Fans enjoy more than races at Grand Prix

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Detroit — First on the bus to Belle Isle, Paul Quayhackx and Tom Kowalec couldn’t have been more revved up for their third year at the Grand Prix.

“We love speed,” says Quayhackx, 69.”And Roger Penske is my hero.”

But was it necessary for the two friends from Washington, Michigan, to arrive at 7:30 a.m. when the gates opened Saturday?

“We thought we might as well get a full day’s worth of activity,” says Kowalec, 64. “There’s a lot of fun things to do before it gets crowded.”

High on his list of things to do: “Sit in a Corvette I can’t afford,” he laughs.

Tailgate fowling

While the race is the main attraction, thousands of Grand Prix attendees flocked to the Meijer Fan Zone, which offered interactive race car driving, basketball shoot outs, a chance to record music videos and a new activity — fowling.

Pronounced like “bowling” with an “F,” the sport was invented at the Indy 500 in 2001 when founder Chris Hutt and a group of friends brought bowling equipment to their tailgate. But bowling at a tailgate didn’t work out so well.

“The balls kept rolling into other people’s campsites,” says Maureen Conwell, co-commissioner of a league at the Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck. “They then started throwing footballs around and had a eureka moment — and fowling was born.”

The goal is to knock down your opponent’s 10 bowling pins by throwing a football across a lane. Windsor resident Steve Seremack gave the sport a try, but he made the mistake of going up against Conwell, a six-year fowling veteran.

“I flat out suck,” says Seremack, who had all 10 pins left. Conwell, meanwhile, had only one standing. “This is why I don’t play football,” he laughs.

Sweating, he called a truce. “I’ve never even seen the game before today, but you Americans come up with some of the neatest stuff.”

New attractions

Also new this year, a Trendy Crafts Show featured 30 local artists selling Michigan-made apparel, bags, artwork and carved wooden pieces.

Artist Michele Shornak, of Twisted Couture, uses reclaimed windows from Detroit houses to make decorative glass art. “I turn it into art instead of letting the material go to a recycling pool,” she says.

The windows often feature the Michigan mitten, trees and Detroit “D,” but she made a special piece for the Grand Prix, forming the word “race” out of smashed glass and substituting the “a” with the state of Michigan.

Until a few years ago, she focused on painting and jewelry. Then she made a Michigan mitten out of smashed glass for her house. “I posted it on Facebook, and it turned into 200 orders in six weeks,” she says. “I dropped the painting and jewelry and have been going ever since.”

Near the craft booths, Emily and Matthew Whiteman, ages 12 and 9, respectively, were racing each other with Traxxas remote control cars. It was no surprise they were enjoying themselves. Their father, Chris Whiteman, 44, was a motorcycle and race car driver for 30 years. He says he gave up the sport after he won a national championship in 2003 -- the same year his daughter was born.

“I still love the smell of the fuel and the sound of the cars,” he says. “ I don’t have a favorite -- I love them all.”

He adds he’d like to see his kids participate in a motor sport. As he puts it, you don’t have to be a race car driver. “You could be a race car engineer or technician,” he says. “It’s a clean sport, and there are so many ways to be involved.”

Kevin Krawczyk’s involvement wasn’t going to be more than getting behind the wheel in Firestone’s race simulator. “It was really tricky,” says the 42-year-old Ford Motor Company engineer from Novi, after giving it a spin. “You had to really balance it.”

How’d he do? “Terrible. I got 24th.” Out of? “Probably 24,” he says.

He’ll leave the racing to the professionals.