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St. Petersburg's racing history

St. Petersburg has had many false starts with racing. Here is a recap on some of the Grand Prix's notable forerunners:

By Times Staff
Published April 1, 2005


St. Petersburg Grand Prix

YEARS: 1985-90.

CAR TYPE: Trans-Am series.

NOTABLE: Harold J. Kelley was the original event director but left in 1987 to start the Tampa World Challenge race. The competing events did each other in after their 1990 races....The races encircled St. Petersburg's waterfront near the Bayfront Center, creating noise about which many business owners and residents complained....The Sports Car Club of America was the sanctioning body....Willy T. Ribbs led wire-to-wire in winning the inaugural race in 1985. Other winners were Pete Halsmer (1986), Scott Pruett (1987), Walter Roehrl (1988), Irv Hoerr (1989) and Chris Kneifel (1990)....The 1985 event lost $2.3-million but moved into the black in 1987....Driver Jim Fitzgerald, 65, a teammate of actor/racer Paul Newman, was killed when he crashed in the 1987 race. He was the winningest driver in Sports Car Club of America history.

Florida Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

YEARS: 1996-97.

CAR TYPE: Trans-Am series.

NOTABLE: Tom Begley bought the assets of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in bankruptcy court and resurrected the race....The Sports Car Club of America was the sanctioning body....The course covered 1.6 miles around Tropicana Field, then called the ThunderDome....The 1996 event drew about 76,000 fans over three days. Attendance dropped to 74,000 in '97, though the race-day crowd of 36,000 was bigger than '96....Ron Fellows won the 1996 race, and Tommy Kendall won in '97....After losing title sponsor Kash n' Karry, International Management Group pulled the plug before the 1998 race.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

YEARS: 2003.

CAR TYPE: CART.

NOTABLE: Begley lured the open-wheel series to the waterfront and gained the backing of Dover Motorsports, which runs the prestigious Grand Prix of Long Beach....Veteran Paul Tracy won the featured race before 30,000 to 35,000 fans....Dover reassigned promotional rights to CART, which went bankrupt. The Champ Car World Series, which acquired many of CART's assets, talked about staging a race in 2004 but was unable to pull it together in time. In the meantime, city officials turned to the IRL.