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Streets of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, FL

Home of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

4.4

4.1

Streets of St. Petersburg (map it)
300 Bayshore Dr SE
St. Petersburg, FL 33701


Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg website

Streets of St. Petersburg website

Year Opened: 2003

Capacity: 25,000

There are no tickets available at this time.

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The Unofficial Crown Jewel of Indy

October 16, 2011, and March 25, 2012: the end of one era and the beginning of another.

October 16, 2011, was to be a celebration. It was to be a goodbye to an old body-style that served IndyCar so well for over a decade, complete with the crowning of the series champion. This was enhanced with a $5 million bounty, presented to anyone who wasn't a regular in the series but could still win that season's finale; Dan Wheldon was the only one to take up the challenge, and even though IndyCar was the only top-level racing home he ever knew, 2011 was a year in which he was unable to get a ride. Other than racing in the Indianapolis 500, he spent his downtime helping to develop and test the new body-style for IndyCar, which they named the DW12 (Dan Wheldon 2012) in his honor for all his help. If he were to win - and by winning the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500s, he knew he could - he'd split the money with a lucky fan. The night was set to be the perfect ode to IndyCar's past, present, and future.

Except, the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway turned tragic on the 11th lap when Wheldon, trying to avoid a crash, rode over top of Charlie Kimball's car, sending Wheldon's 77 into the fence and exploding in a fiery mass.

Dan Wheldon, aged 33, died from his injuries that day, and the race was never completed; a five-lap yellow-flag tribute of the 20 still-running drivers honoring Wheldon was played out, but then it was all packed up and taken home under the saddest cloud imaginable.

After an offseason of fine-tuning the DW12 to ensure that type of accident can never happen again, a new era began in St. Petersburg on March 25, 2012. The new cars, for the first time, would be put under the microscope of a bona fide race. but no one forgot Dan Wheldon that day. Not only was he well-loved by his fellow drivers, as happenstance would have it, Wheldon decided to settle in St. Pete many years prior and the city of 250,000 had also felt his loss since that fateful day.

But in keeping with his upbeat attitude even during a year when he was a free agent, the race, and subsequent party St. Pete has become during the eight years prior, must go on. So, the atmosphere, while reflective, was more-festive than ever, and the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (as it was called until late 2013, when Firestone took over the naming rights) showed yet again why it's, after the Indy 500, the unofficial crown jewel of the Indy Racing League.

4.4

What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    5

I haven't seen so many choices of food at any event in my life. Hot dogs, burgers, and fries aside, you have Italian; Greek; Middle Eastern; funnel cake; Cuban; cheesesteaks; seafood; (insert your favorite food here)-on-a-stick; barbecue; home-brewed sodas and root beer, complete with souvenir metal mug; a treat from Pittsburgh, sausages from Tambellini Catering; a Latin American dish called arepa, which consists of sweet corn- and cheese-infused unleavened bread; and even a locally-owned fresh fruit stand.

There were multiple carts of each available around the 1.8 mile circuit, so you have numerous choices available. Beer is more-than-plentiful around the grounds, especially with a public floating bar by the Albert Whitted control tower, offering numerous choices in brews and a full-liquor bar, and a unique view of the track.

Prices for all the above are about standard for a baseball game: $7 for beer, $5 for some food. You can have a great time for $20-$30 a person, not including tickets and merchandise.

It seems the inherent flaw from last year, the dearth of places accepting credit cards, is a distant memory. About 50% of the major concession stands accept at least Visa and MasterCard, which is a major improvement. While still not at least 80% of all concessions, including carts (about the standard at a sports stadium), it's a great step in the right direction. Yes, there are still ATMs available, and yes, they still charge dearly for their service, so make sure you come with backup cash, just in case your favorite cuisine is one of the other 50%.

