Dedication and persistence pays off for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg promoters.

By Bruce Martin

INDYCAR.COM

If there was an award for overcoming adversity through extreme perseverance, Kevin Savoree and Kim Green would deserve that honor for 2020.

The two men who are in charge of Green Savoree Promotions will prove that good things come to those who wait when they open the gates to limited spectators at this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It was supposed to be the race that started the 2020 season. Instead, it will be the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship finale.

First, a little background.

Green Savoree Promotions promotes four of the venues on the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule – St. Petersburg, Toronto, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Portland International Raceway.

Back in March, Green Savoree was full of excitement over the season-opening contest, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. Ticket sales were at a record pace, boosted by optimism for INDYCAR under new owner Roger Penske. One of the best weather forecasts for event weekend in the last 10 years also helped.

That all changed March 12 when five people in Pinellas County, Florida, tested positive for a virus known as COVID-19. This was the early stages of the pandemic that has defined the planet in 2020.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Savoree, Green and INDYCAR officials, led by Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles and INDYCAR President Jay Frye, first decided to hold the event without spectators.

But the next day, with cases spreading rapidly and a national emergency declared by the Federal government, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was canceled.

“It was sad that we got kicked in the butt at the last minute and had to put our toy set away,” Green said. “It was a little frustrating. There is so much uncertainty, even today. We all thought we would be back to normal in June or even July. It’s been not a great year to be in the business of selling tickets to a sporting event where you get mass gatherings.”

Other INDYCAR contests at Barber Motorsports Park, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and Circuit of the Americas (COTA) also were canceled.

COVID-19 was just beginning and would create even more challenges for INDYCAR and Green Savoree Promotions. Several weeks later, the 104th Indianapolis 500 was moved from its Memorial Day weekend date of May 24 to Aug. 23.

As for Green Savoree Promotions, the news got worse.

The July 12 Honda Indy Toronto was canceled. The Aug. 16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was moved into the final week of July but was later postponed to a later date when spectators would not be allowed to attend because of COVID-19 concerns in Ohio. The Sept. 6 Portland Grand Prix was moved to Sept. 13, but later canceled.

“It feels like we have been planning all year for events and every couple of days the goalposts move,” Green said.

Green Savoree Promotions was down but not out. Just one day after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was supposed to take place, Savoree received a phone call from Miles.

“He said, ‘I know you said it’s canceled, and I know you said it’s impossible to put it back on in the fall, but what if?’” Savoree said. “I said, ‘Let me talk to our guys and see where we stand and get together with Mayor Rick Kriseman.’

“Mayor Kriseman loves INDYCAR, and he loves what the race does for the community. He said, ‘Kevin, if there is any way we can get back on the schedule, we want to give it a go.’

“It really started with a call from Mark Miles and then meetings with our staff and team to see if we could pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we said absolutely. Then, we met with the mayor and the mayor was just as emphatic. We are really excited about that.”

The 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was about to be saved. It was moved to Oct. 25 and instead of opening the season, it will crown INDYCAR’s champion for 2020.

The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio was also salvaged when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said up to 6,000 fans per day could attend a doubleheader Sept. 12 and 13. Team Penske driver Will Power won the Saturday race Sept. 12 and Colton Herta of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing won from the pole the following day.

Instead of giving up and packing it in, Green and Savoree remained determined and became INDYCAR’s comeback kids.

“You can only imagine the feeling we had when we got to unlock the gates on Friday at Mid-Ohio and how we will feel to do the same at St. Petersburg,” Savoree said. “We are so blessed, and the fans were appreciative to come out.”

It would have been easy for Savoree and Green to develop a defeatist attitude. After all, their company depends on selling tickets to race fans that come to their venues.

But they found ways to survive.

“Kim and I run a small, privately held company and like so many other small, privately held companies, we’ve all taken a shot,” Savoree said. “We try to look at every day as the glass is half-full and not half-empty. If you want to look at it as glass half-empty, you can get yourself so depressed. For all of us, we have worked really hard. Kim and I, our company took advantage of the PPE loan program and we kept all of our full-time staff employed. We are blessed we can do what we do.

“As time went on, it allowed us to work on the extensions. I think we will be in good shape at Toronto, we got the Portland extension finished. We have a fantastic team and have put great plans together for Mid-Ohio and St. Petersburg. I think we all know what to do now in this ‘new normal.’

“I have a lot of confidence the vaccines will be developed, and we will soldier on into 2021.”

Green and Savoree began rebuilding the St. Petersburg street course several weeks ago. They were fortunate in saving time when the city allowed the main grandstands around the racecourse to stay up from the March postponement until after this weekend’s race.

“It’s been a team effort,” Green said. “We worked very closely together on the planning. They are very understanding of the restrictions we have and the costs we have. I feel for them. They have a tough schedule to keep and keep all of these teams healthy.

“It’s been tough for everyone but hats off to INDYCAR and Mr. Penske. They have done a great job for everyone. We couldn’t have a better leader than we have with Mr. Penske and INDYCAR.

“This allows us to allocate revenue for this even into this year and then gives us something to sell for 2021. That is our goal in St. Petersburg, put the race on, get the revenue allocated, hopefully not lose money and then move on to 2021.”

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News Talk Florida Staff