IndyCars to roll into downtown Bradenton

City officials will throw the red flag Wednesday on Old Main Street in downtown Bradenton to host up to four IndyCars heading for the Grand Prix races.

The street will be closed from 5-8 p.m. to show off IndyCars that will race in the 10th annual Firestone St. Pete Grand Prix March 28-30, kicking off the IndyCar season.

The 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary track through the picturesque streets of St. Petersburg also will host Firestone Indy Lights and Pro Mazda Championship racing with other events taking place throughout the weekend's festivities.

But before the drivers take the first turn along the waterfront of St. Pete, they will turn onto Old Main Street to promote the event.

David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, said the idea began a couple of years ago when he and Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive manager Debbie Miehls attended the St. Pete Grand Prix.

The CVB was already staging small events by hosting one of the IndyCars before the race, but Gustafson approached former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston about bringing the cars to downtown Bradenton.

"There is a lot of synergy between St. Pete and Bradenton," said Gustafson. "This idea started growing legs a few months ago, and it's really come together in the last couple of months thanks to a lot of hard work from a lot of different people."

Gustafson said the CVB has been a great partner to the DDA.

"This type of event continues to help put Manatee County, Bradenton and Palmetto on the map," he said. "That's what we really want to do. We want to help promote the Grand Prix, but ultimately it's about helping everyone. Partnerships is what I work on every day. I want this to be a win-win for everyone, and if it's not a win for someone, then the question will be, 'How can we do it better next time?'"

Gustafson said Palmetto's role in the Grand Prix is growing with Anderson RacePark hosting Indy Lights and ProLights racing events, as well as opening the facility to IndyCar practices and training. Palmetto businesses are jumping on board to help promote the event.

"We love our Palmetto partners, and this will be good for them and our downtown businesses," said Gustafson.

Thomas Stynes, co-owner of Market on Main Street, 312 12th St. W., agrees.

"Anything that brings a good cross-section of families to downtown is a good thing," said Stynes. "It's important to do things that create a family-friendly environment. It's like baking a cake. It's about putting all the right ingredients together to hit on something special, and I'm proud to be a part of what is happening in the downtown area to make that happen."

Locally and globally is the way Gustafson likes to think when it comes to combining downtown with an internationally popular racing series.

"It's another opportunity to highlight Bradenton to the world," he said. Bradenton Herald

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