I’m posting random snippets of overheard conversations about the Grand Prix of Baltimore and fleshing out what I think the comments indicate about public perceptions of the race. Parts I and II can be found here and here.
Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Temperature: Upper 80s, with high humidity
Race fan #1: “Damn, it’s hot. What you think – you ready to go?”
Race fan #2: “No, no, no, let’s stay. We haven’t even been over to the other side. I wanna see what’s over there…”
This conversation epitomizes what I think is the biggest story of the weekend: The Grand Prix is morphing into a more well-rounded, festival-like atmosphere with a wide variety of activities to enjoy in addition to the cars – which is precisely what race owner J.P Grant envisions.
And, as this conversation shows, people are noticing.
The event venue was visibly more diverse than in years past. If the people who made the above comments ended up staying, they most likely found something new to pique their interests.
There were more music stages, more food options, more non-food vendors, more interactive activities, more merchandise stands and more ways to experience the races.
Despite the intense heat, there were persistent crowds all day but the venue didn’t seem congested. I’m sure the variety of activities scattered across the venue had a big something to do with that.
An army of vendors lined Camden Street, which was flanked on one end by the main stage. In addition to food and beverage stands, there were home improvement companies, Army recruiters, radio stations, video game companies offering some friendly gaming competition, a cigar dealer (plus a smoking tent) and more. There were also more local businesses participating, such as Germano’s Trattoria from Little Italy, than in previous years.
The Atlantic City Alliance (the group with the “DO AC” slogan) had a large tent set up on Camden with several “rooms” for patrons to charge their phones, take a breather on comfy-looking seats and even get a massage.
Sounds like a festival to me, and I haven’t even mentioned the Esskay Family Fun Zone, located inside the Baltimore Convention Center. When Grant told me earlier in August that organizers expanded this area, I nodded and wrote down a quick note. I didn’t think much of it.
I was wrong. He wasn’t kidding.
The first thing you saw inside was another race track: a go-kart speedway, more specifically, courtesy of Autobahn, a Jessup-based company that opened its warehouse in May.
For $15 per ride, kids age 8 and older could take a turn around the course. Their glee was contagious.
After passing the go-karts, there was all manner of (free) family fun. The usual suspects were present: moon bounces, face painting and multiple inflatable obstacle courses designed for various ages.
There were also amusement park-style rides, such as the Scrambler (which, by the way, is awesome), bumper cars, a smaller go-kart pit for younger children, an electric racecar track and weird climbing apparatuses (not exactly rock walls – one was a fake palm tree made for shimmying).
Back outside, a cute but functional trolley zipped throughout the venue picking up tired kids and their chaperones. A sign on the back read: “Follow me to the Family Fun Zone!” I thought it was a smart idea, and based on the expressions worn by the weary travelers on board, others agreed.
Race On put serious effort into making the event more family-friendly, and according to the relieved-looking moms and dads I spoke to, those efforts paid off.
“We’re having a blast,” said Dan Bachman, an Otterbein resident who had just spent “about three hours” in the Family Fun Zone with his 4-year-old son, Warner, on Saturday. “The family zone is great. It’s really nice to have all this stuff to do inside to take a little break.”
Bachman said he attended both other years of the Grand Prix of Baltimore, and that he and Warner couldn’t wait to come back.
“He’s been asking about the racecars since they left last year,” Bachman said, laughing.
I saw way more families than I remembered last year. Perhaps because this year, kids ages 12 and under got in for free with a paying adult.
That was a shrewd business decision. Everyone knows money gets spent when the kids are along, especially at a loud, hot, all-day event like the Grand Prix. There’s no saying “no” to a thirsty, overheating 10-year-old who wants a lemonade. Or earplugs. Or Dippin’ Dots. Or a $15 go-kart ride.
Nice move, Grant. Nice move.