I’d like to pass along some news that would surely be welcome if it comes to pass. Years ago Sunshine Speedway, a fast 1/4-mile paved track in St. Petersburg, was forced to close. The track later came into use by the state of Florida as a test facility for traffic-related infrastructure. In retrospect, this turned out to be a godsend since it meant the track surface remained intact. Now, it seems that people are talking about buying back the property and returning it to race-readiness.
How many times do you get to see this happen? Not very damn many. Too often, of course, it’s the other way around. The list of ghost-tracks is endless, but the ones that always hurt me were the destruction of Heidelberg and the closure of Golden Gate Speedway in Tampa, both great tracks with steep histories. For a long time I imagined that Sunshine would join that list, but—maybe not.
My family moved to Florida in 1972, meaning that I started seeing shows at Sunshine from about 1973. During that time many of America’s greatest stock-car drivers towed there: Trickle, Eddy, Rusty Wallace, Don Biederman, Junior Hanley, Red Farmer, how many Allisons (2 generations, in fact), et al, against the best drivers from both coasts of Florida. Dick Trickle, for example, learned on several different occasions about lapped traffic in extra-distance races, how tough they can be to negotiate. Dick Anderson and Jim Fenton were the teachers. And the lessons were good.
I should also mention two people who announced races there, Larry MacMillan and Bob Schmidt, two of the nicest folks I ever met in racing. One night they shared duties; somebody noticed a couple of people had climbed the hill behind turn one and were standing there watching the heats. Schmidt said, “Gentlemen, if you would please move back from that area. We don’t want to see anybody get hurt.” When they returned, MacMillan had the mic. “Hey! You! If a car kills you all, it’s not on our insurance, you know that, right? Get off the hill!” They were as talented as announcers get—the really good ones learn how to be colorists, turning play-by-play into a dramatic account. The really good ones turn language and pitch and tenor into art. These two guys were the very best.
Thomas Wolfe famously said that “you can’t go home again.” Maybe not. But if Sunshine Speedway does reopen (by any name), it’ll feel like home. Hey—somebody save me a beer and a hot dog, wouldya? Is the back row of the grandstands all taken yet? Let’s look over the railing and see who’s towing in.
Damn, that’d be fun.
(This is for Jim Fenton, with my thanks.)