Atmosphere    5

For being a temporary track on busy city streets, they do a great job making sure everything is top-notch in the short amount of time they have to make it happen. From the Trackside Club - which is fully air conditioned and enclosed for parties and groups - to the Ferris wheel, offering a great view of both the track and city, everything is made to give it a party atmosphere.

Something for the family (or the kids at heart) is the Bright House Networks Speed Zone, which offers a large inflatable slide, a human-sized gyroscope, and even free sunscreen and earplugs - both of which are necessary and welcome. And if you want to just chill take in the sites, there is plenty of seating along the course, though mainly in the park at the north edge, Pioneer Park, and along the Bayshore Drive portion of the track.

Neighborhood    5

I've said it once, and I'll say it again: downtown St. Pete is one of the best locations for sports in the US. I could copy and paste this section from the Al Lang Stadium review (since it is located in the dead center of this course), but I'll give a brief synopsis. Where else can you walk from a racetrack to three theaters; five museums; a spring training stadium; a Major League stadium; three concert venues; four night clubs; over 10 hotels and B&Bs; and countless bars, shops, and restaurants, all in a space of 10 blocks, all while going to the race in your boat or private plane?

Fans    4

Last year, I pointed out that the crowd was full of extremely-interested people who really didn't know a lot about IndyCar, other than Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves races in their machines. With the "Official Danica Merchandise" trailer gone to the ovals of NASCAR, I figured I'd see a little less casual observers coming through the turnstiles.

I was wrong.

There was a throng of people, myself included, around the pits for Formula 1 legend (and for "Top Gear" fans like myself, The Stig slayer) and current IndyCar "rookie" Rubens Barrichello, as well as people supporting drivers with less-than household names here in America: Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. It also seems like the fans were cheering on Dario Franchitti as a driver and not "Mr. Ashley Judd," as they had in years past.

I'm not sure the reason for the change, but with the place as crowded - and it was very crowded - as it was on the Sunday of the race, to see that many more people involved in the race than before is very heartening for the future of this event.

Access    3

Being on city streets, getting to the event can be a little bit of a challenge since those streets are obviously closed. The major ones affected are 1st Ave from 1st St N to 6th Ave S and any cross-streets in between, so your best bet for parking is either at the St. Pete Pier or the Trop and take the free shuttles to the track. You can also park at many of the public (and some of the private - look for signs before parking, though) garages. However, bring comfortable shoes, as you'll be doing a lot of walking.

Once you're in, however, there are plenty of porta-potties along the course, and the walkways are wide enough to handle all but the largest crowds trying to walk through at once.

Return on Investment    4

I'm not a NASCAR fan, and the only race I've ever been to - Dover back in the 1990s - was one of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life. However, this is the anti-NASCAR race: all the amenities of a big city right at your disposal without the harshness of methanol fumes (IndyCar switched to E90 ethanol back in 2007, so the city permeates with the smell of apple pie and popcorn). It's a gear-head's playground, as well as a great place to spend an exciting afternoon.

There is a huge point off, however, for something the planners need to fix for the next time around. You have a choice of tickets available for Sunday's main events: $40 for general admission, $60 for a lower grandstand seat, and $80 for an upper grandstand spot. Those $60 and $80 seats afford you a view of the main straightaway along with plenty of video boards. The $40 ticket, the one that only allows you to ramble around the track, doesn't have access to both seating in the grass and a video board at once; you can only have one or the other since the main video board is in a standing-only spot. I get they're trying to add value to the grandstand seats, but it does a disservice to people who can't afford those prices, especially in this economy.

Because of this lack of a video board, and my unwillingness (like most humans', I'm sure) to stand for three hours straight, I missed a good part of the race that was taking place away from whatever corner I happened to be at. That's a large flaw in an otherwise-fantastic event.

