For the past decade, hard times have claimed many of our nation’s short tracks while only a handful of new tracks have risen to carry on the legacy. With the Lost Speedways epidemic taking place, it is even rarer to see a track rise once the gates have been locked for good. But Florida’s Citrus County Speedway has beaten those odds, reopening its gates this past Saturday night with a fresh new look after laying silent in 2015.
Perhaps even more amazing is the immediate draw the track had from both competitors and fans, a draw that not even general manager Camron Ray and his staff saw coming.
“It was quite unbelievable,” Ray told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I don’t think a Florida car count has ever seen that other than the Snowball Derby. We had 160 cars in the pits with full fields in all of the classes. A couple Street Stocks came from North Carolina, a couple Sportsman came from Georgia, and we had a really good turnout.”
While the crowd at the back gate was above expectations, the crowd at the front went well beyond. During a time when many short track promoters are doing all they can do to get people through the front gate, Citrus County officials had to turn away some fans on Saturday.
“We had 3,900 people paid and we had a couple hundred free tickets that we handed out. We had to start sending people home, the line was out to the road. It was unbelievable how many people came out to watch and race in our event. We were expecting a big turn out, but we weren’t expecting what we had. Pretty much everybody left here happy, a couple of people didn’t, but you can’t please everybody and everyone knows that. The people that got turned away, we are letting them in free next race.”
Saturday’s success comes at the end of what has been a very active five months for Ray and the entire crew who have worked to transform the Inverness, Florida track from being worn down into a sparkling jewel for short track racing in the Deep South.
“We got the lease in March when we signed the contract for 10 years. We got a million dollars in the project between the bleachers, the track paving, the pit paving, new concrete, the whole concourse is all pavers through there,” explained Ray. “We spent the money just to make sure it looked nice, give it something that any Florida track doesn’t have. Everything here has been torn down and rebuilt.”
Ray plans to make the most of the rest of 2016, filling August, September, and October with a menagerie of racing events, most of which will be sanctioned by the track. The track will host the first of six planned Super Late Model races on August 27. Citrus County also plans to continue the same game plan that made opening night such a hit.
“We got nine races planned for the rest of this year, mainly a bunch of big events. A lot of tracks they don’t run guaranteed money, they want car counts, a minimum car count. Everything here is guaranteed money, everybody has told us our purse is great. Our grandstand prices are five dollars a person and we’re planning on keeping it that way. We want to be more family oriented, it’s not just the old people that don’t care about spending $15 to get in to watch the races; we want families to come out.”
The speedway plans a full schedule for 2017 and is exploring the possibility of touring divsions and cooperative championships with other tracks. While the goal of making back what they put in is on the mind, the biggest goal is to continue what they started on Saturday night.
“We got a lot of money to try to make back, but it has nothing to do with that. We want to try to do something for the community, something for the county, and help the racing community by giving them a real nice facility to go racing at in Florida.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Citrus County Speedway