The green flag was waving again at a longtime Pinellas County race track after eight years of being stuck on idle.
About 4,000 auto racing fans jammed Showtime Speedway – known for decades as Sunshine Speedway – on a hot July Fourth evening. The turnout brought a smile to Robert Yoho, who had the courage to invest an estimated $800,000 into a dream.
"Nobody else is dumb enough to try this," said Yoho, who owns a towing and collision company in Pinellas Park. "I tried it."
Sunshine Speedway opened in 1960 and was among a number of thriving local tracks - long before NASCAR and other major motorsports series became national draws.
It was known as "the fastest quarter-mile in the Southeast, where action is the attraction," and was a weekly racing home to generations of fans and competitors. It hosted some of the top names in racing, including Darrell Waltrip, Michael Waltrip, Joe Nemechek, Davey Allison, Bobby Hamilton Sr., Dick Trickle and Butch Miller.
But the venue on Ulmerton Road closed in 2004 after the Florida Department of Transportation bought it for $22 million from the family of track founder Leo Musgrave.
The state planned to build a connector between the Bayside Bridge and Interstate 275. The road remains on hold until funding comes through.
Rather than keep the 125-acre site unused, FDOT decided to lease the property. Yoho, whose nickname is "Showtime," won the bid in December and signed a five-year lease, paying about $16,000 a month in rent.
After months of delays, a racing slate featuring open-wheel modifieds, street stocks and figure 8s were zooming around the track.
"Ten promoters told me it wouldn't work," Yoho said.
He looked at the opening night crowd and offered an "I told you so."
"It didn't work? I sold out the back straightaway, sold out the bleacher section over there for seats and I got over a 100 cars in the pits. It won't work? I believe them."
Earlier in the evening, fans waited in a long line to plunk down $12 admission. Some recognized faces in the crowd from 2004 – only eight years older.
"Is it kind of an American thing to watch a race on a Fourth; it's like eating watermelon," said Joe Kasperzyk, a former driver who attended Wednesday. "For me it is, and for a lot of people I know, most of the people I know, it is."
Yoho has an option to renew the lease if the state continues to delay road construction.
"It's been eight years since this track roared with the sound of race cars, and now they're back with a vengeance on this July Fourth," Yoho said.