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Early Grand Prix crowd lackluster

The second Grand Prix of Baltimore officially began with the first practice rounds at about 8 a.m. Friday, but something appeared to be missing.

Grand Prix food vendors Friday afternoon were hopeful the weekend would bring larger crowds.

With the grandstands nearly empty and plenty of tickets still available, many street vendors expressed only tentative optimism in their potential to rake in serious sales. Race On LLC and Andretti Sports Marketing still have two days to prove the race a success.

To be fair, Friday’s activities are not the race’s prime attraction. Admission is more expensive on Saturday and Sunday, when the most important races are held. More crowds are expected to fill the stands and spread their business throughout the city over the weekend, said ASM Communications Director Jade Gurss.

Organizers are “in this for the long haul” and are holding out hope that ticket sales will increase, Gurss said, adding that they were pleased with sales so far.

“In a perfect world, we’d fill every seat every day, but not everyone is able to get off work on a Friday,” he said. “It would be unreasonable to expect some sort of sellout on a day like today. … Not that today isn’t important, but today is sort of the preparation for the week.”

Joan Scherch, who owns and operates The Ice Cream Lady food truck, said she hadn’t seen much business so far and she “certainly hopes” it will pick up throughout the weekend. Scherch drove her truck from Leesburg, Va., for the event, and said she thinks the weekend’s business will end up proving lucrative enough to justify the trip.

“I’m very happy to be here,” she said. “I think it’ll be worth it.”

Organizers have been tight-lipped about ticket sales in the weeks leading up to the race. The deal website LivingSocial sold about 5,000 tickets at heavily discounted prices last week.

On Friday, steady lines were seen at ticket booths throughout the day, especially about noon, when the crowds seemed to include downtown office workers on their lunch breaks. Mark Fabula, a Ticketmaster employee who had been manning the station for hours, said the race wasn’t close to selling out at that time.

“There are a lot [of tickets] left,” he said. “It seems like people are just passing by, some buying them, some just asking questions.”

Fabula said most people were choosing to buy single-day general admission passes and that a large portion of people in line for the booths had already purchased tickets from LivingSocial, but needed to exchange their vouchers for real tickets.

Many people milled around the area, but not all of them had actually purchased tickets. Ellen Thomas, who lives in Columbia and was browsing the streets with her family, said they decided to check out what all the excitement was about because they had a free afternoon.

Thomas said she wasn’t sure whether her family would return again over the weekend.

“There are good spots on the outside, so we may just have lunch and watch the cars go by,” she said.

Vendors selling everything from energy drinks to kabobs said they hope those crowds keep coming, whether they’re ticket-holders or not. Renting a space along the street for the weekend cost from $1,000 to $8,000, depending on the size of the operation, several vendors said.

Given the expense, was it worth it?

“Well, that’s the big question,” said a man selling Polish sausages. “Ask me that Sunday night.”

To see more Daily Record photos of Friday’s Grand Prix activities, click here.