July 31, 2014

Downtown revving up for Modesto Grand Prix

Fans can get a free look Friday afternoon at superkart drivers practicing on downtown streets ahead of this weekend’s Modesto Grand Prix.

Fans can get a free look Friday afternoon at superkart drivers practicing on downtown streets ahead of this weekend’s Modesto Grand Prix.

The drivers will practice from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 5:30 to 11 p.m. The course will be illuminated by 80 construction lights at night. The drivers will reach speeds of 90 to 100 mph on the straightaways and complete a lap on the nearly 9/10-mile course in as little as 40 seconds.

“For anyone who has a little bit of adrenaline in them, it’s the fastest thing you can see going around the city,” said Tom Kutscher, CEO of SuperKarts USA, the Southern California race promoter Modesto is working with on its first grand prix. “If you are into racing, this is a must.”

Modesto expects the grand prix will be an economic driver, with 7,500 to 10,000 spectators, roughly 260 drivers, and their crew and family members spending about $1 million on lodging, meals and other purchases over the course of the event. The grand prix includes a family fun zone, an expo highlighting local nonprofits, beer gardens and a car show.

City officials hope the grand prix will have lasting benefits. Their thinking is that spectators will be impressed with downtown and come back to eat in a restaurant, shop in a store or see a show.

But in the short term, the race poses challenges for people trying to get downtown. The major road closures started Thursday; by the weekend, most of I and K streets between 10th and 13th streets will be fenced off for the race. Generally, people will need a ticket to get past the fences Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets are $10 if purchased Friday and $15 at the gate Saturday and Sunday. Children 10 and younger are free. For more information, visit www.modestogp.com.

Some downtown restaurants and businesses are gearing up.

Jazzy J’s Hair Salon will offer face painting, glitter tattoos and pedicures to attract customers, and the Barkin’ Dog Grill has doubled up on its food orders this week – for instance, ordering 200 pounds of beef and 20 cases of french fries – in anticipation of hungry race fans.

“Any time you have 6,000 to 7,000 people – even if that’s an overestimation, say it’s 5,000 – that’s exciting for downtown,” Barkin’ Dog owner Hanibal Yadegar said.

Other businesses are cautiously optimistic.

Picasso’s Gourmet Deli owner Jordi Camps said business has nose-dived at his deli since Wednesday when the city started setting up for the race. Picasso’s is closed weekends, but Camps said he will open for the grand prix in hopes of at least making up what he’s lost this week.

“The problem – as it is for everyone – is we don’t have any experience with this event,” Camps said. “This is the first year.”

Other businesses are closing because they don’t think they will benefit from the race and getting downtown will be too inconvenient for their customers.

Still, Camps and other business owners said downtown needs help. They say there are too many empty buildings. And while they rely on the workers employed in the government and office buildings during the workday, downtown struggles on weeknights and weekends.

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