Baltimore year three was wild, wacky, and yet again memorable

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In only three years, the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT has established itself on the best place on the IndyCar calendar to enjoy a healthy helping of contact, controversy, and crab cakes.

Its place is not yet secured for 2014 despite all indications from the series and race promoters Andretti Sports Marketing, that they’re working to find a suitable date (early to mid-August seems the likely landing point).

Baltimore feels a bit like the red-headed step child among IndyCar street circuits. It doesn’t have Long Beach’s legacy, St. Petersburg’s opening-event buzz, Detroit’s Roger Penske backing, or Toronto’s Canadian selling point.

What it does have, in spurts, is talking and selling points. From the infamous Pratt Street chicane, to the train tracks, to a gorgeous backdrop at Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor, and the nature of the track itself, the passing – and crashing – opportunities are endless. It’s also in a good market for sponsors, as there aren’t a ton of races on the East Coast.

Contrast Sunday’s race with the one at Mid-Ohio about a month ago. The 90 laps on the permanent road course there went caution-free and featured relatively minimal passing, and came down largely to pit strategies and ultimately a late move by Charlie Kimball over Simon Pagenaud.

Sunday at Baltimore was a wrecking free-for-all that ignited tempers, stirred rivalries and created controversies. And has got people talking.

Mid-Ohio was a purer race, while Baltimore was certainly entertaining when it was green. And to be fair to Baltimore, it wasn’t the race with the most cautions this year (7 occurred at Brazil and Sonoma) and was also down from 9 last year to 6 this Sunday, even if it at times it seemed like the cautions wouldn’t stop. The one thing that goes against it was the stretch from Laps 40 to 65, the near constant string of cautions that dropped the average speed below 68 mph.

Which race will you remember more? For me, I’d amend the line from “Wedding Crashers” to “Crab cakes and contact – that’s what Maryland does!”

Baltimore almost seems IndyCar’s street circuit version of a cage match. You have enough evidence now to know that this race is going to be a crash-fest. You know you’ll get some good views of the city and skyline. You know you’ll get a surprise podium – Sam Schmidt’s, Sarah Fisher’s and Jay Penske’s teams finished in the top three spots on Sunday – and that variety is invariably more interesting than yet another Penske-Ganassi podium sweep.

But it’s not like the Penske-Ganassi subplot wasn’t evident either. It was big. It was controversial. It was the rivalry back on the front burner with the latest Scott Dixon-Will Power dust-up. It was probably the biggest talking point coming out of the weekend.

It’s for all those reasons I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Grand Prix of Baltimore. The hate is only for all the contact – if the race could have been just a little cleaner, not had that second Turn 1 pileup and a third one in Turn 3, for instance – I think it would have been an even better race.

But man there’s a lot to love, if you actually make the effort to go. You can tell the effort the ASM team puts into the event. Last year they needed to resuscitate the race from a shoddy first-year promoter, but this year they made some improvements. On the corporate side, adding the “Chicane Suites” at the track’s most notorious corner was a great way to show the partners of the event the most discussed part of the track.

As for the paddock layout, it was much improved this year with a Family Fun Zone – a la its sister event in Milwaukee – put in immediately east of the IndyCar paddock and in the air-conditioned Baltimore Convention Center, was a great thing to attract the next generation of IndyCar fans. Speaking as the youngest full-time member of the IndyCar media corps, I can’t express how pivotal it is to get the younger crowd, especially those who live outside of Indianapolis, interested in IndyCar racing.

A race like Baltimore may not have the cache, the cleanliness or the glory of some of the other events on the calendar. But damn if this isn’t IndyCar’s version of the crazy uncle you can’t wait to see every year just to see what unexpected thing will happen next.

Follow @TonyDiZinno

BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

Follow @JerryBonkowski