What an amazing experience this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg was. I had a blast!
I signed up to volunteer as a pit & grid marshal and spend the entire event in pit lane near pit out. Occasionally during my off time I went to spectate at Turns 2 and Turn 10 as well as do a little bit of flagging from the amazing Turn 12. My favorite events of the race weekend were everything but IndyCar but since they were the big boys in town I did enjoy spectating their time on track. We didn’t have much to do during the IndyCar sessions because that series brings their own Pit people to work the event, so instead I took some pix…
So for this event the role I was assigned was more of an observer in nature than anything else. Having worked the Indy race at Pocono Raceway with Team Pocono, the paddock at Daytona for the 24 and as pit fire at VIR for IMSA, the pit lane observer role was familiar for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do where I was stationed at pit out. It seems the St. Pete GP folks contracted the event “volunteers” – a separate group from CFR SCCA folks that I was part of, to do the crowd control duties. But I noticed the people were a bit timid and didn’t really stop anyone from crowding various pit boxes, or assisting much for teams bringing cars onto the pit lane from the paddock. The time went by slow because of the lack of duties, but there couldn’t be a better spot to watch what’s happening in pit lane other than maybe watching it on TV. I enjoyed the experience.
Post race we were right in the thick of things as the winning drivers walked past us towards the podium.
As we wrapped up and walked towards our worker shuttles I noticed this little Disney jem… a Mickey Mouse race car and boy do I think it looks sooooo much better than the massive billboards the actual Indy Cars have become. I’m not a big fan of the series. To me IndyCar feels a lot like the open wheel version of NASCAR where good drivers go to retire. And I’m sure the series could be improved greatly if it aspired to be more Formula 1 rather than NASCAR. Instead of one chassis supplier Dallara, there should be more variety. Optimize the wings and things for aero more than advertising space, and things would improve. Watching the crowds at this event though I can see they are not exactly struggling, so let them ride a wave of success and ignore my difference in taste of the outward appearances.
Besides the actual event, I am absolutely in love with St. Petersburg and the Gulf Coast of Florida in general. I would totally love to move to the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, or even Brandenton… it’s far more laid back than South Florida/Miami area and just as exotic. I’m sure there are tourism and motorsport based businesses I could make a living at. And check out some of the murals and street graffiti around downtown St. Pete, it’s simply uplifting… I want to live here!
One final highlight of the trip. I had booked a cheap motel about 10 miles north of the track. It had horrible reviews and I was cringing at the idea of staying there. After much thought I decided to change my plans and reach out to people on CouchSurfing to host me. The fella that accepted my request turned out to be awesome and I had an absolute blast staying there… just a few blocks from the track. Before heading back to Daytona after the race I offered to buy my host dinner for his troubles and he chose a really tasty option, burgers at Engine 9 downtown. It was a great experience!
… another Florida event is next on my calendar: Sebring 12 hour!