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PCS students enjoy Grand Prix times three

March 12, 2024

Christian Brooks showing students his helmetThe City of St. Petersburg invited not one, not two, but three groups of Pinellas County Schools students to the race track this year to help commemorate the 20th Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first race in the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

On Thursday before the races began, a group of female students from the Northeast High School Automotive Technology program and the Pinellas Technical College automotive program spent the morning with Firestone Tire engineers and race team mechanics. They learned about the different types of tires, how tread wears differently based on track conditions and even got to take a school bus for a lap around the track.

“It was an amazing experience getting to ride the bus on the track,” said Nigella Gerena. “Not everyone gets to go on here, so I’ll probably never get to do that again.”

On Friday, middle school STEM students from Bay Point, John Hopkins and Thurgood Marshall Fundamental participated in the second annual Team Accelerate Grand Prix STEM Day thanks to the City of St. Pete and Mayor Ken Welch’s office, along with USF St. Petersburg.

Prior to watching some of the race, the students made three “pit stops” on the USF campus. One at the library, where they built catapults and experimented with circuits. The second stop was the STEM Lab, where they divided into teams to design a new Grand Prix logo using 3D modeling software and donned virtual reality headsets to watch a Grand Prix simulation. The third stop was a favorite – the school’s dining hall.

“I’ve learned that every car has to be very precise,” said Bay Point student Parker Brooks. “And I also loved the food.”

Thurgood Marshall students excited for the race day

Maria Michaels said she appreciated the hands-on experience of learning about things right in front of her.

“I’m having a lot of fun being here and learning about race cars,” Michaels said. “It shows that he (Mayor Welch) cares about education and how we learn differently these days.”

Vox Nova choir from PCCA singing the national anthem

After lunch, the groups headed over to the paddocks, watched a few laps from the grandstands and even got some one-on-one time with driver Christian Brooks.

“We met a driver – Christian Brooks – and I got his autograph. That was my favorite part,” said Jadiel Diaz, a sixth grader at Bay Point. “I kind of want to be  a driver now, or a person who works on the cars.”

On Sunday, the Vox Nova Choir from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, kicked off race day by singing the National Anthem.

“Listening to the cars and just being able to experience the Grand Prix for the first time was amazing,” said John Hopkins student Ryan Gillian. “I loved getting to see behind the scenes.”

Photo by Maria Flanagan for City of St. Pete.