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Grand Prix

Decibel levels, spirits soar as engines roar

A race promoter says, "I think we've turned a corner" in drawing more than 100,000 people.

Published April 2, 2007

Look familiar? It should. Winner Helio Castroneves repeated his spot in St. Petersburg.
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

ST. PETERSBURG - Your ears may still be ringing, your voice hoarse from yelling above the noise, but all's quiet again in St. Petersburg.

For three days, the vroom-vroom-vrooming of IndyCar hummed through homes from the Old Northeast to Palmetto Park. After this weekend, the neighbor's barking dogs shouldn't seem as loud anymore.

Another year of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has jet-setted through the city and race fans said they can't wait for next year.

Kevin Savoree, co-owner of race promoter Andretti Green, would not disclose attendance numbers Sunday or say whether the race made money this year.

But he did say attendance was up from 2006, when 100,000 spectators showed up. "I think we've turned the corner," he said.

Twelve-year-old Samir Rahman is hooked. This year's grand prix was the first live race the Clearwater boy had seen and he wants to come back next year.

"It was awesome," he said. "It was really cool being so close to the racers because I see them on TV."

One of the day's even younger fans was 2-year-old Emma Isabella Wukits, who was sitting on a blanket in the shade with her grandmother Susan Kazukenus, 47, of Safety Harbor.

"She really gets into it," Kazukenus said of the ear-plug wearing toddler. "She's waving, she's cheering."

This year, the crowd was more interactive, she said, and more fun.

Ear plugs were the day's hot accessory. Adults found their inner child and climbed trees in Pioneer Park on Central Avenue and Beach Drive to get a better view. Little girls wore T-shirts sporting the image of IndyCar's best-marketed driver, Danica Patrick. So did young boys. And grown men.

The balconies at the Bayfront Tower were full of people who had a free view of the action.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said he was told that the hotels in the county were virtually sold out. Watch the coverage on ESPN, he said. "It's like a two-hour commercial for the city."

Kevin Noonan, 56, of Rhode Island owns a mobile home in Largo. He timed his visit to Florida to coincide with the grand prix.

He's a NASCAR fan, "but racing is racing," he said.

Lad Johnson, 32, has a trick for dealing with the noise: toilet paper. As he pulled out a few extra sheets to stuff into his ears, Johnson, of St. Petersburg, said he's not much of a racing fan but comes for the outdoor festivities.

"For an event like this, dealing with the noise is not a problem," he said. "It's part of it."

Race promoters have until May 1 to extend their grand prix contract another two years.

"Certainly I think everyone that was here today had a smile on their face," Savoree said. "Hopefully those discussions will be straightforward."

[Last modified April 2, 2007, 01:41:45]

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