MICHIGAN CITY | Skydivers parachuting onto the beach will be among the new twists at the fifth annual Great Lakes Grand Prix this weekend featuring boats that race at speeds topping 100 mph.
Upwards of 100,000 people are expected to attend during the two days the boats will be venturing on the water, especially for the races at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Since the inaugural 2009 Grand Prix, there's been no let up in the interest level by fans who come predominantly from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
Others have been from far away as Canada, said Jason Miller, sports development manager for the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"We have people from all over the world," Miller said.
About 15 to 20 boats in the Florida-based Super Boat International series are expected to take part in the race and start hitting the water at noon Saturday for test runs lasting until 5 p.m.
To celebrate the fifth anniversary, Miller said skydivers from Michigan City based Sky Dive Hoppers will land on the beach with an American flag both Saturday and Sunday to kick off the start of the test runs and racing.
LaPorte resident Stuart Glenn and his 1942 Vultee Valiant BT-13A, a plane used to train fighter pilots during World War II, will also make several passes over the beach just prior to the start of Sunday's race.
"It should be pretty cool," Miller said.
People will also be strolling for events leading up to the race like the Taste of Michigan City from noon to 10 p.m. and the boat parade and block party at 6 p.m. all on Saturday in the city's downtown area.
There's also a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Washington Park following by a meet the racers party from 7 to 10 p.m. at Clubhouse Bar and Grill on U.S. 20.
Racers will also meet and greet fans at a party Friday starting at 7 p.m. at Matey's near the lakefront.
"There's a lot of activity climaxing with the actual boat race," Michigan City Mayor Ron Meer said.
Miller said the Great Lakes Grand Prix has become the biggest event in LaPorte County, generating more than $25 million for the local economy since its inception.
"The numbers are just staggering," Miller said.
The cost of attending the race is free.
There is a $7 charge to park at Washington Park for people without a pre-paid parking sticker.
Free shuttle service to and from Marquette Mall and Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets where overflow parking is free will also be provided, Miller said.