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Free day quenches Detroit prix fans’ need for speed

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — Crossing a bridge over the track that was soon to hum with race cars, Sarah Schultz walked with her 3-year-old son, Tre Campbell, who donned earplugs for protection from the Indy car roar below.

Anthony Nesbitt of Detroit and his grandsons, Stephon Merritt left, and brother Steven took in the qualifying runs.

“He loves the cars moving,” said Schultz, who lives in St. Clair Shores.

Schultz, 33, was among hundreds who came out to the free day Friday at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park as part of the three-day Belle Isle Grand Prix weekend. Schultz and other speed enthusiasts experienced the feel of the IndyCar Series race cars and various exhibits and basked in the bright but not too punishing sunshine.

Schultz said she attended the race once before, but “I was working. I’ve never been into cars before this.”

Barbara McCormack, 67, of Berkley, and her husband have been attending the Friday festivities for the past three years before Saturday’s and Sunday’s featured races.

“I think it’s a spot right in the city, and it shows off Belle Isle and how beautiful it’s become,” McCormack said as cars flew by as she sat on a bench. “Where else should you have a car race but in the Motor City? It’s just the thrill of all the people that come, the cars. And this location makes it even better.”

The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix features cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the trucks of the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks and the Trans Am Series. The weekend reaches its apex with the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on Saturday and Sunday.

Preston Vanderpool, 5, loves racing, and his father normally takes him to the Grand Prix each year but is traveling this weekend.

So his grandfathers, Dave Anderson, 70, and Bob Vanderpool, 68, both of Grosse Pointe, took up the mantle to escort their grandson around hand in hand Friday.

“They do a nice job, it’s very entertaining and I think it’s a good showcase for the island,” Vanderpool said. “And Detroit.”

Anderson said the race is “great for Detroit” and that people coming from all over the region shows how the city has made a significant comeback.

Anderson said “the two grandpas are out here together,” and Preston couldn’t have been happier. Preston didn’t have much to say behind his huge smile except one word about the time he’s having: “excited.”

Seated in the perfect spot in the grandstands at Turn 1, Anthony Nesbitt took in the qualifying runs with his two grandsons, Steven Merritt, 5, and Stephon Merritt, 4.

It was Nesbitt’s first time at the Grand Prix.

“I’m here to take in the cars, and it’s in Detroit and they like cars,” said Nesbitt, 58, of Detroit. “I just brought them out to introduce them to it.”

“My favorite car is blue,” said Steven, who pointed out toward Turn 1 as cars roared by.

Carl Greene and Luther Curry, both of Detroit, were just several rows away, veterans of the Detroit races going back to when they were in downtown Detroit and Formula One.

“I love it,” said Greene, 67. “I think it’s beautiful, the best thing they could have ever done. You can not only enjoy the race but enjoy Belle Isle. Belle Isle is beautiful.”

Curry said he’s proud of the Grand Prix’s ties to Detroit and how it is once again showcasing his city in a positive light.

“I’ve seen it from birth to what we see now,” said Curry, 69.

Detroit Grand Prix: How to watch

If you go

What: The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix returns to the Motor City this weekend. The event will feature the cars of the Verizon IndyCar Series, the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the trucks of the SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks presented by TRAXXAS and the Trans Am Series. The weekend collectively is referred to as the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and it will feature the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans IndyCar doubleheader.

When: Friday-Sunday, June 3-5, 2016

Where: The Raceway at Belle Isle Park road course

Track length: 2.3 miles

Parking: Public parking is not available on the Island. There are several shuttle buses that offer round-trip service.

Tickets: General admission tickets for Saturday and Sunday cost $40 for adults. Children 12 and younger are admitted free with a ticket-bearing adult. Limit 2 children per adult admittance. There are additional costs for paddock passes and certain grandstand seats. Multiday passes are also available. Get more information here.