The Grand Prix
IT’S IRONIC that the month’s speediest happening is in the city of perpetual gridlock. After a five-year hiatus, the Grand Prix of Houston is back—and no amount of bumper fatigue can detract from the coup. If you’re envisioning a carnivalesque affair with an outrageous mullet quota, stop right now: This is motor sports at its highest caliber. As the only event in the country to feature the very different, but equally elite, open-wheel Champ Car World Series and sexy Euro-inspired American Le Mans Series, the Grand Prix—which boasts 900 horsepower engines and a curvaceous street track—is more about brains than brawn. NASCAR it ain’t.
For one thing, there’s a right turn, for goodness’ sake. The Grand Prix’s 1.7-mile snake of a course, which winds through Reliant Park, has in fact nine treacherous turns—all the better to see those Champ Car bobble head drivers cornering like speed demons out of you-know-where in Saturday’s first-ever night race. Champ Car, for all you non-motorheads, is the longest-running open-wheel race series in the U.S., but this is its big Grand Prix debut in Texas. (Sort of, anyway. In its previous incarnation, the event lapped through downtown and featured only the CART series, which then died and came back to life as Champ Car; think of the Oilers’ rebirth as the Texans.) Upping the sophistication factor is Europe’s cache of young racers: Reigning points champ Sebastien Bourdais, of France, is the far-and-away favorite, and Champ Car rookie Brit Katherine Legge (a Danica Patrick with turbochargers) is another one to keep your eye on.
There’s also an awful lot at stake, of course, in the American Le Mans’ truly inaugural Lone Star Grand Prix, set to run beneath Friday night’s lights. Modeled after the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France, this is the bite-size version, at two hours and 45 minutes—long enough to be legit, short enough to be interesting. Home court advantage goes to the Houston-based Risi Competizione team, whose Ferrari F430 GT is ready for a rematch after losing to Porsche and Panoz in the season’s first test, in Sebring, Florida (gotta hate it when your wheel nuts go awry). Here’s hoping that they’ll spend less time in the pit and more time giving the locals something to cheer about. As team member Don Pierce puts it, “When you’re racing for Texas, you want to look as good as possible.” (Besides, that gas isn’t cheap.)
Now let’s be honest: You can watch cars whiz by for only so long, right? You’re going to want to do other things at the Grand Prix. Like ogle those pretty chassis sitting “backstage” in the paddock or pretend to care deeply about the sport as you loiter in the beer garden and listen to live music. Actually, your level of devotion is a moot point: There’s no better opportunity to see such an impressive double bill, and it’s the only time this year the American Le Mans Series races in Texas. So yes, you’ll probably have to sit in a red river of brake lights to get to it, but what’s a little backup? You’ve inched along the highway for much less. May 11–13. Reliant Park, Loop 610 between Kirby & Fannin; 713-659-7223; grandprixofhouston.com JORDAN BREAL
Kiss the Sky
Hot-air balloons and hard-rock bands—an obvious pairing? No. But quite the one-two punch if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, which is old news to folks in Anthony, that two-state city on the western tip of Texas hosting the twenty-first annual KLAQ Balloon Fest. For three mornings, fifty or so buoyant fliers will take off with the sunrise at “o’dark thirty,” and a rainbow of favorites—the Flying Purple People Eater, the giant penguin, the cluster of red chiles—will upstage the Franklin Mountains in the background. Want to go up yourself? A few lucky crew volunteers (no experience necessary) get a free ride on Monday’s ascent. Or stay grounded to headbang with heavy- metal acts Trapt (Saturday), Shinedown (Sunday), and Thousand Foot Krutch (Monday). Either way, you’ll find out what the locals already know: Ballooning and rocking are the perfect high. May 27–29. Wet ‘N’ Wild Waterworld, 8804 S. Desert Blvd, 915-886-2222 or 915-544-9550, waterparkelpaso.com/events or klaq.com
Whether or not you know a plié from a pas de deux,