St. Pete speeds to Grand Prix — the world’s fastest spring break party

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Downtown Saint Petersburg transforms into a street-legal speed zone, as race fans ready for the green flag on Sunday’s 2013 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Sleek race cars, world-class drivers, celebrities, and family fun get the ultra-fast weekend underway as the 2013 Illuminated Night Parade, sponsored by BB&T and Progress Energy, winds through downtown and along the waterfront at 7 p.m.

The track heats up bright and early Friday, March 22, as drivers jockey for prime positions during eight series races, culminating in Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race will be broadcast on NBC Sports.

This year’s Grand Marshal, U.S. Army Specialist and St. Petersburg resident Charlie Lemon, will give drivers the command to start their engines, while Susie Wheldon, wife of racer Dan Wheldon, will wave the green flag. Wheldon, a St. Petersburg resident and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 Honda Grand Prix, lost his life in the final race of 2011. His commitment to St. Petersburg, as well as racing, has been honored with a Victory Circle monument, located near Turn 10, or Dan Wheldon Way.

Race fans will see an additional 10 laps added to this year’s race for a total of 110 laps or 198 miles. Racing officials made the change to discourage drivers from saving fuel by eliminating pit stops, improving the fan experience. Other races with an increased distance include Long Beach, Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio.

This year, the thrills extend from the terra firma into the wild blue yonder with go karting and aerial acrobatics.  Fans turn their eyes to the skies midday Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24, for the Air Boss Air Show, featuring Patty Wagstaff, a three-time U.S. National Aerobatic champion and inductee into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. On land, fans can put the pedal to the metal by hopping in a go kart and taking a spin around a specially-constructed track at the Bright House Networks Speed Zone, located inside Gate 1. The track, just outside the race circuit between Turns 4, 5, 6, and 7, will be open Friday Sunday, from 8 a.m. until gates close. Another bonus this year, historic sports cars take laps around the track in feature races.

Race fans will want all eyes on the track as a number of St. Petersburg residents fly through the turns, including IndyCar drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Tristan Vautier, IndyLights’ Nick Andries and USF2000 standout Shannon McIntosh. Vautier makes his No. 77 IndyCar debut in St. Petersburg after clinching the IndyLights championship in 2012, while Andries jumps from StarMazda series to piloting the No. 28 IndyLights car on the streets of his hometown. Fans have an opportunity to see other up-and-coming stars during the StarMazda, USF2000 and Pirelli World Championship (PWC) series races this 
weekend.

A short distance from the track, race fans can score autographs from their favorite drivers in the IndyCar Fan Village, play family-friendly interactive games or browse motorsports displays in the Bright House Speed Zone or take a spin on the Ferris wheel. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.