Belle Isle -- Events surrounding this weekend's races have spilled from the island into Metro Detroit.
At a unique charity fundraiser at Kart2Kart, an indoor go-kart track in Sterling Heights, a dozen professional sports car racers mingled and amicably shared stories about their fast-paced lives.
And they let all comers race against them — including me.
Racing4Research hosts similar functions nationwide to raise funds and awareness for the fight against Neurofibromatosis, a painful disorder that can lead to blindness, bone abnormalities and cancer.
The event wasn't well attended, but it is going to be a must for race fans next year. Access to the drivers was incredible. They were friendly and engaging and genuinely happy to share the fun they were enjoying. They took children afflicted by the condition on rides around the track in Kart2Kart's two-person go-karts.
Patrick Long, who drove Roger Penske's American Le Mans Series Porsche RS Spyder prototype racers in 2008, will be wheeling the No. 73 Porsche GT3 in Saturday and Sunday's Pirelli World Challenge Series races ahead of the IndyCar events. Long talked about his plans to race in the 90th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a teammate of Patrick Dempsey.
Dempsey is better known as Dr. Dreamy from the television drama "Grey's Anatomy," but he is also an accomplished sports car racer. Long has competed at Le Mans 10 times and taken class victories twice.
Lindsay Styke, 26, of Waterford, has Neurofibromatosis and is aided by two titanium rods implanted along her spine. But she also raced go-karts against the professionals.
"I never let it hold me back," said the automotive class teaching assistant at Waterford Mott High School.
My night behind the wheel was a fantasy camp special. I qualified for the pole position for the final event, thanks to an inverted start with the fastest drivers starting at the rear. I held my kart as close to the middle of the fastest racing line as possible, hoping to make it hard for all those fast drivers to find alternative lanes to pass me. It worked for several laps, until Long's Porsche teammate Jason Hart flew past. Next came Long and then Al Carter, a BMW driver in a series that won't compete this weekend in Detroit.
What I didn't know was what had been happening behind me — that Long had deliberately kept a local hotshot bottled up in traffic for several laps. Jonathon Horgas, 23, of South Lyon, drives open-wheel formula cars in amateur competition. He's also a regular at Kart2Kart. His initials, JEH, are at the top of the track's current speed and performance indexes.
At the end, Horgas was on my tail. He made a bonsai attempt to pass on the final lap. We clanged together in a turn and I managed to keep my kart straight enough to pull ahead. After the checkered flag dropped, Horgas pulled alongside and we bumped fists.
As fundraisers go, this one was more exciting than a walkathon.
Car Guy Cred
General Motors North America president Mark Reuss revealed his real car guy cred, picking up his personal ride from valet service after the Grand Prix media luncheon at the riverfront Rattlesnake Club in downtown Detroit.
Reuss was ahead of me in line so I got to watch and even speculate with others around me about whether it would be a new Cadillac XTS or maybe one of those ominous black U.S. Secret Service-grade Chevrolet Suburbans.
It was black, but it was a 505-horsepower 2013 Corvette Z06 Carbon Limited Edition.
No driver needed. Reuss climbed behind the wheel and rumbled down Joseph Campau Street.
The guy's tongue rolls out when he gets around performance machines and motor sports. It's been a while since that kind of personal commitment to the performance image of GM's brands was projected from the RenCen.
Who's my boss?
Simona de Silvestro, the 26-year-old Swiss national who is Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan's teammate, complained that in Detroit she has more public relations stops than normal because race promotion PR machines of Chevrolet and Roger Penske had hijacked her scheduling for the days prior to the race.
"I don't even drive for you but I feel like I am working for you," deSilvestro told a laughing Penske before climbing into a Chevrolet Volt to travel to another local interview.
The "H" word
Scott Dixon, last year's IndyCar winner on Belle Isle, got introduced at the pre-Prix media luncheon as a Honda driver. His car is powered by a Honda racing engine.
"I didn't know the 'H' word could be mentioned here (in Detroit)," Dixon said.
He knows Honda rubbed a considerable amount of salt into Chevrolet's wounds after claiming every step on the victor's podium of last year's Belle Isle race. The insult came when Honda put a full page photo advertisement in USA Today to proclaim Dixon, teammate Dario Franchitti and rookie Simon Pagenaud, "Detroit's new Big Three."
Jim Campbell, General Motors vice president of racing and performance vehicles, said a Chevrolet victory on Belle Isle is a must, because he wants to remove the copy of that advertisement from the back of his office door, where it has hung since the day after last year's race.