New traditions meet old at Belle Isle Grand Prix

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — Brian Bieri grew up with the Detroit Grand Prix. His father worked for General Motors and would get tickets to bring him and his siblings down to Detroit to see the Formula cars twist and turn through the streets.

“It’s history,” said the Waterford resident. “It’s changed through all these years.”

Now Bieri is bringing his own children down to the race on Belle Isle and continuing on that tradition.

The Detroit Grand Prix originated in 1982 as a Formula One World Championship event with a challenging circuit through the streets of Detroit. Eventually it was discontinued. Roger Penske revived the race for IndyCar and it was moved to Belle Isle for 2007-2008 and restarting again in 2012.

All that means is the race has a special place in the history of the city and the hearts and minds of fans.

Julie Markey, who has lived in Chattanooga, Tenn. for the last two decades, came back to her hometown for a vacation and decided to head to the races Saturday. When she was growing up, her mother worked for Crain’s, so she would get free tickets to the race back when it wound its way around downtown.

“It’s a completely different track,” she said. “Every picture has a perfect background.”

For others, new traditions were being formed.

Kieran Williams, who was visiting the races with his wife Lisa and children Kristen, 10, and Jacob, 6, walked the paddock watching as the crews prepared the IndyCars for the upcoming Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit race.

He said the fan access was wonderful. His son even got to hang out with the team manager for Marco Andretti’s race team.

“I like the race on the island,” said the Redford resident. “There’s no other track like it.”

Erin and Kevin Kwaitkowski of Ann Arbor were picnicking before the races in the shade with their son Tyler, 7, and daughter Ava, 4

“We’ve decided to make it a family tradition,” said Erin Kwaitkowski. “This is our third year here.”

Kevin Kwaitkowski just recently became the director of design for Pratt & Miller Engineering, which modifies Cadillac and Corvette cars for racing. As a reward for the long hours the employees put in, they were given free tickets to the race.

“Lots of people put in a lot of hard work and lots of hours,” said Erin Kwaitkowski. “It’s nice when they let you bring your family out here.”

Chad Durocher of Windsor has been bringing his son Quincy, 7, to the races for the last three years. On Saturday, they checked out the Meijer Fan Zone and admired the remote control Traxxas car display, where scale replicas of the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks racing on the track could be seen flipping through the air on makeshift ramps.

“We love the GT cars,” said Durocher, who does a little racing of his own in his Mazda RX-8 Grand Touring. “Plus, they’ve got all kinds of nice things for the kids to do.”

Durocher said he has concerns about Belle Isle now that the park has come under state control. He says he can see the island from across the river and watch the flashing lights as Michigan State Police Officers pull people over.

But A.J. Kulish, a student at the University of Detroit Mercy, said he is happy with the changes that have come to Belle Isle.

“I think it’s much better than it was when I first started coming here four years ago,” said the Toledo resident who likes to fish on the island. “There are more cops, more stuff promoting cleanliness.”

Another passion for Kulish is racing. He attends the Indy 500 race in Indianapolis every year, which is where he was last weekend.

“Two race weekends in a row, I can’t complain,” he said.

Kulish is studying to be a mechanical engineer and says he was meant to love cars. He was named after A.J. Foyt, a four-time winner of the Indy 500 and the team owner for ABC Supply Racing.

“My dad’s really passionate about racing,” said Kulish,” and he got to name the first kid.”

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If you go

What: Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

When: continues Sunday

Where: Belle Isle

Tickets: $25-$75 for adults and can be purchased at Picnic Way and Riverbank Drive on Belle Isle

Parking: Continuous shuttles to Belle Isle from $10 parking lots at GM Renaissance Center Lots B, C, G and M and Beaubien Place Garage at the corner of Beaubien and Atwater.

Weather: Expect rain Sunday with temperatures that are expected to reach 54 degrees (a low of 46.)