New groups vie to run Baltimore Grand Prix in 2012

UPDATE Baltimore officials are conducting a swift and informal search for a new team to manage the city's Grand Prix race — and are declining to explain how or by what criteria they are making decisions.

After severing the contract late last month with the beleaguered company that staged the inaugural race, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration has been courting potential successors. City officials declined on Monday to name the groups that are seeking to run the event — or even to say how many have signaled interest.

01/05/12 Several groups appear to be angling to seize control of Baltimore's Grand Prix, as city officials seek a new management team in the wake of the financial collapse of the company that organized the inaugural race.

At least two teams – both headed by former organizers of IndyCar races in other cities— plan to submit proposals to take over racing festival and others, including the head of an Owings Mills-based contracting company and a former race car driver, have expressed interest, according to those close to the negotiations. Deputy Mayor Kaliope Parthemos said she has asked interested parties to submit a proposal by Saturday that demonstrates that they have the capital and management experience to run such an event.

She declined to name the groups with whom the city has spoken, but said the officials remain in discussions with "a couple of people."

Parthemos said she hoped to bring a contract with the new team to the city's Board of Estimates for final approval by the middle of next month, "in order for us to make sure the new team is able to secure sponsors and begin ticket sales."

Racing analysts say the new group must assume leadership by March – at the latest— in order to prepare for an event over Labor Day weekend.

City officials announced last week they were terminating their contract with Baltimore Racing Development, which has more than $12 million in debts, including more than $1.5 million in unpaid city taxes and fees. The company lacks a chief executive or chief operating officer, and a five-member management team has struggled to reach a consensus on plans to turn around the struggling enterprise.

Sources close to the city's negotiations say that Dale Dillon, the owner of an Indianapolis-based construction company, has emerged as the front-runner to take over the racing contract. Dillon did not respond to requests for comment.

Dillon has helped organize IndyCar races in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Toronto, and is part of a team trying to bring a race to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He served as Baltimore Racing Development's general manager in the final weeks before the race, and many in city government see him as someone who could salvage the event.

Sources say Dillon is in talks with Felix Dawson, a former Constellation Energy executive, who could help manage and fund the race.

A second group, which had helped run Toronto's IndyCar race, expressed interest in the Baltimore race this week, following coverage in The Baltimore Sun.

Geoff Whaling, the CEO of North American Motorsport Events, Inc, said he plans to submit a proposal to manage the race in 2012 by Saturday's deadline.

"I'm interested in ensuring that it continues," he said of the Baltimore Grand Prix. "I'm really excited by the race's potential."

Whaling, who is married to former race car driver Trisha Hessinger, partnered with actor Paul Newman to try and bring urban races to New York and Philadelphia, but failed in both places.

Whaling, the former head of economic planning and tourism for the city of Toronto, said he designed and implemented a plan for that city's race, called the Molson Indy Festival.

"Our event was successful because we knew not everybody was going to be a race fan," he said. "We really turned it into a festival."

He said he didn't want to reveal the details of his proposal to the city, but said he planned to run the event with significant community involvement and as a non-profit.

"Quite frankly, the city might say, 'We're not interested,'" Whaling said. "If that happens, we'd try to find some other way to contribute to the race." Baltimore Sun

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