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At St. Petersburg Grand Prix, many hear the sound of money

ST. PETERSBURG

Six-year-old Jacob Fougere scrunched up his face, clamping his small hands tight over his ears.

Race cars zipped like giant four-wheeled bees less than a block away. Zoom, zoom, zoom.

Standing next to his father, Jacob stayed that way for a moment before slowly letting his hands drop. Out came a toothy grin.

"I'm excited," he said. "I've never been here before."

At 8:05 a.m. Friday — or maybe a minute or two later — the first cars of the seventh annual Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg revved up their engines and got a feel for the 14-turn, 1.8-mile track. The real racing begins this weekend.

Like Jacob, the ear-splitting noise from the early start caught some residents off guard.

LaVonne Stimadorakis, 63, and her husband John, 65, were just sitting down at an outside table for coffee and breakfast at Pincho y Pincho, 10 Beach Drive.

Whoops.

"We didn't realize it would start this early," said John Stimadorakis, sipping on a black coffee.

"We thought we were safe until 9 a.m.," shouted LaVonne.

But at the Signature Place condominium, residents laughed about it. This was their first year and next year they said they will know better.

"We realize this is wonderful economically," she said.

Barbara Montgomery, who works for a downtown construction consulting firm, sat at a nearby table. She said the noise didn't bug her a bit.

"I don't think that two or three days of race car noise should affect anybody in a negative way," she said.

Montgomery is a vice president at Delta Construction Partners, right next to the track. She said the office closed Friday, giving everyone the day off. She said the company is happy to do it if it means more business in St. Petersburg.

Edgar Gonzalez, working security at Bayfront Tower, didn't have such a positive outlook. The earplugs he wore did little to dampen the noise echoing at the entrance.

"I hate it," he said, giving two thumbs down.

He may have said some other things, but it was too loud to hear him.

Every year, some residents in nearby high-rise condominiums leave town for race weekend while others invite friends over to party.

Steve Eckhardt, 52, a part-time Signature resident from Toronto, is one of those staying.

Walking his dog, Onyx, as the ear-splitting noise started, he said it didn't bother him — yet.

"It's only five minutes into it, so ask me on Sunday night and I'll let you know if it's been a bother," he said. "I'm hoping not — it's good for the economy. And my wife bought some ear mufflers yesterday to give us a better chance."

The Grand Prix is the first race of the 2011 Indy Car schedule.

Earplugs are a must at — or near — the track.

Sound levels are about 115 dB about 10 feet away from a race car. Permanent hearing loss occurs from prolonged sound exposure to sound levels higher than 85 dB.

At St. Petersburg Grand Prix, many hear the sound of money 03/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 11:23pm]
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