Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg sets wheels in motion

ST. PETERSBURG — The barricades are blocking streets. Fancy big rigs have delivered the high-powered cars. The green flag is waiting to fly.

It's race week. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is back.

Love it or hate it, the season opener for the Indy Car racing calendar showcases St. Petersburg's waterfront to a worldwide audience in 200 countries. Thousands of visitors will spend money at some hotels and restaurants and race events from Friday through Sunday.

As work crews ready the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course for professional drivers, some downtown roads will close today as the track is sealed.

"It will be a mad circus the next 48 hours," said Tim Ramsberger, general manager of the race. "It's going to be tremendous. The buzz has started."

Chris Steinocher, head of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

He has spotted international media and visitors on downtown streets.

While it's hard to estimate how much money the event brings to the city, businesses benefit from race exposure, Steinocher said.

"The eyeballs on TV see St. Pete as a destination," he said. "Other markets in the country would love to have this."

The City Council unanimously approved a three-year contract extension in June to keep the Grand Prix here through 2017.

Still, the popular event has not been without problems.

At times, the race has caused attendance issues for the Salvador Dalí Museum, which sits inside the track. To enter, visitors must buy a race ticket and a museum ticket, discounted to $10.

Race officials, Ramsberger said, have worked with the museum to push visitors to the entrance, adding: "We're continually looking to improve it."

The museum agreed.

"We have more signage to help our visitors this year," said deputy director Kathy White. "We are looking forward to sending as many visitors to the Grand Prix and to the Dalí as possible."

Some downtown residents have mixed views on cars racing through the streets.

Gary Grooms, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the races operate during the day and do not keep people awake like nightclubs blasting loud music.

While the track disrupts businesses and residents in some condo towers, few residents have complained this year, he said.

"If you live here and love St. Petersburg, it makes you feel good when you see it on TV," Grooms said. "If you live downtown, you have to expect noise."

Residents looking for fresh produce, plants and crafts should stay away from downtown. The Saturday Morning Market will not operate this week in the parking lot at Al Lang Field.

City officials also talked to business owners this year to find ways to push crowds to the north end of Beach Drive. Race fans don't typically head that way.

But many residents avoid the shops and restaurants because they fear traffic jams, though empty parking spots are abundant over the three days. The city plans to install flashing signs directing drivers to race events and to shopping areas.

New events at this year's race include go-carts and planes.

Race fans wanting speed can zoom around a go-cart track located near Gate 1 on First Avenue S. The Air Boss air show will also woo fans Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Ramsberger does have one concern for the weekend — something work crews can't control. Although Florida is the Sunshine State and St. Petersburg is the Sunshine City, Mother Nature's soggy hand doesn't play favorites.

The National Weather Service is predicting a 20 percent chance of rain on Friday and a 30 percent chance of the wet stuff Sunday afternoon.

"It's not going to be a total washout," said meteorologist Nicole Carlisle. "The best chance for rain would be Sunday."

Ramsberger plans to keep his fingers crossed, saying: "Hopefully, Mother Nature will cooperate."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at @markpuente.

>>If you go

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

What: IndyCar season opener, plus races in other series, including Indy Lights and Pro Mazda

When/where: Friday-Sunday, downtown streets

IndyCar schedule: Friday, practices 11:10 a.m. and 2:40 p.m.; Saturday, practice 10:25 a.m., qualifying 2:05 p.m.; Sunday, warmup 8:45 a.m., race noon

Tickets: Prices range from $20 for ages 12 and younger for Friday and Saturday to $135 for a three-day adult upper-reserved seat. Paddock passes and convenience charges extra.

Details or to buy: Visit or call (727) 898-4639, ext. 225

.Fast facts

Special events

Thursday: Race and city officials will unveil the Dan Wheldon memorial and Victory Circle Monument on Bayside Drive. The former St. Petersburg resident died in a 2011 crash while racing in Las Vegas. His wife, Susie, will wave the green flag to start the race on Sunday.

The Illuminated Night Parade kicks off at 7:30 Thursday with floats, beads, bands and fireworks. It ends at Vinoy park.

For more information:

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg sets wheels in motion 03/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 5:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco delays Irma food distribution after problems elsewhere

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Pasco County has pulled the plug on a planned Food for Florida distribution at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center that had been scheduled to open to the public on Sunday.

    Pasco County has postponed a planned Food for Florida distribution at the Land O' Lakes Recreation Center on Collier Parkway and is seeking an alternative site. Last week, commissioners said they feared a repeat of the long lines of traffic that appeared outside Plant City Stadium on Oct. 9. The nutrition program for people affected by Hurricane Irma had been scheduled to come to Land O' Lakes Oct. 18 to 27.  [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  2. Editorial: UF can set example for free speech


    White nationalist Richard Spencer is bringing his racist message Thursday to the University of Florida in a legitimate, if utterly repugnant, display of the First Amendment at work. As a public university, UF has little choice but to allow Spencer's speech to take place. Now the university and the broader community has …

    By responding with peaceful protests and refusing to be provoked into violence, UF and the Gainesville community can provide a powerful repudiation of Richard Spencer’s hateful message.
  3. Percussionist rocks out with a blazing triangle solo during Florida Orchestra performance (w/video)


    Oh, the poor triangle. It's the orchestra equivalent of a rock band's tamborine, and such easy fodder for jokes.

    John Shaw performs a triangle solo.
  4. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza


    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  5. Andy Serkis' directing debut 'Breathe' is not so inspiring


    After such a revolutionary acting career, Andy Serkis should be expected to make an equally inventive directing debut. Breathe is anything but that.

    Clare Foy and Andrew Garfield star in Breathe as Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife, who pioneered disability rights and wheelchairs with ventilators. [Imaginarium]