(Michigan City, IN) - More people than ever before likely turned out for the annual Great Lakes Grand Prix and all of the race-related events in Michigan City.
Jack Arnett, Executive Director of the LaPorte County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’d be a few weeks before there’s an official estimated headcount for what he called northern Indiana’s largest event. However, Arnett said he would be shocked if attendance this year doesn’t exceed the previous mark of 212,600 from 2019.
“We’re going to blow it out of the water numbers-wise,” he said.
That year, the powerboat race at Washington Park generated a record $13.6 million for the local economy from money spent by visitors during their stay.
Arnett said people eager to get out after a year of COVID-19 restrictions were a major factor in people again lining the shoreline Saturday and Sunday to watch powerboats racing at well over 100 mph. There was also professional jet ski racing when the powerboats were not on the five-mile-long course.
Arnett said the hot and humid weather ideal for spending the day at the beach also didn’t hurt race attendance. He also believes there was record attendance Friday evening for the boat parade and Taste of Michigan City.
Arnett said there had to have been at least 35,000 people downtown for those events, which drew close to 30,000 in 2019. “It couldn’t have been better. We probably couldn’t handle anymore,” he said.
It was the first Great Lakes Grand Prix for Jim Jared of Lowell. The race was part of a weekend family get-together with his daughter, Ajaa, now living along that stretch of shoreline. Jared said he was impressed by how fast the boats travel.
“They fly. They’re fast,” he said. He also enjoyed the large crowd and being at the race with his son and grandchildren.
Wendy Sherbondy and her husband, Daren, come from Fort Wayne every year for the Great Lakes Prix. They bring their lawn chairs and other necessities for spending the day at the beach while enjoying the boats and roar of their engines.
“It’s just a really great time,” she said.
Mike Schwermer of Michigan City said he hasn’t missed a race since 2010. He likes the experience of watching boats racing while sitting close to the water’s edge in a huge crowd. Schwermer and his girlfriend, Diane Downs, also of Michigan City, went to the boat parade and Taste of Michigan City. “It’s a great weekend here in town. I love it,” Downs said.
Arnett said parking at Washington Park reached capacity by 10 AM each day. People still coming in had to find parking at other more distant locations and walk to the beach or use the shuttle service at Ames Field. More than 60 professional race teams from different parts of the nation competed.
Arnett said teams from overseas normally come but couldn't this year because of COVID-19 travel restrictions from other countries. He said spectators returning and telling others about their experience and more race-related events are other reasons attendance has doubled since the beginning.
“10 years ago, they had a good time. They want to come back. Their word of mouth does way better than any ad I can buy in a Chicago newspaper. Way better,” he said.
The race, canceled by the pandemic last year, started in 2009.