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5 things to know about Grand Prix of St. Petersburg promoter Kim Green

Kim Green, owner and operator of Green Savoree Racing Promotions which promotes IndyCar and other races, talks with volunteers and race officials while walking along the boat docks at the yacht club area behind turn 11  on opening day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday (3/11/16).
Kim Green, owner and operator of Green Savoree Racing Promotions which promotes IndyCar and other races, talks with volunteers and race officials while walking along the boat docks at the yacht club area behind turn 11 on opening day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday (3/11/16).
Published Mar. 12, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG

After longtime Grand Prix of St. Petersburg president Tim Ramsberger left his position in August 2014, the IndyCar race was left without a permanent, locally-based executive.

Kim Green changed that in June when he moved his family here from the Midwest to provide a go-to local contact as the owner and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, which puts on the event.

The 61-year-old Green has been involved in racing for more than three decades as a mechanic, team owner and race promoter. A wide-ranging, half-hour discussion last week with the Tampa Bay Times included references to Paul Newman, Al Unser Sr., Roger Penske and Clint Eastwood.

Here are five things to know about Green:

1. He comes from a family of gearheads. Green was raised in a one-shop town in southwest Australia, on a 750-acre beef and dairy farm where he milked cows and worked on the equipment. "Growing up in a farm, you end up learning to do mechanical things," Green said. "As a young person, you had to drive very young." His older brother, Barry, loved racing so much that he went to Europe and then North America to pursue a career. Green followed.

2. His first boss was Paul Newman. In addition to acting, Newman also owned a Can-Am racing team. Green's brother started managing Newman's team in 1980, and Green got a work visa to join him from Australia the next year. His job was to drive Newman's motorhome to the track and work on some of the cars. "I jokingly say I helped (Newman) develop salad dressing and popcorn …" Green said. "He always wanted to do something for the crew. He was always the guy making burgers or giving them some food for the evening."

3. He gave Dan Wheldon his big break. Wheldon, the late St. Petersburg resident, had been asking Green to join his Andretti Green Racing team for a few years. "Eventually I got him a chance," Green said. Wheldon tested in 2002 with no long-term guarantees, but he did well enough to earn a full-time ride in 2003. Two years later, he won the Indianapolis 500 and was a series champion. Green said he still enjoys popping in a DVD of Wheldon's in-car camera during that Indy 500. "From the outside, you don't see a lot of the things drivers are doing," Green said. "I saw him work so hard all day."

4. Green has learned a lot since he first put on the Grand Prix in 2005. Green said the first event lost "a ton of money" — somewhere around seven figures. Since then, his company has learned how to be more efficient with expenses like constructing the track and grandstands. More fan activities, like a 5K on the track, car-themed movies showing at a nearby park and the popular waterside bar, have tried to grow the weekend. "This event is more than just a race event …" Green said. "There's so much going on."

5. Green expects the race to keep evolving. Last year's weekend drew a record 160,000 fans, which Green said could be topped this year (if the skies stay sunny). The event is establishing some stability. Its contract with the city runs through 2020, with dates, an IndyCar agreement and a title sponsor (Firestone) set for the next two years. Green would like to add more exhibit space and keep adding extra events — perhaps pairing it with an exotic car show. Green said his satisfaction comes from a trouble-free week. "If we start on time Thursday afternoon and if we have a smooth weekend, we get a lot of compliments," Green said. " 'Great event, love this place.' Then get it packed back up, move on to the next one."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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