Detroit — There's a place at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix where fans climb a metal staircase and bridge to get to the other side of the track. It's the first chance to catch a glimpse of the cars up close as they fly by underneath, with engines rumbling out in a deafening wave of sound.
It's a feeling like no other, said Rebecca Shaw.
"It was really cool walking up here. I've never been to a race as an adult," said the Allen Park resident, who came to Belle Isle on Friday with her boyfriend, Matt Widdick, of Brighton. "I felt like a little kid."
Even a midday downpour that left people running for cover under awnings and tents couldn't wash out the excitement at the return of racing to Belle Isle.
"It's the power, the engine technology, the sound," said Erik Olson, of Arcadia, Florida, who was sitting in the grandstand watching practice laps with his brother Fred, father Kyle and uncle Jeff.
Jeff's and Kyle's father was a retired Detroit firefighter, so the family spent the day reliving some memories before taking the ferry to the island for the races.
"My dad used to take us to Lafayette Coney Island, so we went there first," said Kyle Olson.
Friday's races included practice laps for the Verizon IndyCar, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Pirelli World Challenge Series and a race for the trucks of the SPEED Energy Formula Off-Road presented by TRAXXAS.
Friday was free day, with fans paying no admission to the races and plenty of activities, such as live music, driver autograph sessions, extreme sports demonstrations, monster truck rides and more in the Meijer Fan Zone.
Colin Francisco was ready to ride in a monster truck. The 4-year-old from Beverly Hills went to Monster Jam in February and he's been obsessed with racing ever since, said his mother, Lisa Francisco.
"This is our first time down to the Belle Isle Grand Prix," she said. "He loves it."
Lisa Francisco plans to start a new family tradition.
"My husband and I were just talking, let's make this an annual thing," she said. "Take Friday off and come down here. It's perfect because he's so young and it's free."
Since the Grand Prix returned to Belle Isle in 2007, organizers have made more than $13 million in improvements to the island. This includes installing more than 475,000 square feet of concrete for road improvements, repairing lights and drainage systems, installing more than 400,000 square feet of concrete for the paddock area and fan interaction areas, and new pedestrian bridges and playscapes.
Organizers say the Grand Prix generated more than $47 million for Metro Detroit in 2014 with 95,000 people attending in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
If you go
What: Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix
When: Saturday and 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 both days. Saturday temps are expected to reach a high of 79 degrees and low of 48. Sunday expected to reach only 60 with a low of 45.