machines that move this fast. It's truly a spectacle.
3. The reserved seats are worth it. Experienced race-goers probably know this, but to really watch the race for more than a few minutes at a time, you really need to buy reserved grandstand seats. We had "grounds admission" seats, which cost about half as much and let you roam the grounds and take part in the various activities there, while sneaking peeks at the race wherever you can. Judging by the crowds of people pressed up against the fences wherever there was a reasonable view of the cars, we were not alone. We tried that for a while and ultimately found our best view of the race on the terrace of the convention center. Even there, the view was blocked by trees and we could only see a relatively short stretch of road.
4. It's not a very kid-friendly event. At least not for little kids. On my parenting blog, Learning to Crawl, I hyped the Grand Prix as a great event for kids, based on the discounted tickets and kids' activities there. And I put my money where my mouth was today, toting my two- and five-year-old boys to the race. We had some good times, but I don't think I'd take them again, for several reasons. For one thing, the event is constantly extremely loud. I had earplugs for the boys and, to be honest, I was surprised and impressed that weren't more shaken by the enormous roar of the cars as they went by. But they definitely didn't like it and, more importantly, it made communication very difficult. Along with the big crowds, it made things more than a little chaotic for us. (P.S.: Do NOT take a stroller—there are stairs and steep curbs everywhere). To make mattters worse, the much-hyped family fun zone, in a word, sucked. After hearing this area so hyped by promoters and mentioning it on my blog, I expected something more significant, but, to be honest, after following signs to the area, we literally walked right past it to the port-o-potties without noticing. The "Hersheypark Road Tour" was a tiny booth with a ring toss and a mini golf hole where kids could "win" a water bottle or recyclable market bag. (My kids prefered the "consolation" prize: Twizzlers.) The RAACE Foundation's "giant wheel," which seemed like such a big deal in a very vague way on the website, turned out mostly to offer discounts on insurance and kitchen flooring. Fun, right kids? Port Discovery had a little booth where kids could make star necklaces out of string and construction paper. It's the kind of thing that we do at home all the time, but after finding so few activities that actually engaged my kids elsewhere, we really enjoyed it (pictured) and spent a long time there recharging our batteries. To be honest, even if we had grandstand seats, I probably wouldn't bring the boys. I don't think they would sit that long and watch the cars pass by (perhaps this is my "not-a-car-racing-guy" bias showing), and there's so little for them to do otherwise.
5. This was a good event for Baltimore. The attendence and revenue numbers aren't in yet, but it seemed to me that this event portrayed our city in a very positive light. Downtown Baltimore was packed with paying ticket holders, truly all of which seemed to be having a good or great time. I caught a few minutes of the ABC coverage and it, too, seemed to take every chance the herald the beauty of our city and the quality of the event. The Sun's story on the event quotes everyone from race winner Will Power (!) to New Jersey tourists praising Baltimore, its hotels and Little Italy. And those giant banners along the course directing viewers to book their tickets to Grand Prix 2012 are a reminder of one thing: We're going to do this all again next year.