As a child, former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker grew up on the far west side of Indianapolis, only a short distance from the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“You could hear the roar of the engines from our front porch,” Baker recently said in an interview with IndyCar.com. “I got goose bumps the first time every year I heard those engines.”
On March 28, the ‘Burg will hear the roar of race engines as it once again hosts the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one of the most respected motorsports races in North America. It will be the 10th anniversary of the INDYCAR-sanctioned event, a 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course that is a combination of spectacular road courses, short ovals and exciting super-speedways.
Baker, president of development agency The Edwards Group since 2011, is quick to discuss the race and its history. As St. Pete’s two-term Mayor and foremost cheerleader, Baker spearheaded the effort to bring the speed festival of to an increasingly vibrant downtown corridor.
It is not the first time St. Petersburg took a stab at bringing street racing downtown.
A Champ Car race in the 1980s was abandoned after one year after bankruptcy sidelined the sanctioning body, forcing promoter Dover Motorsports to pull the plug.
“It was my love for IndyCar racing and my understanding of what it can do for a city that convinced me to cold call (then-INDYCAR CEO) Tony George in April 2003,” Baker told IndyCars. “I decided I would begin the conversation with Tony with not the typical economic development stuff but convince him that I was an IndyCar fan.”
Baker started taking about every Indianapolis 500 winner since 1960, when he moved to Indianapolis. He explained what the event did for the City of Indianapolis and how he believed in the sport.
“Everything you do,” he added, “even if you’re president of the United States or mayor of a city, is relationships and having people believe in you and trust you.”
The race has a significant impact on the Tampa Bay area, Baker said, and the support of politicians, business leaders and the community was essential to keep the event on a smooth road. Former Mayor Bill Foster and current Mayor Rick Baker—both city Council members during Baker’s time in office—are strong supporters of the racing event.
Baker said he will certainly be on hand for the 10th anniversary celebration of the IndyCar Series, as a proud promoter of the event and his city.
“It’s been 10 years now and I still pinch myself that we were able to bring it here in the first place, and we’re able continue it,” Baker said. “I learned as mayor that you have to establish things and then you have to make them work for the long term. This event is a good reason to work hard and make it work.”