Before Baltimore Grand Prix, Pumpelly readies for Le Mans

When Spencer Pumpelly lived in Baltimore, he always thought the downtown streets would make a good racing track.

This was in 1998. Now, it has become a reality.

The Baltimore Grand Prix will run Sept. 2-4 on the streets of Charm City, starting on Pratt Street, skirting by the Inner Harbor, then around Camden Yards and back to Pratt Street. Pumpelly, who will participate in the race, said the course is nearly the exact track he imagined.

"When I saw the layout, it was 95 percent of the track map I envisioned," said Pumpelly, who will drive this weekend in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France. "This is the event I'm most looking forward to."

An Arlington, Va., native, Pumpelly lived on Centre St. in Baltimore for a year after graduating from James Madison. He worked at his parents' boating company in Stevensville, often traveling on the weekends to race.

"I was just trying to get a foot in the door," he said.

Now residing in Atlanta, Pumpelly said his time in Baltimore was "a lot of fun." After leaving the city, he moved to Lakeville, Conn., to teach at a racing school for five years. He then headed to Atlanta, which he calls "a hub for sports car racing," where he lives with his wife Lindsay.

Racing is now a full-time job for Pumpelly. An 11-year veteran of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, Pumpelly is gearing up this weekend for Le Mans. In qualifying Wednesday, Pumpelly had the best time for Flying Lizard Motorsports in the GTE AM class.

"It's the biggest sports car race in the world," Pumpelly said. "It's part of every racer's dream to do this."

He's no stranger to 24-hour races, either. He's notched two wins in 12 tries in the day-long races, the most recent coming in 2010 at Daytona.

"It's a long, long race," Pumpelly said. "You need to balance your absolute fastest pace against all the other things that conspire against you."

He will race with two team members, each driving in two- or three-hour stints. During breaks, Pumpelly said he either sleeps lightly or eats to keep his energy up.

Pumpelly is a vegan, a choice he said he and his wife made a year ago. He decided to live a vegetarian lifestyle eight years ago.

"It's the most ethically healthy diet," he said. "A lot of my family also has heart issues, so that figured into it."

The couple met through a mutual friend, Ryan Eversley, who is also a professional racer and a childhood friend of Lindsay's. Eversley said he, Pumpelly and fellow racer Andy Lally are "like the three amigos" and hang out "all the time."

Eversley and Pumpelly first met in 2001 in a race at Watkins Glen, where Pumpelly was racing and Eversley was a mechanic. The two were paired up in a smaller go-kart race intended for the racers and the pit crews a few days before the big race.

"I was 17, and he was a legit driver," said Eversley, who is now a driver in the Grand Am series. "I thought he was a superstar."

The two race together often now. And even when pitted against each other, they use common courtesy only reserved for friends.

"For me, I have a couple of good friends in racing, so I give them room unless I'm going for the win," Eversley said.

Lindsay, who is a personal stylist, said she doesn't go to as many races as she'd like anymore and might make it to Baltimore for the Grand Prix. She will be traveling to Le Mans this weekend to cheer on her husband.

"I cannot wait," Lindsay said.

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