Sponsors call this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix "the world’s fastest Spring Break party." It also is a colorful picture of the modern St. Petersburg for a national television audience. The Indy cars zipping by the waterfront are fast becoming part of the city’s broader identity, and an event that once brought some grumbling in some local quarters is now part of the fabric of spring.
After this brutal winter by Florida standards, the Grand Prix is a welcome coming out, especially with the Tampa Bay Rays moving south for spring training. The three-day event is a boon to hotels, restaurants and shops. But the Grand Prix also offers plenty to those who will not attend the races. Thursday night’s parade and tonight’s street party downtown are just two of the events where the race excitement can be soaked up for free.
Fast, loud cars are not everybody’s favorite. But the speed and precision of the sleek machines against the backdrop of the downtown waterfront cut a striking figure on television. Even residents who watch from home see their community in a new light. Shots of the beaches, museums and landmarks are not just good advertising; they are reminders of a lifestyle the region offers 12 months a year.
For all the ups and downs St. Petersburg endured to get street racing, the city has created an exciting image to sell with the Grand Prix. Some 140,000 people could come and go this weekend, a nice economic shot in the arm. Now as long as the rain holds off on Sunday …