Renee Black of Southfield has saved 30 years to afford her dream car, a yellow Corvette convertible like the one she took for a test-sit at the Grand Prix. (Photos by Neal Rubin / The Detroit News)
C. Davis was handing out earplugs, but he had no interest in them for himself.
He was working in the lost and found booth at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, dispensing soundproofing and maps while mostly collecting wayward cell phones.
He was close enough to the track for the engines to drown out conversations and maybe even thoughts. Others cringed, but he only smiled.
“The sounds. The people. The pretty girls I get to see,” said C., 60, who saves time by only using an initial.
It all took him back to the ’60s and ’70s, when he’d race his Plymouth Roadrunner up Livernois Avenue.
“You could get —” he started to say, and then the cars roared by and he had to start over.
“You could get away with some things back then,” the lifelong Detroiter continued, but you can’t now, so he volunteers at the Grand Prix and drives a Ford Excursion.
Ask people why they don’t like auto racing and they’ll tell you it’s loud and hot.
Ask people why they do and they’ll tell you pretty much the same thing.
Plus, there’s excitement involved. And competition. And beer, and a few other attractions.
But throngs of people showed up on Belle Isle over the weekend, and the clarion call was truly the roar of the engines.
Maybe someday engineers will build 200-mph hybrids, quiet as a ceiling fan, but you won’t have to fight any crowds to see them.
The love of cars
So sayeth John Elliott of South Lyon, a 62-year-old retiree from the experimental transmissions department at Ford:
“I get a big kick out of just hearing the race cars.”
So sayeth his best friend since they were in diapers, Gary Bostick of Sterling Heights, who works in a heat-treating plant:
“I come down here to see the new model cars, drink a beer, and listen to the racers.”
There were other motivations as well.
Stephanie Tate, 29, of Ray Township likes Formula One — “It’s the adrenaline” — and IndyCars are as close as she can get in Detroit.
Josh Collom, 32, of Madison Heights likes Tate, so he was there, too.
Renee Black of Southfield likes NASCAR, Jeff Gordon and Corvettes. Only one of those is available for purchase, and at 57, she’s about to possess it.
“That’s my retirement gift,” she said, having exited a yellow convertible ‘Vette in the Chevrolet exhibit. “I’ve been saving for 30 years.”
Ann Walters of Warren is a particular fan of driver Helio Castroneves, who won the fifth season of “Dancing With The Stars.” But she was posing with a cardboard cutout of Charlie Kimball, in his orange and blue NovoLog FlexPen fire suit.
Kimball used to be the diabetic who races cars. Now he’s the racer who won the Honda Indy 200 and happens to have diabetes.
“I like underdogs,” Walters said. And, she said, the roar of the cars on the first lap of an oval track gives her chills.
Off the track
Even for those who were chill-resistant, of course, there was plenty to do. Throw in some rides and cotton candy, and the Grand Prix could be a carnival.
Swag was abundant: posters, pens, key rings, lanyards, fans, Invisible Glass lens wipes, T-shirts.
You could pose for a photo with your head atop the cardboard cutout of a Mojo in the Morning fire suit, or upgrade to a picture with an authentic Continental Tire Girl.
You could stop by a Secretary of State trailer to buy an $11 parks pass that will let you onto Belle Isle or any other state park whenever you please.
Or, you could find a shady spot on the lawn 100 yards from the entrance, unfold a stars-and-strips canvas chair plus a kid-sized red one as a footrest, and wait for your son and grandson.
Mary Lou Clemons, 69, of Madison Heights did not raise Samuel, 31, to be a racing fan. But he caught the bug somewhere, “and of course, he brainwashed the 5-year-old.”
So she relaxed beneath a tree, rousing herself only to put her index fingers in her ears when the cars thundered past.
It was loud, but it wasn’t hot, and that seemed like a reasonable compromise.