Patrick Long stood before the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Kart Race crowd at Andersen RacePark, holding a particularly important item of his that he was ready to give away. A brand-new helmet, but one that he will make memories with this weekend, was up for bidding at a live auction in Palmetto, a rare decision for a driver to make.
Long told the crowd this was the first time he has given away a helmet. They are, in his mind, a driver’s most sacred piece of gear.
“Your helmet tells a lot of stories,” Long said.
This helmet’s story will include a run Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where Long plans to wear the custom-painted helmet for one Pirelli World Challenge race.
It also includes one go-kart race at Andersen.
“It’s a St. Pete-only helmet,” Long said. “Special paint job.”
The Troy Lee Designs paint job pulls together a number of elements to fit his busy week in Florida. Painted above the visor is a logo for the 2017 St. Pete Grand Prix. Below the visor is a shamrock — a signature design Long wears on all his helmets. And along the side is the cause he was in Palmetto on Wednesday for: Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Your helmet tells a lot of stories.
Patrick Long, Pirelli World Challenge driver
For six years, the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Kart Race has been an annual staple in Long’s schedule. Back in 2012, Long was living in Clearwater and was the only professional driver to show up. The race raised $6,400 for All Children’s Hospital.
Flash forward to Wednesday, when 14 professional racers shared the track in Manatee County, each one paired with a team of four amateurs for a 75-lap, 24 Hours of Le Mans-style endurance race. The event has gone through multiple iterations — the past two years the race was called the Patrick Long Pro-Am Kart Race and until this year the charity event was run in conjunction with the 12 Hours of Sebring — and 2017 is expected to be the biggest fundraising year yet with Long sharing event-chairman status with Sébastien Bourdais of the IndyCar Series.
Bourdais’ presence and the event being synchronized with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gave the 2017 field a different look. For the first time, the pro-am featured a significant number of IndyCar racers, including Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, and Kart 4 Kids co-chair Dave Bassett expects the organization to easily surpass last year’s total of $65,377 through a mixture of ticket sales and auctions.
$65,377Amount raised by the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Race, which was then called the Patrick Long Pro-Am Race, in 2016. Co-chair Dave Bassett anticipates Kart 4 Kids will easily surpass that total in 2017.
“We’ve done over $200,000,” Bassett said of the event’s five-year total. “We’re on track to beat (last year’s total) this year.”
The Pro-Am Race’s origins date to 2011, when former IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon died from injuries sustained during a crash at the 2011 IZOD IndyCar World Championship. Wheldon was a St. Petersburg resident and a frequent donor to All Children’s. Bassett and other members of the Porsche Club of America’s Suncoast chapter wanted to honor his memory.
The first race came together in a mere six weeks. Now, with six years to plan, Bassett and Co. have been able to work out the kinks. No longer does the Pro-Am conflict with the International Motor Sports Association breakfast, which also had been held the day after Sebring, and the roster of 14 professionals was bolstered by first-time superstars like Dixon.
“For a lot of us that knew Dan, I think, way back when,” Dixon said, “and obviously (knew) the support that he had for the hospital and the children, it’s such a great cause.”