Jalapenos and Hot Sauce Road

One of the untold advantages of living in the nexus of awesome that is
St. Pete is the not inconsiderable fact that something is always going on. And if there’s not, well, the beach is literally 20 minutes away. Another advantage, this one of being a derby reporter surrounded by skaters, is that you’ll frequently be called upon to give early morning rides to the airport, for which you’ll be repaid in Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg tickets.

Now I’m not even a fan of racing. My readers should really know that my personal top speed is about 10 mph slower than your grandmother’s. But when you see downtown closed off and turned into a racetrack every year, with Formula One cars casually parked outside restaurants, you become interested. Becoming an almost Tom Waits-ian borderline obsession: “what’re they doing behind that fence?”

It should be noted that this weekend event brings in around $1.5 million a year, a point that St. Petersburghers love to bring up whenever Tampa touts its luck at landing a Super Bowl (XXXV to be exact)… once. Europeans arrive in droves, spending their fancy money while the well off ‘Burghers walk around in Ferrari shirts trying to look cultured.

Honestly, it’s super cool to just see ultra-expensive cars fly past you on the street which normally leads to a weekend Farmer’s Market.

These tourists/racing fans also lay anywhere they want, clutching their crotches. Seriously, I think one weekend is all this town could take.

A Farmer’s Market that had also been transformed. Racing for insulin! A punching contest run by military types! A poorly attended interview session!

Sadly, I did not win.

In all fairness, it was early Friday morning, which may account for the lack of an audience here.

And this, clearly the cause of our chronic masturbator’s fancy:

But once you make it around Mitsubishi’s ‘Bator’s Bend, you have the cars. Lots and lots of fast cars.

After about 15 minutes though, watching time trials will bore even the most jaded sports anti-enthusiast. Especially when the temperature is 100+ in the shade. So next we ventured to the closest thing FL has to nice, cool tunnels: parking garages.

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And meet all the hyper-active worker ants!

“‘Sup bro?”

“Nothing. Just standing here flexing while I try to ignore this guy standing three feet behind me snapping off shots like a madman. You’d think he’s never seen race cars broken down like tinker toys before!”

“Yeah, me too. Have you seen the ferris wheel!?!”

Touché, gentlemen, touché. Though the ferris wheel was obviously a highlight. I mean look at it, compared to the extremely shitty grandstands where you were supposed to sit and watch the action.

The bleachers weren’t horrible, in and of themselves, but the idea of having bleachers doesn’t mesh well with the grand prix.

The cars drive by really fast (obviously), completing a circuit in around a minute. At which point they fly past you sitting there on a metal bleacher in the 100+ degree FL heat, and disappear again. Leaving you to sit there for another minute, left watching all the “action” on giant closed-circuit monitors. Monitors that don’t cycle through the turns as fast as they do on television.

If this is what the Indy race watching experience amounts to, then it pays to just watch it at home. Where your couch presumably won’t burn your ass. And you’ll see all the action for a multitude of angles, rather than just four.

I mean, there was so much more they could’ve done to make it more indicative of the local flavor. Half the track is an airport runway? Fly-by plane cams! Jetting by the Dali Museum? A special surrealist-cam with distorto-lens! The Mahaffey? A cam only available for rich folk!

Said Mahaffey-cam would (and did!) look something like the gallery below. For maximum awesome effect, please download the sequence, then quickly flip through them on your computers viewer. It’ll make the cars look like they’re changing color, which is how you or I view it when they’re racing in real-time. It’s so fast that I had to just guess about when to snap the shot, as “leading” the cars was impossible.

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The final kick in the pants came at the end, when I endeavored to pull something out of this adventure besides a horrendously late blog post. On display, preceding our opening shot of beer and hot dog stands, were the teams’ merchandise trucks. This way all the Peterburghers could buy team Ferrari shirts to make their illusion seem all the more real. You might not ever drive a Ferrari, but you can pretend that you worked on one!

So I find the truck that my own transnational corporation sponsors and thought, How nice, I can buy my father a Christmas present early, one totally unique, and have it actually signed by the drivers. Pretty neat, right? At least I thought so. Until I made it to the truck and found out all their “signed” items were as yet unsigned. I’d have to come back in a couple of days time to try again.

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Call me crazy, but everything I read makes St. Pete’s Honda Grand Prix a big event. Hence all the European tourists that travel here to experience it. Being so, would it kill the team to have their shit together before they arrive?

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And thus the adventure ends, until next “year;” which, by my count (and the signs currently adorning downtown indicate), starts sometime next month.

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