Baltimore avoiding D.C.'s race car pitfalls

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Capital Land,Liz Farmer

Remember a little thing called the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington? You know, that highly touted American Le Mans Series race that the city forked over $5.1 million for back in 2002? The one that tore up RFK Stadium's parking lot, made a lot of noise, angered residents and never returned?

Well, Baltimore is gearing up for its turn at a race car event and business-wise, it seems to be faring a lot better than D.C. did eight years ago. The highlight of the racing weekend in Charm City in September will be an Indy Car race. But the opening act will be an American Le Mans Series race — and this time the racing league is making it worth the host city's while.

Le Mans announced Monday it has reached a multi-year television deal with ESPN and ABC to broadcast its races, meaning Baltimore will get free PR and advertising on two major television networks. (Sometimes cities don't get nearly the exposure they hoped when race promoters are unable to sign a television deal with a significant network. Which is how nonmainstrean cable networks like Versus end up with random events.)

And to sweeten the deal, the 2011 ESPN telecast package includes a two-hour documentary-style broadcast from the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix in September.

D.C.'s Le Mans race was broadcast on NBC, so that wasn't why it failed. The race ran nearly $2 million over budget and the event drew complaints from the neighborhoods surrounding the track. Although the race promoter was to pay back half the city’s costs over 10 years, the political controversy made it a one-and-done event.

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