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Ocala (FL) Speedway switching from pavement to dirt:

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  • Ocala (FL) Speedway switching from pavement to dirt:


    Ocala Speedway owners hope to win big with dirt track

    OCALA - Mike Peters and Angie Clifton felt like they were spinning their wheels trying to make Ocala Speedway a success ever since they bought the track in 2005. Night after night, the two saw the same 500 or so race fans in the grandstands, the same 60 or so drivers in the pits and the same winners in victory lane.

    "After two years of running in the red, we knew we weren't doing something right," Clifton said. "No matter what we tried, we weren't grabbing the hearts with our product."

    Ocala Speedway, the oldest operating racetrack in the state, was dying a slow death. But instead of letting the 56-year-old 3/8-mile asphalt oval fade away into history like a handful of other Florida speedways in the last five years, Peters and Clifton wanted to not only save the track but make it prosper.

    That's why the duo dumped 350 truckloads of dirt onto the track. Gone is the asphalt that served as the racing surface for 12 years. It is now covered by about $100,000 worth of Florida clay that Peters and Clifton hope will turn to gold.

    "This is do or die for us," Clifton said. "It's a large leap of faith to make a change like this, but you don't know what will happen until you try."

    So far, the change seems to be paying off. Peters expects more than 100 cars — 54 of them high profile late model stock cars — to fill the pits at Ocala Speedway for tonight's season opening race.

    Interest in the facility, Peters said, has skyrocketed. He receives more than 100 phone calls a day from drivers, fans and promoters wanting to see how Ocala Speedway's risk pays off.

    It's a risk Peters knew he had to take.
    "Last year, I monitored car counts and fan attendance at every track in the state," Peters said. "I'd go to all the tracks and count every person in the stands, every car in the pits. What I found out was that dirt was the common denominator. Dirt tracks were doing better than we were, and all the asphalt tracks were about where we were."

    But Peters and Clifton both have a personal interest — other than money — to see this track succeed. Both were raised in Marion County. Peters, 38, went through the Army to pay for flying lessons just to get a job as a janitor at the Ocala Regional Airport. He is now a flight captain for a major commercial airline.

    Clifton, 40, started out as a local banking assistant for what is now Wachovia. She now serves as the vice president of sales for the area branches.

    Both of them had a love for speed, and an interest in Ocala Speedway, where they used to go watch dirt races before the track was paved in 1995. That interest brought them together three years ago. When the Ocala Speedway went up for sale in 2005, the two teamed up for a business deal.

    "We were focused on service and people," Clifton said. "We thought if we took our concepts and put them toward the track, we could make it successful."

    Peters and Clifton say they haven't made any profit on their racetrack business, but that may change tonight. While a record number of cars are expected to race this evening, Peters hopes to see his 3,000-seat grandstand filled up as well, which hasn't happened in a while.

    "The big reason we went to dirt was for the fans and the drivers," Peters said. "The racing is a lot more exciting because the cars can pass each other all over the track."

    Both owners know success won't be determined in one night, but both agree the track is heading in the right direction.

    "We want to see Ocala Speedway survive," Peters said. "It's a historic place in Ocala, and we want it to stay around for years to come."

    Joe VanHoose may be reached at [email protected] or at 35

  • #2
    Q: The Stanley Cup was recently on tour through my town and I kissed it, is there any chance I mite catch listeria?

    A: NO you are safe, the cup hasn't touched any Maple Leaf products in 40 years

    PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals


    • #3
      I hope it works for them. We were among the 500 people one Friday night last year, and enjoyed the show - but it was easy to see the place was struggling.
      "It was actually fun, because you're back fully driving again in these trucks. Ninety percent of the tracks we go to in the IRL, you're flat-out. I was having to lift off the corners some here." - Buddy Rice


      • #4
        That is a friend of mines' local track & he is excited about the change, he says things were so stale that it wasn't even worth going to any longer.


        • #5
          Good news bad news.

          Bad news first. I hate to see the loss of another paved track. And those guys have their money invested and seem to be qualified, but I wonder how they can get 60 cars in the pits, put on a great show like RW has witnessed and still only get 500-600 people in the stands. Makes me think something else is involved. I know of a paved track that did every thing they could to get rid of fans, just so they could change it to dirt. It struggled as a dirt track too until someone else bought it.

          Good news. At least it will still be a race track and not a shopping center.
          Some people will do nearly anything in order to be able to not do anything.


          • #6
            I attended there in the 90's...every TBARA dirt sprint car show on a Friday night had a full house...

            David Reutimann was even cutting his teeth there on dirt in a late model.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Cosworth
              Hey Cossy, you seem to know quite a bit about asphalt oval racing.
              Remember this guy?

              How come nobodies asked about Art Sugai's car?
              Probably can't recognize the driver! Rick Mears


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