Extras    5

Where do I begin? There's the aforementioned Speed Zone, Ferris wheel, and floating bar, but there's also the Acura Yacht Club, which, for a hefty price, you can dock your million-dollar yacht along the course for unparalleled views of the race. Also, the Salvador Dalí Museum, right in the middle of the track, is open during the race, and new in 2012 is a discounted price ($10 off admission with your race ticket) to enter, so that's a reasonable way to both beat the heat and check out some high-quality surrealist art in the second-largest museum to the famed artist in the world.

As a tribute to the fallen driver, the stretch of road that juts off Bayshore Dr in front of the Dalí Museum into Albert Whitted Park is now called Dan Wheldon Way and will come with a soon-to-be commissioned statue of the honorary son of St. Petersburg.

Downtown St. Pete and everything it has to offer is feet away, along with Tampa Bay itself being to your east and the border to half of the track. Don't forget the Indy Car season starts at this track, so chances are, you'll see a celebrity or two running around town, especially "Mrs. Dario Franchitti."

Final Thoughts

Every driver, including Tony Kanaan, who called Wheldon his "best friend", dedicated the race to the memory of their friend and fellow driver lost five months prior. It was a long five months for both them and the city Dan Wheldon called home for so long. This event could have easily turned into a remembrance ceremony for Wheldon, and it would have been understandable.

Instead, it grew bigger and better than any year prior. Yes, the dearth of video boards is a problem I will repeat ad infinitum since it will probably never be fixed, but in spite of that, this event is becoming closer and closer to perfection. The flaw of no credit card sales is mainly gone, the lack of fan knowledge is quickly being erased, and the introduction of even more vendors shows this event is going nowhere but up.

It's the way Dan would have wanted it.

Nice review

I'm in no way a car race fan but this review peaked my interest. It's an excellent read.

by megminard | Jun 04, 2012 08:58 PM

Paddock Pass Necessary?

Driving from Ft. Lauderdale to St. Pete for the race this year. If Friday is FREE, will we be able to get into the Paddocks? Trying to save as much as possible. If I can get in Friday, no sense in paying for Saturday??

by olmturtu | Feb 12, 2013 12:26 AM

RE: Paddock Pass Necessary?

Hi there,

From my experiences of going on all days (including the Monday makeup day from the rain-out in 2010), I believe you still need a 3-day paddock pass for any and all days, even the Friday free day. However, since policies could change, check out http://www.gpstpete.com for the most-updated info.

Jim

by StPeteRays | Feb 12, 2013 12:12 PM

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Crowd Reviews

High Octane Fun in the Sun

Total Score: 4.14

  • Food & Beverage: 4
  • Atmosphere 5
  • Neighborhood: 5
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 4
  • Extras: 5

If you've read any of my reviews before, you've probably seen me extol the virtues of the high-energy city that St. Petersburg has become in both my Tropicana Field and Al Lang Stadium reviews. So, hosting an international event billed as "the world's fastest spring break party" seems like it'd fit right into St. Pete's M.O. as of late. This third incarnation of the track in downtown St. Pete centers around Al Lang, the Mahaffey Theater, new Dalà Museum, and Albert Whitted Airport, though this wasn't always the case.

Racing has been in St. Pete for over two decades, starting in 1985 with the SCCA Trans-Am Series on a track similar to today's, but focusing more on the northern part of the waterfront, going by the St. Pete Pier and the Vinoy Hotel, then returning north by the Mahaffey. After complaints by the neighbors, though, those races were ended after 1990. Upon returning to St. Pete in 1996, the track was moved to the streets around the Trop, but due to the inferior condition and lack of difficulty of the new circuit, the event was cancelled in 2000.

The current track was built to bring the highest level of road-specific racing in the US, Champ Car, to St. Pete, and it was successful in 2003. However, after financial difficulties, 2004's race was cancelled, and in 2005, the competing racing series, the Indy Racing League, took control of the circuit, making it the first non-oval in its history. Today, the IRL has since bought-out the Champ Car series and has a 50/50 mixture of ovals and road/street courses, thanks in large part to this track in the Sunshine City; as a nod to its part in the unification of open-wheel racing in the US, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is now the opening race in the League's schedule.

