A deafening screech ripped through downtown St. Petersburg and within seconds, a small mob rushed past Ceviche restaurant, tramping through bushes and mounting concrete walls to peer over gates and banners.
The obstructions were there to make sure only paying customers got the best view of the sleek, colorful race cars whipping around the race track that – one week a year – is downtown St. Petersburg.
The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg concluded Sunday with a crowd that police estimated at more than 100,000.
As the IndyCar race got under way inside, Greg Novoiny joined his own race outside with the crowd of onlookers moving corner to corner along the waterfront track on bicycle and foot to watch the race without paying $50 for a ticket.
That was the price of admission to IndyCar Fan Village in the center of the circuitous 1.8 mile track.
Greg Novoiny, an Austrian who just happened to be visiting his parents in Clearwater during the week of the race, was unable to resist the sound of the revving engines so he set off in search of a $50 ticket for admission to IndyCar Fan Village.
“What’s interesting to me about this race is that it’s in a city, not just like a common oval race track, so it’s more exciting to go along the street and watch it transform into a race track,” Novoiny said. “When you’re live, you get the noise, the smell of the rubber, and it’s hypnotic.”
There has been plenty of action outside the track, too, with air shows, car shows, go kart tracks, mechanical bulls, rock climbing walls and food vendors.
But one highlight for Orlando visitors Juan Pagan and Michelle Many was an attraction that’s in place year-round: the brass plaques outside Al Lang Stadium showcasing moments in baseball history.
“We love racing, but we really love baseball,” Many said. “This stadium has played such a huge role in the history of baseball, so we had to see it since we made the trip down here.”
Volunteers passed out free sunscreen to fans, but ponchos were more in demand as dark clouds threatened the day-long event.
Heavy winds almost drowned out the roar of the Indy car engines. Not quite, though. They were still loud enough to send children screaming when the pack of cars approached.
Not 14-month-old Parker Kelly, though, who was all smiles as they zoomed right by.
Parents Josh and Amanda of Indianapolis made a vacation out of their first visit to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.
“I was intro NASCAR for a while, but the Indy Car drivers have so much more personality and the cars are faster,” Josh Kelly said. “I grew up around the Indianapolis Speedway, where the whole race series got started, so this is what we did.”
Rob Smith, a St. Petersburg native, has been to at least five of the city’s races, and spent the moments leading up to the final race at the Dali Museum.
“What keeps me coming back? A cold beer,” Smith said. “I love sports cars, the mechanics and the speed, and I love the atmosphere.”
The party atmosphere extended into much of downtown, which was covered in banners and checkered flags.
But while the event packed Beach Drive restaurants close to the track, such as Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant and Cassis American Brasserie, many businesses in nearby Courtyard Shops saw little benefit from signs the city erected pointing the crowd their way.
“Business is business as usual,” said Galina Malkin of the Russian art store Vladimir’s Collectables. “Whenever we have events near the park, especially big events, its good for businesses, but mainly those right there along the waterfront.”
“But we always hope. Maybe people will stick around and come in tomorrow.”