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Start your engines!

A preview of the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

A former race-car driver has a message for you: You don’t have to be a die-hard motorsports fan to enjoy the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next month. A day — or weekend —  at the races can be a great way to entertain clients, reward employees and showcase your company, while enjoying the adrenaline rush that comes with all that zoom, zoom, zoom.

Kim Green, who has won a number of national racing titles, is now chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Racing Promotions, the company that owns and operates the annual St. Petersburg event, now entering its 15th year racing around the Beach Drive area of St. Pete.

“There’s lots to do and lots of exhibits at the racetrack and throughout the grounds, whether it is the latest Chevrolets or Firestone tires or the artist with his artwork or local businesses promoting their products,” Green says about the Firestone Grand Prix, coming March 8th through 10th.

“We estimate over the three days we will bring 140,000 to 160,000 [spectators] to the event. To my knowledge, it is the largest event in the county each year,”  Green says.

For the fan looking for the thrill of victory, the event will not disappoint. Being the first IndyCar Series race of the season, the drivers, teams and fans are hungry to experience great racing, Green says.

Will it be a third win in a row for hometown favorite Sebastien Bourdais? Fans will no doubt be cheering on the driver, who is originally from France but lives in St. Petersburg. This year will also bring some new drivers into the race, including a team assembled by the Steinbrenner family, according to Green. “I think the championship is going to be more competitive this year; there are so many great drivers in the race.”

The IndyCar Series is the main attraction, with a number of practice sessions and qualifying runs Friday and Saturday and the main race on Sunday afternoon. A Road to Indy series of races will feature young drivers, age 15 and up. And for car enthusiasts – and who isn’t – up to 30 Corvettes, Porsches, Ferraris, McLarins, Aston Martins, sometimes even Bentleys, will compete against one other in another race.

Drivers, you see, love the temporary 1.8-mile race track on real city streets that includes Albert Whitted Airport, First Street South, Beach Drive and Bayshore Drive, making 14 turns in all. The track, with its waterfront views, provides amazing live worldwide television exposure for St. Petersburg.

“The city shows itself very well,” Green says. “When you have the great racetrack and a location where the locals and visitors can still enjoy the city … it’s more than just a race, it’s an event.”

The restaurants and bars along Beach Drive and Central Avenue, the museums and the waterfront parks are very accessible to the fans. Parking may be tight, but fans can park at Tropicana Field and take a free shuttle. “It’s very close for the fans to leave the track and walk to downtown and go to the restaurants,” Green says.

On the Wednesday before the event, Bourdais helps put on a go-karting race on part of the track for charity. Also back this year: the popular 5k Run on Friday evening, benefiting the Police Athletic League. More than 1,000 runners and walkers are expected to compete.

So how can companies get involved in the Grand Prix?

Through sponsorship packages, while supplies last, companies can secure corporate hospitality suites and/or have signage around the track that gets picked up by the television cameras.

Companies will be holding their own meetings or networking events planned around the race. Perks include a temporary yachting marina with a bar at the end that anyone with a race ticket can pull up to. A corporation can reserve a yacht slip, with great viewing from on board.

“We think the event is a great platform for businesses to get visual exposure and also to exhibit at the site and entertain potential clients, employees, contest winners,” Green says. “We work with the company to tailor a sponsorship or partnership to the company’s needs and to get the return on investment they are looking for from the event.”

Modern Business Associates is sponsoring the 5K Run and will also bring clients and do business meetings around the event and include the event as part of the package, Green says. Healthcare and insurance companies have done that, too. Firestone brings a big group of people too.

Small businesses are part of the action, too, Green says. “We have an official coffee, Kahwa coffee. They have a great brand, they sell their coffee on site and it is a great opportunity to expose their brand as they grow across Florida.”

Companies not interested in sponsorships might consider group ticket sales to treat their employees or clients to a day at the races. Larger groups may get a perk like a pit pass, which could give them a chance to meet their favorite driver or get an autograph, Green says.

“It’s a very fan friendly series, a little different than NASCAR, the NFL or baseball, you are close to the action … and you get a good smell, touch and feel for the industry,” he says.

“The city is great about embracing the race and making sure everyone is aware that downtown is just as accessible – everyone is open for business,” Green says. “Hopefully we’ve had a little to do with the rebirth and growth of St. Petersburg into one of the greatest cities in the country and certainly one of the greatest cities in Florida.”

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