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Grand Prix’s economic impact expected to top $60 million

Mark Parker

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The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will showcase the city to an international audience for a 20th consecutive year this weekend. Photos by Mark Parker.

The “world’s fastest spring break party” returns to St. Petersburg this weekend, bringing hundreds of thousands of spectators – and their wallets – to the downtown waterfront.

Official Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg events begin Thursday and conclude Sunday with the IndyCar Series’ season opener, televised live on NBC. Here is what to expect from the 20th consecutive annual race:

An economic boon

The Grand Prix generated a $61 million economic impact in 2023, including $31 million in direct spending. Mayor Ken Welch said the city collected $3.3 million in taxes.

Brian Lowack, CEO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, said the event supports 640 jobs and garnered over 20,000 overnight hotel stays throughout Pinellas County last year. He expects to see the race’s economic impact increase in 2024.

“What we’ve seen recently at events throughout the destination is they’re experiencing the largest crowds they’ve ever seen before,” Lowack told the Catalyst. “This weekend should be no exception, as the weather looks like it’s going to be great.”

Stakeholders expect the 2024 Grand Prix to surpass last year’s record-breaking attendance numbers.

A global audience

City officials have called the Grand Prix a “two-hour commercial for the City of St. Petersburg.” Green Savoree Racing, the event’s organizers, issued press credentials to over 180 media outlets representing 200 countries in 2022.

NBC’s broadcast averaged 1.2 million viewers in 2023. Lowack said the race provides an invaluable opportunity to “reach folks in their living rooms around the entire globe.”

Viewers will routinely catch glimpses of the St. Pete Pier, the skyline, the Mahaffey Theater, the Dali Museum and yacht-filled harbors. In a previous interview, 2022 Grand Prix winner Scott McLaughlin called it “the Monaco of IndyCar.”

“You can’t just go and take out a commercial for two hours and show images of your destination,” Lowack said. “This is how you accomplish that, and there’s no better way than doing it at 200 miles an hour through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg.”

An exciting race

IndyCar racers will warm up Sunday morning from 9:10-9:40 before a noon green flag. They will then take 100 laps around the 1.8-mile street course, routinely topping 200 mph. Five wrecks knocked out nine drivers in 2023.

Marcus Ericcson, the 2023 Grand Prix winner, recently said the narrow track is “bumpy, and it’s technical, and you have no margin for error.” He called that a unique combination and “very cool to drive.”

The weekend will also feature seven other races, with five featuring up-and-coming drivers in the equivalent of IndyCar’s minor leagues. The new IMSA VP Racing SportsCar Challenge will make its Grand Prix debut with two competitions.

Marcus Ericcson (center) dodged several wrecks to win the 2023 Grand Prix. Pato O’Ward (left) came in second, while Scott Dixon placed third.

Bret Michaels and Bon Jovi

Multi-platinum rock musician Bret Michaels will perform after racing ends Saturday evening in the plaza between the Mahaffey Theater and the Dali Museum. The former Poison frontman is known for hits like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothin’ but a Good Time.” Race organizers expect the show – free to all race attendees – to end around 10 p.m.

Jon Bon Jovi, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will attend Sunday’s race and ride around the track with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. The two will lead the starting field to the green flag.

More events

St. Pete native and racing phenom Nikita Johnson will host a Grand Prix Kickoff Party from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. Wednesday at O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille in Gulfport. Johnson, 14, won the USF Pro 2000 last year, and he and fellow drivers will mingle with fans.

A 5k fun run starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Bayshore Drive NE. The event, which allows participants to run and walk around the track, has raised $271,265 for the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg since 2017.

Fans can view cars from the various competitions and seek drivers’ autographs at IndyCar’s Party in the Park. The free community event runs from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in North Straub Park.

IndyCar Series winners, race officials, Mayor Ken Welch and several former mayors will commemorate two decades of racing success Friday night at the Mahaffey Theater. The private fundraising event will benefit four local youth-based nonprofits and programs. Limited tickets remain available for $250.

“It’s just great – not only for the hardcore race fans but also for families and people looking for a fun weekend,” Lowack said. “Everybody is going to enjoy this weekend.”

To view a complete schedule, visit the website here.

Race fans pack the grandstands surrounding Albert Whitted Airport.

 

 

 

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