March 6, 2023
About 60 Bay Point and John Hopkins middle school STEM students got a behind-the-scenes look at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg thanks to Mayor Ken Welch’s inaugural “Team Accelerate” day on Friday.
The mayor developed the program to help students see the relationship between car racing careers and STEM education and give them a peek at the science behind orchestrating an international racing event. The PCS students were given paddock tours where they learned about tires, engines and various other race car components. They also got to visit with part of the pit crew from AJ Foyt Racing and had a lesson in tire tread from Firestone.
“It was quite interesting how the tires on a normal car are rigid, but the tires on these cars are completely smooth and flat,” said John Hopkins sixth grader Kaysar Rahmouni. “It made me appreciate the science of not just racing but driving in general.”
After the tours, the students enjoyed lunch with the mayor and met several drivers from the Dale Coyne Racing Team. Questions for the team ranged anywhere from “How loud is it inside the car?” to “How much money do you make as a race car driver?” to “Do you have to be strong to drive a race car?”
“We have 65 young minds here who have seen what it takes to put on a car race from a different perspective,” said Mayor Welch. “In everything we do, we want to look for opportunities to connect young people to potential careers and open up their mindset into what’s possible.”
Cathie Mullins, director of STEM for Pinellas County Schools, said the students learned about the many professions possible within the racing community. They met materials managers, automotive engineers, mechanics, and even graphic designers, in addition to the drivers and crews.
“We like to give our students these experiences, so they have the capacity to dream,” Mullins said. “If they know what’s out there and what the possibilities are, they can create a dream and make it happen through STEM.”
Karmel Douglas, a sixth grader at Bay Point said she plans to do just that.
“Today made me think of my dream job as being a racer, actually,” she said.