Free Prix day draws big crowd on Belle Isle

Braylin Mackey loved the "sweet cars" at Belle Isle today.

The 7-year-old and his brother, 6-year-old Branson, were on the island along with scores of other race fans and curious onlookers for the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix’s Free Prix day. The duo even sported matching black Pirelli tire hats.

Their mother, Karmen Mackey, 31, of Detroit loves coming to the races, but this was the first trip for her boys.

"It’s a family event," she said, noting the games and vendors in addition to the race cars running qualifying laps nearby. "Of course, it’s free so that’s a plus."

Thousands are expected to attend the Grand Prix weekend before it wraps up with the main race on Sunday. According to the Grand Prix website, the race generated more than $46 million in spending in the region last year and attracted more the 95,000 people in 2007, 2008 and 2012.

Racing starts in earnest on Saturday, but today offered those with and without tickets a chance to experience a race day, with cars running qualifying laps, and a chance to enjoy the brilliant sunshine and blue skies.

As the roar of engines echoed across the island, Preston Furton, 4, of Redford Township popped out an ear plug to so he could hear a reporter ask what he likes about the races.

"I like the cars … yeah, they’re loud," he said.

Preston, who got a free T-shirt tossed his way from a passing cart filled with girls in form-flattering attire, was with his parents, Michael Furton, 62, and wife Donna Furton, 34.

Donna Furton, who has been coming to races since she was a teenager, said her family are "big time" race fans.

What’s cool about racing? "It’s just the thrill of going 100 m.p.h.," she said.

Michael Furton said Belle Isle is an excellent spot.

"I think we compare with any of the other tracks. I think we’ve got a lot to brag about this year," he said.

As she sat in the bleachers watching cars race by, Letitia Bolden of Detroit considered what is different about this year from previous Grand Prix events. She comes every year.

"This year is grander than previous years," she said. “I think there’s more of everything."

Tabatha and Dennis McCann and their 3-year-old daughter, Lilyana, have been to Belle Isle quite a few times since moving back to Wyandotte from St. Louis last year, but this is the first time they have been to the Grand Prix. The couple spent 15 years in St. Louis, which they came to love, and they’re really trying to embrace Detroit now.

Tabatha, 31, is even introducing her parents, who live in Ecorse, to the city whenever she gets the chance to bring them.

"My parents never brought us to Detroit," she said, noting that even going to American Coney Island downtown is a revelation. "My mom, it blows her mind that all this stuff has been here forever."

The chance to see Belle Isle and the Grand Prix even attracted the Wennings of Dayton, Ohio. They are visiting family in Lansing and making a couple of trips to Belle Isle for the Grand Prix while in Michigan.

"I think Detroit’s just a real neat city," said Ryan Wenning, 37, who was with his wife, Kelly, 36, and daughter Nora, 2, who’s “been smiling since we got out of the car."

Detroit — which has lots of magnificent buildings and a few that, he said, need to come down — reminds Wenning of Dayton a bit, although Dayton, he said, is not having “quite as much of a revival."

For Grand Prix tickets, event and parking information, go to Detroit Free Press

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