Tampa-area motorsports promoter Bobby Diehl took over ownership of the Charlotte County Speedway this week, promising an extended race schedule and many physical improvements to the track.
Diehl announced the first big change at Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Charlotte County Airport Authority. Effective immediately, the track will be called Charlotte County Motorports Park.
The commissioners unanimously voted to transfer the remainder of longtime speedway owner Leroy Davidson’s ground lease to Diehl, ending March 31, 2008. Davidson owned the track through a corporation called Charlotte County Speedway Inc., according to the airport authority.
After this, Diehl will have to renegotiate a new ground lease with the airport authority. Diehl said that he now owns the other assets of the speedway — including vehicles, modular buildings, bleachers and track equipment — outright in a purchase from Davidson that closed on Wednesday.
Several of the commissioners said they have already seen improvements at the track. “That place is cleaner in just the last few days than it has been in long, long time,” said Pam Seay, who has historically been the most vocal advocate of having a motorsports stadium near the airport.
When the time comes for a contract renewal, Diehl said that he hopes all the commissioners will see that a motorsports track can be an excellent partner to a regional airport. He noted that Daytona Beach’s renowned speedway is close to the city’s airport.
“What I envision is that when we get the speedway up to where it needs to be, there will be private and business executive jets landing at the airport, carrying people to races,” Diehl said.
Diehl, who has run the Fastrucks Inc. racing series since 1996, said he also plans to greatly expand the schedule of races at the track. He’s still working on an exact schedule, but says that race fans can look forward to everything from stock cars to motorcycles to novelty events like the Lawn Mower Racing Association.
One stunt may involve a “drag race” between a jet airplane and a jet-powered car. Diehl said he’s had some talks with the Florida International Air Show about staging such a race. He’s also among a large group of racing enthusiasts helping owner Doug Rose restore the famous “Green Mamba” jet car, which was stolen earlier this year and recovered in pieces. Diehl said there’s a strong likelihood the Green Mamba may be ready to race by next spring.
He also wants to polish up the physical appearance of the track with new fences, gates and signs. Longer term, he wants to construct garages so that racing vehicles can be stored permanently at the track.
Diehl added that he wants to add more showmanship to the way the track markets itself.
His first tough decision as owner was to cancel races scheduled for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
“We do not want to come out of the box with a grand opening and not be really grand,” Diehl told airport commissioners.
The first races of the year will be an “Eve of Destruction” program on Jan. 13, followed by more races the following day.
Physical changes to the track will help promote a more professional racing experience for fans and drivers alike, Diehl said. For example, he wants the stands to be thoroughly screened from the service areas of track, where vehicles are stored and maintained.
After all, a large part of racing is putting on a good show for the fans. “And the fans or the customers don’t have to be seeing everything that goes on backstage,” Diehl said.
Diehl even plans to landscape the “CCMP” logo into a berm at one end of the track, using brick pavers. This will give the track an identity that race fans will see when they drive onto the property.
Diehl, 55, is a Michigan native whose family settled in the Tampa area during the early 1950s. He has juggled parallel careers as an educator and motorsports driver and promoter since 1975.
After the Christmas holiday, he will be returning to Hillsborough County’s South County Career Center for his last semester as an automotive technology instructor. He said that rebuilding the Charlotte County Speedway will be his dream retirement job.
Exact terms of the sale were not disclosed and Davidson could not be reached for comment. But Diehl said Davidson, whom he described as a longtime friend, has never gotten the credit he deserved for founding the speedway 21 years ago and keeping it in business despite considerable personal hardships.
“He literally built this place with his own hands … it was a big part of his life,” Diehl said.
Various stakeholders in the speedway’s future learned about the ownership change Thursday.
Jean-Sebastian Sauriol, owner of International Motorsports Academy, said that he had met Diehl socially on a few occasions but had no idea until Thursday morning that he was buying the speedway.
“I think it’s long overdue and I think that Bobby has some great ideas about rebuilding … I think this community is ready for a great location that can show off all aspects of motorsports,” said Sauriol, whose school teaches go-kart racing to youngsters and adults alike.