This isn’t really college related, outside of being a nice 4 day break from having to think about applications, but I figured I’d keep things moving here and throw up a post about our trip over Labor Day weekend.
First off, I’ve been an IndyCar fan for almost 20 years now, having followed CART, ChampCar and now IndyCar since early ’95. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended a handful of races. On the past 3 trips (’10 GP of Long Beach, ’12 & ’13 GP of Baltimore), my daughter has come with me, as she’s grown to love the sport. She also likes to claim it’s in her blood (which it is), but that’s a different story. Anyway, these 3 race weekends, along with the 2012 24 hours of Daytona, have provided some awesome father/daughter weekends for us.
The Baltimore race is one of seven street circuits currently on the IndyCar schedule, meaning they race on actual city streets. This is by far our favorite discipline among the 3 types this series races on (road courses and ovals being the other two) as it allows fans more access to the action, and provides some of the most challenging layouts for the drivers. You really find out who’s got skill on a street circuit. Unlike ovals and road courses, the only test time drivers get is on race weekend, so drivers have to be able to learn the track quickly. It’s also the most unforgiving discipline, as a tiny little mistake anywhere on course can land you up against a concrete barrier in a fraction of a second, or airborne into a set of tires, as Sebastian Bourdais found out in practice when he “missed” in the chicane on the front straight.
We also attended this race last year, but did so as race volunteers. We spent the first half of each day ( Fri/Sat/Sun) working the corporate suites to ensure that the only people in there were those with the proper credentials, answering questions, etc. In return, we got full 3-day event passes that included access to the paddock (garage) area for free, in addition to a handful of other perks. While that was a very fun experience, and allowed us to see some pretty cool stuff behind the scenes, I wanted our last pre-college race to be as spectators, so this year’s trip (reserved seating and all) was her present from me this past Christmas.
We drove up from Charlotte to Baltimore on Thursday morning, and arrived in the Inner Harbor around 2:00pm. After getting checked in to our hotel (a couple blocks behind the Power Plant, for anyone who knows the area), we walked over to the track. Getting in a day before any of the on-track action starts at a street circuit allows you to see a bit more than normal, all without the crowds to fight. At this point, portions of the track are still open, and you can walk the whole thing if you want. I grabbed a few quick shots while we walked it from turn 1 all the way back to turn 12 (track map reference). It’s amazing how some concrete barriers and a little red and white paint in the corners can change how you feel about a city street :). On the left, I’m standing in turn 1 looking back towards start/finish. On the right, I’m standing in turn 12 looking down to turn 11. That’s Oriole Park in the background.
The weekend itself was outstanding. Both the ALMS race on Saturday and the IndyCar race on Sunday were fun to watch, even with the 1 hour red flag at the start of the ALMS race on Sat. At this event, you can sit in different locations on Saturday and Sunday if you want, so I decided to give that a shot to get two different perspectives. Saturday, we sat in grandstand 4 for the ALMS race, which is in turn 1. We got to see a few good passes, and enjoyed sitting there. Here are a couple of shots from that spot: The first is a shot of a couple of prototypes battling each other for the overall lead, the second is the view of the harbor from our seats (the top row of GS4)
Really great crowd on Saturday, as GS4 was pretty full the entire race, even with the extended red flag. Anyway, on Sunday we sat in GS5, which allowed us to see more of the track, including the straights entering and leaving turn 3 (the hairpin), along with the 90 degree left-hander into turn 4. This was taken right before final practice Sunday morning, which is why the grandstands are empty. Trust me, they filled up come race time.
One of my favorite things to do over the course of the weekend is to hang out in the paddock area where all the teams are set up to work on their cars. At the GPoB, this is in the basement of the convention center for the IndyCar teams. We usually try to get there early in the morning each day, as there usually aren’t a lot of fans in there yet, and you can almost always catch drivers arriving and get a picture and/or autograph. You also have to keep an eye out for cars being towed to/from the track, as well as drivers shooting by on scooters, but that’s part of the fun.
On Sunday, getting there early paid off in a big way. We got to the paddock about 9ish, and were hanging out near Charlie Kimball’s hauler waiting for him to arrive so my daughter could get a picture with him while she was wearing her Kimball jersey (which he signed on Friday). While standing there, one of his crew guys told her she could come over by the car. We assumed he was going to let me take pictures of her next to the car. Nope. He had her get in Charlie’s actual racecar so I could take some pictures. Easily one of the coolest things we’ve ever experienced at a race. A few minutes later, this thing was on-track for final practice:
I can’t thank those guys enough, it was a simple gesture that nether of us will ever forget 🙂
The other really cool thing we got to do was tour race control. We’re both members of IndyCar’s fan club, and each race weekend, they open up a few special weekend events for those going to sign up for. They only select a limited number of people for each one, but we were both invited to see race control during the morning IndyCar practice on Saturday. It was pretty cool to see the team at work and to learn what they all did. I also need to figure out how to get this sort of TV setup at home for watching races:
When I took this, they were working the first of two red flags during our visit, this one being for Scott Dixon’s car getting spun on track.
On the ALMS side, I love sports car racing, and follow ALMS as much as I do IndyCar (HUGE Flying Lizard and Level 5 fan). Their paddock area at this race is outside, near Ravens stadium. Since they race on Saturday afternoon, you have to walk that area prior to that so you actually get to see activity (they load up the haulers pretty quick after the race ends). We walked over there on Thursday afternoon and a few times on Friday to check out the race prep the teams were doing.
All in all, we had a great weekend. I spent a good chunk of it tweeting pics, race updates, etc, from my personal account, with my total count for the weekend somewhere north of 150 tweets. Many teams and drivers in both series are active on Twitter and are more than happy to interact with the fans during the race weekend.
I know street races tend to be a bit of a traffic nightmare for locals, but I hope it at least provided an economic benefit to the local businesses. Inner Harbor is a great location for a race, with a lot of stuff to do, places to eat, and great scenery. I know the future of this race is currently up in the air, but I really hope they’re able to make it work. The location and weekend were perfect, even if it was a bit hot on Sunday.
For us, the 2013 Grand Prix of Baltimore provided one last outstanding father/daughter race weekend before she goes off to college, and it’s one I’ll never forget.