Red Bull Air Races Energize Downtown San Diego

The annual event has become a party scene

The category is… Red Bull Air Races.

The answer: Alex Trebek.

The correct question: Who will be a guest flying in a two-seater race plane this weekend, and then videotape one of those backward A&Qs for an upcoming episode of “Jeopardy?”

The host of “Jeopardy” is but one of many international celebrities that will sit in seats that cost $1,350 for two days worth of watching light-weight, highly-efficient airplanes speed through an obstacle course over San Diego Bay.

Granted, the High Flyer’s Lounge on the Embarcadero Marine Park South lawn isn’t exactly downsizer chic. Race Club seats are $350 for both Saturday and Sunday. Okay, okay, $40 gets you into the general admission area on both days (May 9-10), where race director Jimmy DiMatteo promises the audio-visual spectacle being set up, along with proximity to the race course, will fulfill your…need…for…speed! (Now, high-five somebody like Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”)

Anybody who pays to get into general admission (single-day tickets are $30), might be wise to find JJ’s Sunset Deli. It’s the plaintive brick structure with a patio area just behind the park’s fishing pier. Owner James Jecklin grills chicken sandwiches daily, and vows he’ll sell bigger cups of beer for lower prices than they charge at Red Bull Air Race concession stands.

The Manchester Grand Hyatt will charge a cover to watch the races from its nearby pool deck. And it’s free to find a seat on the steps of the San Diego Convention Center, or on the beach across the bay in Coronado.

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The race weekend has become an anticipated annual par-tay. The planes are a tad earsplitting to some (the engine noise is what you’d expect from a Godzilla-sized cicada). But decibel-challenged downtown denizens can look on the bright side—the plane noise drowns out the much-maligned Santa Fe train horn symphonies.

Ron Donoho, formerly executive editor of "San Diego Magazine," is a regular contributor to NBCSandiego.com who covers local news, sports, culture and happy hours.

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