Grand Prix 2002 of Merritt Island
by Jane Smith
As I was taking my son Josh to work Friday, I noticed
that there was a road course, outlined by tires, in
the front mall parking lot. Well, being someone who
writes for racing and is extremely curious at times,
I had to know more. So the next day when I took Josh
to work, there were go-karts, tents, bleachers, and
a whole bunch of people walking around.
The first person I came to at this miniature race
course was Wally Finney. Wally's brother Phil
Finney is the Race Director for the Grand Prix.
In fact, the whole Finney clan work at this annual
race. Kevin Finney, soon to be seen in his new
Late Model in the Goodyear Challenge Late Model
series, was the flag man. Brian Finney, driver of
the #80 Super Late Model in both Florida Pro and
the Sunbelt Series, was a Pit Official.
In 1992, the Cape Canaveral Hospital Foundation started
an annual fund-raiser in Cocoa Village which was their
Mardi Gras for Florida folks. Just like New Orleans,
Mardi Gras was a grand street party with floats, beads,
and lots and lots of fun. So in 1995, Mardi Gras was
extended with a 5K run and the first Mini Grand Prix
which was minature Indy and Nascar type racecars which
was run in the shady, cozy streets of Cocoa Village.
Twelve cars entered that year.
Mardi Gras in 1996 was a tremendous success. Over 700
runners ran the 5K race and 17 cars came to race the
Grand Prix. So in 1997, with over 900 runners and
25,000 patrons at the Mardi Gras parade and festival,
the Grand Prix race was made a separate event to take
place in the Spring of 1998.
Once again run in Cocoa Village, the 1998 Grand Prix
saw 25 race cars and they raised over $40,000.00 for
the Hospital's Pain Management Center. This year also
began a new tradition of a "Prix Race Party" where
sponsors, drivers, and crews were treated to a
bar-b-q buffet and contests of best dressed race team,
best decorated car, and a tire changing competition.
Until last year, 2001, the Grand Prix had moved to
different locations but it finally found it's home
at Merritt Square Mall. One Saturday each year,
the front parking lot of the mall is roped off and
a road course outlined by tires becomes a very hot
Doug Wilson Enterprises sponsored the Grand Prix and
also has a very sleek, fast black #66 go kart that
races every year. Race teams this year included
Bob Steele Chevrolet, #107 WA1A Radio, Merritt Island
Air and Heat, Merritt Square Mall, and on and on.
Each race team must change drivers halfway thru the
race and change one tire. The karts are closely teched
and it is restrictor plate racing since no one really
wants anyone to get hurt. But that does not stop the
action which is bumper to bumper and side by side.
Spectators come with chairs and umbrellas to take away
some of the Florida sun and stay all day until the end
of the event and the trophys are awarded. And, of
course, like any good racetrack there is plenty of food
and drink available.
This year the Grand Prix was for cancer care at Cape
Canaveral Hospital. Last year almost $70,000.00 was
raised from the race and this year I expect that will
be met and more. Volunteers are plenty at the race
and the racers are very serious about their Grand Prix.
Yes, Merritt Island has a Grand Prix race. The money
goes to the hospital for needs of the public and
businesses get to compete in an area where normally
they don't compete. And spectators get to eat, drink
and enjoy what we all love - racing.
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