Published in The Crow’s Nest March 2015
Roads closed down weeks in advance.
It was evident that one of the biggest annual events in downtown St. Petersburg was near.
Some think it’s the greatest time of the year. Others say it’s a nuisance.
It is the Firestone Grand Prix.
With the qualifying and tests taking place last Thursday and races lasting until 6 p.m. Sunday, nearby residents of St. Petersburg were forced to decide what to do for the weekend. They could attend the event or plug their ears from the perpetual noise from some of the world’s fastest cars.
Kathy Garrison, 63, a resident of The Madison condos, is within walking distance of the 1.8 mile track located in USF St. Petersburg’s backyard. Garrison said she thinks most downtown residents take advantage of the activities the races bring to the city.
“I think for the most part (locals) are okay with it,” Garrison said.
Garrison hosted a brunch for 10 other race-fan residents and bought a three-day pass for the IndyCar Series weekend.
“There might be a few disgruntled, but they can plan a trip out of town at that point,” Garrison said. “You know it’s coming for a year.”
Students at USFSP, however, don’t always have the option of heading out of town for four days due to school, work and their lack of funds.
Senior Jacqueline Barrett, 26, was “lucky” enough to get away from the noise on Saturday but returned to USFSP on Sunday.
“The constant buzzing is annoying and distracting and makes it difficult to focus on homework,” Barrett said.
But not all USFSP students view the race as bothersome. Michelle Graves says the noise doesn’t bother her at all, despite being in the infield of the race track. Graves, 18, an education major, worked the weekend for her brother’s tent, selling racing merchandise on Saturday and Sunday.
“A lot of people complain about it, but it’s not that loud,” Graves said. “The people that haven’t come to the races and complain, I think they’re being babies.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, was the grand marshal for the final race on Sunday and presented Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves with his own Bucs jersey.
“This is an honor to be part of this event,” Jackson said to reporters. “It’s always entertaining. It’s always a great draw and the racing is phenomenal.”
The event, which lasted from March 27-29, featured 13 races, including the main event, the Verizon IndyCar Series race.
Additionally, there were nine practice races and five qualification sessions. Attendees of the races were treated to autograph sessions with drivers and had the opportunity to see the vehicles up close between race sessions.
Ear plugs were given out for free throughout the weekend to fans in attendance.
Last year’s winner, Will Power, qualified to start the race in first place, matching the number on his car.
Power led 74 of the 110 laps in the season-opening race while playing a game of cat and mouse with Castroneves for the first 50 laps of the race, reaching speeds over 160 mph through the 14-turn track.
With less than 27 laps to go, Juan Pablo Montoya held the lead in front of Power until the checkered flag was waved.
Montoya won the race, finishing .993 of a second in front, ending Power’s quest for a back-to-back win at St. Petersburg.
“Today, if you told me this morning that I was going to win the race I’d say ‘Uh no,” Montoya said. “In the warm up, I felt pretty strong, but I didn’t know how strong we were.”
(Photo Courtesy of Thomas Boyd)