After the second Grand Prix of Baltimore Sunday, Will Power, last year’s winner and the current IndyCar Series points leader, “cursed the weather and his awful luck,” according to ESPN.
Baltimore City and IndyCar officials might be cursing the weather and their awful luck as well. Although, surely they made some of that bad luck themselves, taking too long to finalize the race’s return to Charm City.
Although the expected rain Sunday afternoon amounted to just a brief drizzle, it did alter the race. The aforementioned Power dropped from the lead while pit stopping for a change to rain tires — and then back again — a costly decision that winner Ryan Hunter-Reay did not make. Still, despite a number of cautions and restarts, the race was exciting — if for no other reason than the shear amazement of watching the blur of open cockpit metal and rubber maneuvering around downtown’s normally plodding streets.
But whether it was the threat of rain, the long uncertainly of the Grand Prix’s return to Charm City, or simply the novelty wearing off, crowds were down significantly this year. Empty grandstand seats along Pratt Street stood out, as did empty tables at local restaurants and pubs with race views. Only the stands closest to the Inner Harbor pavilion were near full.
Luna Del Sea owner Tony Assadi, whose restaurant sits at 300 W. Pratt St., said he wasn’t doing a quarter of last year’s business and blamed delays in getting a deal made this year to bring the race back. “There was six weeks to prepare,” said Assadi, noting the front of his restaurant was blocked for a month during construction of the track. “We didn’t have time to advertise properly; no one did.”
Luna Del Sea’s flat screen T.V.’s also showed NBC Sports coverage of the race — as many, if not all of the pubs downtown did — and also had on the rubber match of the Orioles-Yankees three-game series. The fact that the 1 p.m. game was televised, with the O’s miraculously in contention on Labor Day weekend, couldn’t have helped attendance. J.J. Vitaletti, a former manager at the Pratt Street Ale House who came back as a customer this year, said business was down dramatically there as well. Vitaletti, like Assadi, pointed to the last-minute deal to host the race again.
William Haines, of Brooklyn, who walked the crowd for a second year hustling ear plugs for a $1 a pair also said business was down. “I sold 5,000 pair last year over the three days,” he said. “This year about 400, so far. Although, I haven’t been out here as long either.” Haines, a racing fan, believes the race would attract more fans if it were scheduled Saturday and Sunday, with the main event on Labor Day Monday. “Everybody works Friday,” Haines said. “No one comes the first day.”
Which is not to say the people who turned out didn’t enjoy the race. Justin Creech and Josh Ebrahim headed down to the Inner Harbor with cameras just because of the exotic nature of the race. “Look at the places where they hold these races,” Creech said, referring to the Formula One World Championships, “Budapest, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Sao Paulo. And now it comes to Baltimore?”
Regina Boger and Maurice Ware, both of Baltimore, watched for a second straight year. Both like the speed and competition but didn’t buy tickets this year and just peeked through the fence — like many.
Jerry Gorombol, who owns an ABC Supply store in Arbutus, joined about 70 ABC associates and customers in the grandstands, cheering on the ABC-sponsored car.
Asked if he was a racing fan, Gorombol said, “No.”
He added, “But I’m having a good time.”