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Baltimore Diary:
Day Two
I'm Blown Away

Baltimore, Maryland, September 3 Even if I entered this weekend as the most optimistic person in the world (and I was far from it), I never would have anticipated how successful this event could have been -- and it's only Saturday. Baltimore has truly embraced the idea of racing through downtown.

Sure there were plenty of problems getting things started, as I mentioned yesterday. Sure, there are still parts of the track that will need serious work for next year. Sure, some logistical problems continue to crop up. However, overall, this event, and especially the fans' reaction, is blowing me away.

Guy Smith in Action Image A massive crowd enjoys the ALMS podium celebrations at the Baltimore GP.

The crowds are massive. The grandstands, and there are plenty of them, are full -- maybe not jammed pack, but comfortably full. General admission spectators lined the entire course, sometimes two-three deep. All the restaurants are packed. Fans (albeit, without tickets) are watching from balconies 20 stories up a building. All the special -- paid -- viewing areas are standing room only.

There are vendor booths everywhere. When I walked down to the hairpin for the first time, I saw yet again a continuous line of vendor booths. How can this event sustain so many? Well, they did seem to all be getting decent business. Even Eutaw Street behind Camden Yards, which is closed off during Orioles games with vendors set up, was being used for this event, and all vendors were active.

However, it's the reaction of the fans that has me the most impressed. First of all, it's the most diverse group of fans I've ever seen at a race track. Even more so than Long Beach which impressed me. Every race, ethnicity, class, and gender are well represented. You have the young "punk" with 300 tattoos standing next to the Wall Street type, the older couple standing next to a group of teenage girls, and so forth, all enjoying the event.

This event has a vibe. A vibe I have not felt at a street course since the heyday of the Molson Indy Toronto or Long Beach. Between sessions it was almost impossible to get around, the crowds were so large. You had to plan accordingly if you wanted to quickly get over a pedestrian bridge -- and there are plenty of them -- or go to a different part of the track.

It's obvious many fans have never been to a race before, but they were thoroughly enjoying the action. During the American Le Mans Series, hardly any of them left the grandstands, despite the temperatures getting well into the 80s and the sun beating down on them (well, at the start, since the race began late in the day). Afterwards, they all stood and cheered every car as it went by on the cooldown lap.

While walking around the track and sitting in the grandstands, I never once heard a single complaint about only being able to see a small section of the track. I never once heard a single complaint about no passing (well, in an ALMS event, this would be a bit silly). I never once heard a single complaint about it being too loud. I never once heard a single complaint about foreign drivers. I never once heard a single complaint about it being boring.

Instead, the fans enjoyed racing for what racing is supposed to be about -- cool, sexy looking cars, speed, noise, action, and even the occasional crash. Who knew there was such a large market in the Maryland area craving for some good racing, and not the monotonous NASCAR oval kind?

Of course, the question now is will this event continue? Aside from the money issues -- and who knows what one should believe with all the stories circulating -- politics will be the key decider. Unfortunately, like the national level with an inept Congress forgetting what their real job is, the local politicians are also losing sight of their purpose -- to serve their constituents, instead of their own self serving party lines to the detriment of progress and revitalization.

The politicians simply cannot ignore -- though they certainly will try -- this event is welcomed by the local populace, greater than anyone could have imagined (especially me). They simply cannot ignore that this race could become a signature event for Baltimore. They simply cannot ignore the kind of comment I heard from a woman on the shuttle bus to the parking lot: "I had to deal with all the traffic for six months. I'm no longer complaining!"

I used to laugh when people were calling it the Long Beach of the East. I'm not laughing anymore.

Surprise Winners. The ALMS race was a lot cleaner than most expected, especially when mixing four different classes on a tight, narrow track. After watching these cars in person at Mosport and even the tight, narrow (for a road course) Mid-Ohio as well as seeing the Internet broadcast from Road America, it was quite an adjustment to see them "confined" at Baltimore.

Dyson Mazda Lola in Action Image Steven Kane and Humaid Al Masaood were the surprise winners of the ALMS race.

However, overall, the race was entertaining. Of course, we had the first lap, first turn melee, but at slow speeds. There was plenty of contact, but considering the circumstances, very few full course yellows.

The big surprise were the winners ... or maybe not considering the unpredictable nature of street courses. Overall, it was the Dyson sister car that won their first race with Steven Kane bringing the Mazda Lola home after Humaid Al Masaood started the race. When these drivers first "bought" their way in midway through the season, the term "wankers" immediately came to mind. However, they have for the most part held their own and at times been competitive. Today, they proved they belonged.

GT kept seeing the leaders knocked out by their competitors. At one restart, Tommy Milner in the second place Corvette drilled the leading BMW M3 in Turn 1. The BMW lost the lead and Milner had to serve a long stop and go penalty. At the very start, the Team Falken Porsche 911 was a main participant of the first turn smashing and bashing, but by the end, they found themselves in first place, albeit with a bashed in nose. They didn't even have to use rain tires to get them to first...

Answers. We have the answers to Friday's questions concerning the real issues Deep Throttle lets you in on. They are: not even close (thankfully), probably, it didn't happen, and no.

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