Saturday Will Be a Very Sad Day for Many Fans and Drivers in Florida
by Jane Smith
In spite of the fact that it is one of Florida's best tracks and our answer to Daytona for all short track racers, Lakeland's USA International will close it's doors this Saturday after the second Leg of the Triple Crown runs. Rumors have floated around every since Hooter's ProCup sold the track but each time, either the deal fell thru or someone backed out and we still had USA. Now it seems set in stone that USA International will no longer exsist which for many racers and fans, is a very sad day.
It was a very hot summer day when I first went to Lakeland on their grand opening weekend. It was a grand affair and my family actualy got a motel room for the weekend so we would not miss one moment of action. We sat in those hot grandstands under the tower to escape the heat and watched some of the names we had only heard practice their Hooter's Cup cars.
What a wonderful day for us.
Since then, I have missed very few races at Lakeland. The only thing that changed for me was now I am in the pits with the drivers instead of the grandstands because my life changed totally from that opening day.
I have interviewed some of the nicest people in the world at Lakeland from Goody's Dash David Hutto to Scott Wimmer of NASCAR. I was there when Doug Baldwin rolled his American flag truck in the corner, when Rob Underwood hit the wall and was hurt, when Lee Collins ran Barry Willoughby up the backstetch wall in modifieds, when a young racer Bobby Gill ran both Hooter's Cup and the Jackaroo Sportsman race. When Brad May was bigger than life and looked to be the next star in NASCAR. And when I finally saw Dick Anderson for the very first time and watched him wheel that Hooter's Cup car like no other. Watching a very young Matt Kenseth run his Hooter's Cup car and meeting Terry Labonte when his young son raced there. Those memories are precious.
It is so sad to see any track close but to have Lakeland close, it is almost too much. There is no nicer facility than Lakeland for us short track fans in Florida. There were vendors for anything and everything you could possibly want at a racetrack. Clean bathrooms always and friendly people greeting you at the front gate and back gate. And those old autograph sessions under the grandstands, nothing could beat those. Big kids, little kids would line-up to meet the stars of the series and there were many stars.
Just as life itself changes daily, so has Lakeland. Ticket prices did increase but then again so did electricity and water and race tracks have to make money or they do get sold for land development. They too must make money to stay afloat, it is just the nature of ways. Even NASCAR must increase their ticket prices and have because they're a business just like Lakeland or any other race track.
One thing I can say about Lakeland is they never failed to send me a postcard announcing their next race. From that very first race I went to, they have always sent those postcards to every fan that signed up to be notified of their upcoming events.
In my closet at home, I still have old programs from Lakeland and safely packed away are my original Hooter's Cup cars bought too many years ago to count of Dick Anderson, Mike Garvey, and a few more of the original drivers in Hooter's. And I still have an old VHS tape from Lakeland where David Rogers and Dick Anderson battled for the same spot in one of the best races and closest races I have seen.
For those who never went to Lakeland, you missed a real treat. And I for one, am very sad that Saturday will be the last time I go to Lakeland. I have loved every moment of time I have spent there whether I was burning up from heat or freezing from cold. Lakeland was always worth whatever the weather threw at you because it was Lakeland.
Today's economy is bad, very bad. But if you love racing and you have a home track, please support it. Because you never know, tomorrow it could be a shopping mall or apartment complex or industrial complex or just sit empty like Pike's Peak International.
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