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CART race now closer to reality

Organizers can begin laying out a course in downtown St. Petersburg.

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Championship Auto Racing Teams wants to race here.

The open-wheel sanctioning body has given its blessing to the promoter trying to organize a race through the city's downtown streets and signed a letter of intent with Dover Downs Entertainment. "We're committed to finalizing negotiations for this event," CART spokesman Mike Zizzo said. "We can start moving ahead with all aspects of building an event there."

CART chose the St. Petersburg site over the State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

"We're very excited," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said. "It means the greatest open-wheel racers in the world will be coming to St. Petersburg, and that's good news. This will be a great economic boon for the city and great for the city's image."

The Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, a subsidiary of Dover Downs, will organize the event, which is proposed for February 2003. It now can proceed with details such as course layout, sponsorships and ticket sales. "Once the site has been identified as being one which can acceptably host a CART event, it's just a matter of trying to put the pieces into place," said Jim Michaelian, the new president of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. "These are things that can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time."

In addition to plans for a new race in Denver, CART and Dover Downs are discussing races in Nashville and St. Louis. CART awarded Dover Downs "prefered promoter status" for street course races for the next three years.

The only potential glitch in St. Petersburg, Zizzo said, is if CART officials cannot find a safe and suitable course. But that is unlikely. Wednesday, Chris Pook was named CART president. Pook, 60, a street course expert, had been president of the Long Beach Grand Prix and helped design the proposed course in St. Petersburg.

Martyn Thake, the CART director of circuit development, soon will visit St. Petersburg to examine the proposed course. It includes a runway at Albert Whitted Airport and is centered farther south than the one used for waterfront street racing during the late 1980s.

"I've got to believe we'll be able to satisfy them," Baker said. "We were confident in working with the Long Beach people and with Chris Pook that we would be able to put together a package that CART would approve.

"It looks like everything is falling into place."

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