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Local Food & Drink

Central Avenue Oyster Bar  (map it!)

249 Central Ave

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 897-9728

http://centralaveoysterbar.com/

Courigan's Irish Pub  (map it!)

1 Beach Dr SE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 551-9019

http://courigansirishpub.com/

Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill  (map it!)

1320 Central Ave

St Petersburg, FL 33705

(727) 822-4562

http://fergssportsbar.com/

JoJo's in Citta  (map it!)

200 Central Ave, Suite #100

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 894-0075

http://jojosinthecity.com/

Burrito Boarder  (map it!)

17 3rd St N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 209-0202

http://www.burritoboarder.com/

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant  (map it!)

10 Beach Dr NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 209-2302

http://www.ceviche.com/

The Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge  (map it!)

540 1st St SE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 823-7767

http://www.thehangarstpete.com/

Kahwa Coffee  (map it!)

204 2nd Ave S

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 821-1942

http://www.kahwacoffee.com/

Local Entertainment

PUSH Ultra Lounge  (map it!)

128 3rd St S

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 871-7874

http://www.pushlounge.com/

Vintage Ultra Lounge  (map it!)

16 2nd Ave N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 898-2222

http://www.vintageultralounge.com/

Jannus Live  (map it!)

16 2nd St N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 565-0550

http://www.jannuslive.com/

State Theatre  (map it!)

687 Central Ave

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 895-3045

http://www.statetheatreconcerts.com/

Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Arts Center  (map it!)

400 Beach Dr NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 896-4527

http://www.moreanartscenter.org/content.php?id=90

Florida Holocaust Museum  (map it!)

55 5th St S

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 820-0100

http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/

American Stage Theatre Company  (map it!)

163 3rd St N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 823-7529

http://www.americanstage.org/

Scene Premium Nightclub  (map it!)

211 3rd St S

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 631-4050

http://www.facebook.com/ScenePremiumNightClub?sk=wall

Museum of Fine Arts  (map it!)

255 Beach Dr NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 896-2667

http://www.fine-arts.org/

Mahaffey Theater  (map it!)

400 1st St S

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 892-5798

http://www.mahaffeytheater.com/

Vue 19  (map it!)

200 Central Ave

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 821-4600

http://www.vue19.com/

Salvador Dali Museum  (map it!)

1 Dali­ Blvd

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 823-3767

http://www.salvadordalimuseum.org

The Bishop Lounge  (map it!)

260 1st Ave N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 564-3628

http://bishoptavernandlounge.com/dtsp/

St. Petersburg Museum of History  (map it!)

335 2nd Ave NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 894-1052

http://www.spmoh.com/

Lodging

Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront  (map it!)

333 1st St S

St. Petersburg, FL 33701

(866) 601-2397

http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/SPTSHHF-Hilton-St-Petersburg-Bayfront-Florida/index.do

Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club  (map it!)

501 5th Ave NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 894-1000

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasr-renaissance-vinoy-resort-and-golf-club/

Courtyard Marriott St. Petersburg Downtown  (map it!)

300 4th St N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 450-6200

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasd-courtyard-st-petersburg-downtown/

Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown  (map it!)

80 Beach Dr NE

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 892-9900

http://www.stpetehamptonsuites.com/

The Pier Hotel  (map it!)

253 2nd Ave N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(800) 735-6607

http://www.thepierhotel.com/

Hotel Indigo  (map it!)

234 3rd Ave N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 822-4814

http://www.downtownstpetersburghotel.com/

Ponce de Leon Hotel  (map it!)

95 Central Ave

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 550-9300

http://www.poncedeleonhotel.com/

America's Best Inn Downtown  (map it!)

342 3rd Ave N

St Petersburg, FL 33701

(727) 894-3428

http://www.americasbestinnstpete.com/

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