Following a very successful excursion down under for the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, Australia … Robby Gordon and his Stadium Super Trucks (SST) crew brought the show to the downtown-waterfront streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The event took place March 11th to 13th to contest rounds four and five of the 2016 SST championship series.The trucks would be on the 1.8 mile, 14-turn temporary street course, at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Grand Prix organizers were pleased to have the trucks back on the schedule for a third consecutive year. “We just absolutely love them,” said Kim Green, promoter of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. “They are without doubt, a fan favorite … we intend to have Robby and his group as part of our event for many years to come.”
The popularity of the series has continued to grow over the past two years, and this year proved again that these high-flying trucks — if you go by race fan reaction — were the most entertaining and fun races conducted throughout the entire Grand Prix. More than 160,000 race fans in attendance crowded the fences and barriers each time the trucks took the track; with approving cheers heard over the roar of the 600-horsepower trucks.
As the trucks rolled out for the only scheduled practice session on Friday afternoon, the talented group of SST truck drivers were pushing the limits and searching for that competitive edge. Chatter throughout the Verizon IndyCar and the Pirelli World Challenge paddock areas concerned bumps in the apex at Turn 1. Sheldon Creed, 2015 SST series champion said, when asked about this issue, and how the rough surface might affect the trucks, simply stated, “What bumps?”
A pill draw would set the field for race one on Saturday afternoon. SST rookie Pat O’Keefe drew the coveted No. 1 pill and would start from the pole. Series veterans Keegan Kincaid, and his Traxxas teammate Creed, would roll off in seventh and 10th positions, respectfully, while fan favorite Gordon filled the ninth starting slot. Making his first ever SST race start, and his first ever start on pavement, Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota driver Dustin Scott began his SST career from fourth.
As the trucks rolled down the primary East-West runway of Albert-Whitted airport, which served as the front straight of the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit for the weekend, Pat O’Keefe in the SafeCraft Safety Equipment truck brought the field to the green flag. The crowd was on its feet as the trucks braked for Turn 1, negotiated the corner two- and three-wide, and roared towards the first of five ramps set strategically around the 14-turn street circuit.
Angie Lerch from Tucson, Arizona in his Royal Purple entry was first across the jump, followed closely by Tyler McQuarrie and Australian-born Matthew Brabham. Kincaid, Gordon, and Creed, who all started from the rear, were already within striking distance of the lead. The trucks held steady until the competition yellow came out halfway through the eight-lap race.
At the restart, Lerch was still out front. Creed made his way into second, followed by McQuarrie, Brabham, with Gordon and Kincaid rounding out the top five. With the trucks back up to speed, Kincaid drove his Traxxas-backed machine around the green Arctic Cat-sponsored truck of series founder Gordon. Creed was applying the pressure to leader ,Lerch, and passed the Royal Purple truck shortly after the restart.
With Creed passing Lerch, the door opened for McQuarrie and Brabham to get by. Battling side-by-side throughout the remainder of the race, both drivers displayed their driving talents by racing hard, and racing clean. Despite the fact neither driver had ample opportunity to take the other one out of the race, the two young drivers never made any contact, and crossed the finish line side-by-side, with Brabham edging out McQuarrie for second place.
While the crowd was engrossed watching the fierce battle between Brabham and McQuarrie, Creed drove away to a commanding victory, and was never challenged after taking the lead. This win was be Creed’s third Speed Energy SST victory of the year, having won rounds one and three in Adelaide. Brabham and McQuarrie took the remaining podium positions with Kincaid, recovering from an early race spin to finish fourth. Gordon rounded out the top five finishers.
Paul Morris, from Queensland, Australia, who made his first SST start in North America, came home sixth. Lerch, after leading early, spun late in the going and finished seventh. Dustin Scott, in his first ever SST start would bring home a respectable eight place finish. Bill Hynes, and early leader Pat O’Keefe, rounded out the top 10.
After the post-race interviews and trophy presentations, Creed, Brabham, and McQuarrie met with fans for autographs and photos. Many fans expressed that the truck race was the most exciting, entertaining and fun to watch event of the day, and were anxious to see what the trucks had in store for Sunday. All three drivers assured the fans that they would not be disappointed.
Ending The Weekend Strong
When the gates opened Sunday morning and the sun rose over the harbor along Bayshore Boulevard, there was a reserved excitement in the air. A number of fans were finalizing their IndyCar fantasy teams, while others staked out a prime viewing spot in the plush grass of Pioneer Park at the north end of the temporary street circuit. The grandstands began to fill, and the smell of freshly cooked ribs, burgers, and fried chicken on-a-stick wafted through the air along vendor’s row. Regardless of where they were, or what they were doing, the most pressing question raised among the hoard of avid race fans was … What time is the truck race?
As the trucks took the green flag and stormed into Turn 1 Kincaid was hard on the rear bumper of O’Keefe, who had drawn the pole position for the second day in a row, and was determined to better his 10th place finish in Saturday’s race one. Directly behind Kincaid was teammate Creed, with McQuarrie in hot pursuit.
Kincaid, Creed, and McQuarrie all made quick work of O’Keefe and started to distance themselves from the rest of the field, setting up a tremendous three-car fight for the lead. When the competition caution came out at lap-four, the front three positions held steady with Kincaid out front, Creed running second, and McQuarrie in third. On the restart, Creed and Kincaid drove into Turn 1 side-by-side with Creed holding a slight advantage, and McQuarrie searching for a way around both of the Traxxas trucks.
While McQuarrie attempted to set up and pass the very fast trucks of Kincaid and Creed, ninth place starter, Brabham had methodically worked his way through the field and was soon against the rear bumper of McQuarrie’s truck, fighting for the final podium position in a repeat of Saturday’s race. With Brabham now occupying McQuarrie’s attention, the two Traxxas trucks began to pull away.
Brabham eventually slipped by McQuarrie and set his sights on second place. The young Australian driver closed on the back of Creed’s red Traxxas machine, and was ready to take advantage of the slightest mistake Creed might make; however, the mistake made was Brabham’s. When Creed missed his mark and went wide in Turn 4, he opened the door for Brabham, who was ready to pounce and drove deep into the corner. Instead, he lost the handle on the truck and spun, taking him out of contention.
The remainder of the race saw Traxxas teammates Kincaid and Creed battling for the win. The drivers bumped and banged each other around the entire street circuit. The old adage of “don’t take each other out” was obviously not in the equation. Both drivers were determined to stand atop the podium at the end of the day. In the end, Kincaid hung on to secure his first victory of the year with teammate Creed a close second. McQuarrie finished third, and made his second trip to the podium in as many days.
Morris, in the United Fiber and Data SST, rebounded from mechanical issues the day before to record a fourth place finish, and Brabham, recovering from an earlier spin, completed the top five. Sixth place went to Scott with Hynes, O’Keefe, Gordon, and Lerch filling out the Top 10.
When fans made their way out of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, they had seen one of the most exciting forms of motorsports they will ever experience. The fans may have purchased a ticket to see the opening round of the Verizon IndyCar series, but at the end of the weekend, they left talking about the Stadium Super Trucks.
Next stop for Robby Gordon’s Speed Energy Stadium Super Trucks is the Grand Prix of Long Beach, from April 15 to 17. For additional information about the Stadium Trucks visit the website here.