Keith Connors

Weekdays 10a-3p

Gulfport teen racing St Pete Grand Prix not quite old enough to drive yet. Wait, what? What a great story. Nikita Johnson, a 14-year-old racing driver born in Clearwater, is set to make his debut at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend. As the youngest driver across the event’s six series, Johnson is poised to take the racing world by storm, thanks to his impressive skills and local pedigree.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Johnson’s journey to the 1.8-mile street course began when he was just four or five years old, when an employee at Bert Smith BMW noticed his NASCAR car seat and recommended that he try go-kart racing at Andersen Racepark in Palmetto. From there, Johnson’s talent blossomed, and he quickly progressed from local races to national events and international trips to Italy and Germany, all before he turned 10.

Since then, Johnson has continued to impress, finishing third in the USF Juniors series and adding races from the next series, USF2000, to his resume after turning 14 in May. He even tested at Formula One tracks all over Europe this winter and received interest from several teams.

Despite the cut-throat nature of motorsports, Johnson and his family remain optimistic about his future, mapping out a career path that includes winning the USF2000 championship and eventually moving up the ladder to Formula One. And while the cost of this season alone is estimated to be half a million dollars, his family believes that it’s his best route to success.

But for now, the focus is on Johnson’s home track debut at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. As he prepares for the big event, Johnson says he’s feeling a bit more butterflies than usual, but he’s confident that he can make it through Turn 1 and see the checkered flag first.

For Johnson, racing is more than just a sport—it’s a passion and a way of life. And as he prepares to make his mark on the racing world, he’s grateful for the support of his hometown and the local community that has helped him get to where he is today. TBT