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Public Relations Students Gain Firsthand Experience in Motorsports

By Katie Cafiero and Jessica Martinez, USF PRSSA

The Firestone Grand Prix, which served as the IndyCar season opener, transformed the streets of downtown St. Petersburg into a racetrack. The weekend-long event kicked off on March 9, and the city was buzzing with excitement. Thousands gathered to watch the races and check out the events. 

Unlike most of the volunteers, we had never even been to a race before. If you would have asked us what an IndyCar was, we would have stood dumbfounded. But our interest dramatically shifted when Bart Graham, Firestone Grand Prix Media Center Leader, invited us to volunteer at the event. Needless to say, we did not hesitate to accept! As aspiring public relations professionals, we were eager to gain firsthand experience working for a major sporting event.

The Mahaffey Theater turned into a working media center, housing journalists and photographers for the duration of race weekend. We had the opportunity to watch live press conferences, distribute race results to the media and transport drivers to their interviews. Not only did we gain experience in the career path of our interest, we were also able to meet some of the people behind it all like the Senior Manager for National Media Outreach of IndyCar. The experience opened our eyes to the busy, yet exciting world of sports public relations. More importantly, we were able to apply our knowledge outside of the classroom.

Our favorite part of the weekend, though, was getting to experience the racetrack firsthand. On Sunday, we were quickly ushered to the track when we arrived at the Mahaffey at 7:30 am. There, we suited up in a HANS device and were escorted into a car to take one (very quick) lap around the track for a test run. As soon as the car doors shut, we were off! We blinked our eyes and crossed the finish line. It’s difficult to describe the experience. It’s a mixture of the kind of adrenaline rush you get on a roller coaster and the surge of anxiety you get when you’re a passenger in your 16-year-old brother’s car. Nevertheless, it was an exciting experience we will certainly never forget.

We would like to thank Bart, our PRSA Tampa Bay “mentor for the weekend,” for giving us insight into the world of IndyCar and all that it has to offer. His love and knowledge of the sport was able to give us the most valuable experience possible. We are both looking forward to applying our newfound knowledge of this industry to our future endeavors.

 

 

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