Baltimore Grand Prix group in turmoil
IndyCar executives met with Baltimore officials Monday to discuss the future of the company planning the city's Grand Prix — and whether the leader of the group should depart.
Downforce Racing LLC, which took over the troubled event earlier this year, has been thrown into tumult as Indianapolis contractor Dale Dillon has clashed with two local business partners. The Labor Day weekend event is less than five months away, and the group has yet to launch a marketing campaign or sell tickets.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said two of his top deputies traveled to Baltimore to discuss, among other topics, Dillon's fate.
Bernard acknowledged questions about Dillon's future role in leading the race, and said Monday he would know "by the end of this week" whether Dillon would remain with Downforce Racing. Dillon, who has worked on races in other cities, was hand-picked by IndyCar and city officials to take over the Baltimore race.
"Dale is a friend of IndyCar," Bernard said. "If he doesn't have the time and the focus to do this, he's going to be a friend and tell us he doesn't."
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declined to comment, saying that discussions with IndyCar were "ongoing."
City Councilman William H. Cole IV, a longtime booster of the race, said he was part of Monday's conversations at City Hall. He declined to discuss the negotiations in detail but said, "I'm confident that IndyCar will get this right and will help make sure there is a successful event on Labor Day."
The group that organized last year's inaugural Grand Prix, Baltimore Racing Development, fell into financial ruin and the city pulled its contract in December. City officials then negotiated exclusively with Dillon-led Downforce Racing to take over the event. The group consists of Dillon, an Indianapolis building contractor, and two Baltimore businessmen, Dan Reck and Felix Dawson.
Neither Reck, who is business partners with Dawson, nor Dillon responded to requests for comment Monday.
Dawson formerly headed Constellation Energy Group's commercial trade division, which ran into significant financial difficulties during his tenure. He had previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Arthur Andersen.
Reck reported to Dawson at Constellation, and was a vice president at Enron when the Texas-based company imploded amid scandal in 2001.
Rawlings-Blake's administration has said IndyCar steered them to Dillon, who previously worked on races in Toronto and St. Petersburg. In the final weeks before last year's race, Dillon stepped in to serve as Baltimore's general manager at IndyCar's suggestion.
City officials had described Dillon as having saved last year's race, and spoke with confidence of his leadership ability.
The city signed a contract with Downforce in mid-February, touting the safeguards built into the agreement which would prevent the company from failing to pay city taxes and fees. Baltimore Racing Development owes the city $1.5 million.
Since the contract was signed, Downforce has failed to meet a series of benchmarks stipulated in its contract with the city. A sanctioning agreement with IndyCar, a deal with the Maryland Stadium Authority and an agreement with the city over a ticket escrow account are all more than a month overdue.
Two weeks ago, city and state officials said that the delays were largely due to a technicality: Documents lacked a signature from Dillon, who was dealing with a death in his wife's family.
But since then, sources close to the race group have said Dillon was at odds with Reck and Dawson.
Bernard, IndyCar's CEO, said he met with Reck and Dawson over the weekend at a race in Long Beach, Calif.
"We told them we could be a significant help," Bernard said. "We want to know [Dillon's] commitment, and it's imperative that we help with that process."
Bernard said that he still believed the race would happen, despite the lack of time. The racing group has yet to develop a detailed web page or announce sponsorship deals. The group's Facebook page — its primary promotional tool — has not been updated in nearly two weeks.
"I know of at least two big sponsors that are willing to come to the table," Bernard said. IndyCar hopes to match Downforce with a sponsor that could pay a portion of the hefty sanctioning fee that must be paid to the racing series.
Bernard said IndyCar's chief operating officer, Mark Koretzky, and senior director of business affairs, Sarah Davis, came to Baltimore to discuss the long-term future of the city event, which fans and drivers considered a highlight of last year's racing series.
"There's a little more scrutiny going into this year," said Bernard. "Last year's event looked fantastic, but at the end of the day, it wasn't. It was a disaster for them." Baltimore Sun