116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Spectators, start your engines.
Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. is the public's chance to drive around the Hawkeye Downs racetrack in southwest Cedar Rapids and see this year's St. Patrick's Day parade entries.
But don't expect to be revving or racing.
Vehicles will be crawling along behind St. Patrick (aka Steve Bryant of Cedar Rapids), SaPaDaPaSo signs and convertibles carrying the group's 2020-21 Colleen, Rebecca Hingst of Center Point; SaPaDaPaSo President Lisa Dalziel of Cedar Rapids and Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart.
The all-volunteer Saint Patrick's Day Parade Society (SaPaDaPaSo) is carrying on a tradition in an untraditional way.
It's the group's 46th parade, but the first time it won't be snaking around downtown Cedar Rapids, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down last year's event less than a week before its March 17 rollout.
'We were the first big event in Cedar Rapids to cancel,” Dalziel said. 'We were really worried about having it, because easily 50,000 people attend, and if it's a nice day, we've had up to 100,000 downtown.”
Group members braced themselves for backlash 'because the parade is a staple in Cedar Rapids,” Dalziel said. 'I really appreciate the folks who actually gave our volunteer group grace for having to make the decision.”
They also knew they couldn't cancel two years in a row. 'And that's when we came up with the idea of what to do - a drive-through parade,” she said.
'Hawkeye Downs has been very, very good to work with,” she said. 'We really consider them to be a partner this year.”
New this year
Instead of the usual mix of 100 marching units, floats, music, animals and vehicles on the move, this year's spectators will do the driving as they slowly move past about 30 floats parked in the racetrack's infield.
No one will be tossing candy to the viewers, and likewise, viewers won't be allowed to toss anything to the participants. But the first 200 vehicles to enter the track will receive a swag bag bursting with candy, cups, magnets, chip clips, lanyards - and a few will contain a wee bit o' gold in the form of gift certificates.
All vehicles will be handed a ballot, so occupants can vote for the new People's Choice Award, added to help make the experience a little more interactive, Dalziel said.
Judges will decide on the other awards, ranging from 'most creative” to 'best adaptation of a walking entry,” to be handed out on the track after the parade. (The traditional after-party is another COVID casualty.)
Some families have been involved since the beginning, Dalziel said.
According to the group's online history, a 4-minute parade was held on March 17, 1976, traveling a block and a half. The route doubled in 1977 for a 10-minute parade. That also was the year the Saint Patrick's Day Parade Society was formed and the name finalized on a cocktail napkin, writing down the first two letters from each word to create its festive name.
SaPaDaPaSo has been sponsoring the parades ever since.
Dalziel, 56, has been involved with the Maneely-Dalziel float since 1998, but even that family/friend collaboration dates back to the parade's early days.
Not everything new is old, however. Fong's Pizza in Cedar Rapids is stepping into the celebration with a Celtic dragon float.
Thursday afternoon, general manager Liz Colony, 31, of rural Swisher, and cook Kaidyn Hamilton, 32, of Cedar Rapids, were fighting a stiff breeze to plant a dragon flag on the back of a 5-by-10-foot trailer parked by Colony's driveway. Once that task was done, they turned their attention to spray painting water heater boxes to turn into Stonehenge.
'We were supposed to do (the parade) last year, and, of course, everything broke loose and it got canceled,” Colony said. 'So we were really excited to be able to do it this year.”
Dragons are a common component in Asian and Celtic lore, she noted.
'The Druids used to build their power nodes and circles around where the body of the dragon would be,” she said. 'What we're making today will not be anything comparable, but it'll be cool, at least, for a little bit.”
It takes a pot of gold to stage the parade - up to $25,000 in previous years, but less this year with its scaled-back scope.
The main fundraising event, known as the Irish Hooley, brings out about 500 revelers for food, music and a silent auction the first weekend of March. It squeaked in two weeks before last year's COVID clampdown but shifted to an online auction this year.
Parade entry fees also help defray costs, as do community donations.
'The biggest goal that we had this year was to keep SaPaDaPaSo relevant,” Dalziel said, 'and provide this event in the true form of tradition, knowing it's completely different.”
Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org
At a glance
' What: SaPaDaPaSo's St. Patrick's 'Drive By Parade”
' When: 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday
' Where: On the racetrack at Hawkeye Downs, 4400 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
' How it works: Circle the track in your vehicle to view stationary parade entries
' Cost: Free
' Extras: Vote for People's Choice Award; swag bag for first 200 vehicles.
KCRG film on channel 9.2 at 1 p.m. March 17; 7 p.m. March 18, March 30 and April 1; and noon April 11
' Details: sapadapaso.org/