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Fans give activities thumbs up

Those who attend are pleased with the racing, atmosphere and weather.

By SHARON GINN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Many, if not most, of the fans at Sunday's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg came for the sun, the noise and fast cars, not necessarily in that order. The race itself? Not many seemed to know a Bourdais from a Bordeaux.

But Tom Tokarczyk of Lutz was doing his best. The longtime racing fan sat in Grandstand 7, near the end of the straightaway, his race program stretched out in front of him, eyes darting between the cars zooming past and the giant screen to his left that displayed the action elsewhere on the course. It was his first CART race, and he isn't used to watching street courses, but he said the setup made the race easy to follow.

"I got here after the race started, and didn't know who was in the lead," Tokarczyk said. "It didn't take me long before I figured it out.

"I've been to Daytona and short-track (races) up north (in Connecticut). The short-track/open-wheel races are very exciting. Daytona is much faster and much bigger and equally exciting. This is pretty much the same as Daytona. The cars are fast and loud."

Along the fence near Grandstand 8, more die-hard fans like Tokarczyk gathered along Turn 2 near another giant video screen, many donning headsets that allowed them to listen to the chatter between the drivers and the pits. One was the vacationing Lynn Grenier, who likes to attend the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix in her hometown of Montreal. Like many others, she gave the inaugural event good reviews.

"It was very good -- nothing to complain about," she said. "(The weather is) perfect."

For Todd and Jenni Pfeiffer of Land O'Lakes, there was, however, one small complaint. They didn't like the way the advertising signage covered so much of the fences in general admission, blocking the view in several places. The good news was that they could move around and seek out different vantage points.

"You get to pick your best spots," Todd Pfeiffer said. "The TVs are real nice."

Lots of people weren't bothering to find the best spot to watch the race, but they were having fun anyway. Jason Shields and Amy Stoutamire of St. Petersburg brought sons Steven, 10, and Sylvester, 8, to the race on a whim. They spent a lot of time wandering around, taking it all in -- and said they'll be back.

"We loved it," Jason Shields said. "It's great for the city -- lots of people, lots of money. The activity, the hubbub and energy are terrific."

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