Spotlight on Grand Prix

Published March 28, 2006

Get ready, race fans, only three days until Indy-style racing cars start tearing through downtown streets for the second annual Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. As workers scurry to put the finishing touches on the waterfront track and grandstands, we caught up with Tim Ramsberger, the vice-president and general manager of the event and a St. Petersburg native. He discussed everything from the last-minute challenges of coordinating an international sporting event to the likelihood of celebrity sightings over the weekend (Note to Grey's Anatomy fans: Keep your eyes peeled).

What's been your biggest challenge in coordinating the race?

A couple of things. We're bringing in some new team members, which has been a bit of a challenge. I think dealing with the construction to the Mahaffey Theater - from an infrastructure standpoint, that's been one of the biggest challenges.

What still needs to be done before the drivers start showing up later this week? ?

We're putting all the final elements together with all of our contractors. Obviously, the tents and the (VIP) suites will get finished out. We'll finish constructing the rest of the block now that the Devil Rays have concluded spring training. We're finishing the track circuit with the walls and the catch fence. We're bringing in all the generators and all the infrastructure needs we have ... This is really when the orchestra comes together and we all have to start singing off the same sheet of music. All the different vendors, contractors and suppliers, they all are in here and in synch. Now we just have to keep everyone on task.

How is this year's event different from last year?

We've got more concerts. Obviously, with the racing we've increased the number of races throughout the weekend. We've got a lot more on track all three days. We've got the Klein Tools Air Show coming back. We've also got the Bright House Speed Zone up in the north end, full of entertainment. It's got rock-climbing and bungee jumping; it's going to be great for families.

Is there anything for non-racing fans to do at the Grand Prix this weekend?

There's a number of activities we'll have away from the track, such as the Hoobastank concert. We have the Miss Honda Grand Prix contest Saturday afternoon. The driver autograph sessions. Gene Simmons, our grand marshal of KISS fame, will be here. We'll have a car show on the premises that will feature unique, exotic cars: Maseratis, Aston Martins, that type of thing.

Can we expect to see any celebrities in town this weekend?

There will be. We don't quite know what the list looks like right now.

Ashley Judd?

We're expecting Ashley to be here to see her husband (Dario Franchitti) race. Beyond that, I'm not sure at this point...There's been talk of Patrick Dempsey because he's a part-owner of one of the teams.

Last year, was there anything unexpected that came up at the last minute?

In an event of this magnitude, there's always something that comes up you have to deal with on the fly. I think we are very well prepared as far as infrastructure layout and operations. You know, there are some things you can't control. Last year, one example was these tents (on the third floor of the parking garage by the Mahaffey Theater). We had a huge wind gust come through on Saturday night that blew half these tents apart. That's something you can't control.

There was an unfortunate accident at the Homestead-Miami Speedway Sunday involving Indy Racing League driver Paul Dana, who was scheduled to drive in St. Petersburg. How will Dana's death affect the race this weekend?

The show will go on. We're proceeding forward with a heavy heart. We fully expect that the proper respects will be paid, as they were in Miami. I think people accept that there are risks involved in motorsports.

What does it mean for the city to have an event of this magnitude here?

I think it really puts us in a different category, a much higher category, in terms of a community that can host international sports event of this type. I think it's a real credit to the people of this community, especially those of us who have been around a long time. They've really seen the transformation...We have the natural beauty and the arts. But as far as fun and excitement, this puts us up at the top.