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 Columns & Editorials

June 14, 2002

Field Of Dreams: A Decade Later

Orignally published Wednesday, August 22, 2001

By Robin Smith Meiser

My career in stock car racing officially began on December 15, 1991. It is hard to believe that it has almost been a decade since we officially opened the pit gate at Charlotte County Speedway and held the first late model race at the 3/8th mile banked oval.

My first job there was as a trainee scorer, and I had no idea what that entailed or as I have said in the past I would have been the 50/50 girl instead. The word scorer had a nice ring to it but I really didnt know what they did. Boy, did I find out in a hurry!

I got the opportunity to work at Charlotte County Speedway thanks to a man everyone in the Southwest Florida racing community has heard many stories about but few people actually know.

His name is Leroy Davidson and he built Charlotte County Speedway with his own two hands. It took him several years and borrowing a lot of money to accomplish the feat but he was determined to do it and he did.

Remember the movie Field of Dreams where a voice in the cornfield kept telling Kevin Costner if you build it, they will come?

Well, I am convinced that one of the cows in the pastureland that was once Charlotte County Speedway said the same thing to Leroy Davidson and he believed it and that old cow was right he built it and the people came!

Everybody in the stock car world knows who Humpy Wheeler is I am sure. If you dont know, he is the President of Lowes Motor Speedway (AKA Charlotte Motor Speedway).

He is known for his innovative and creative ideas and promotions at his race track. Well, let me tell you, old Humpy Wheeler has nothing on Leroy Davidson when it comes to trying hair brained ideas. He was never afraid to try anything when he was the promoter at Charlotte County Speedway.

Back in the good old days, there were actually Enduros at CCS that had close to 200 cars and they were held every holiday weekend.

The most popular was the News Years Eve of Destruction and Hangover Enduro, which is the only one that is still held there because too many other tracks in the state got the idea from Charlotte and started running their own holiday Enduros.

In the beginning, people would come from all over the state, camp for the weekend; enjoy the wacky, unique New Years Eve races that still continue every year.

Events such as train races where three cars are chained together with one being the engine and one the caboose or Blindfold Races where the driver was blindfolded and coached around the track by a passenger or a race in which a Volkswagen was used as basically a bowling ball.

The evening was and still is, capped off by Paul Reveres Midnight Ride where the lights at the Speedway are brought down and the cars make their way around the track with only a flashlight mounted on their hood to guide them.

Davidson brought the World of Outlaws to Southwest Florida the year after the Speedway opened.

I will never forget trying to score the winged sprints as they made their way around the track in barely ten seconds; or meeting Steve and Mark Kinser, Stevie Smith and even Sammy Swindell.

Some old timers might even remember NASCAR star Kenny Schrader flying in for a late model race. We had great late model races in those years, bringing in drivers like Jeff Purvis who is also a NASCAR star now.

Tragedy struck the year after the Speedway opened when Davidsons son, Brian, died years before his time, leaving behind a baby daughter who Davidson has raised since she was in diapers.

In memory of Brian, who we all loved, Leroy created the season ending Brian Davidson Memorial Late Model race every year,which again packed the stands.

Leroy Davidson remembered what a lot of present day promoters tend to forget, we are in the entertainment business and folks expect to be entertained when they spend their hard earned money to come to yourfacility.

He brought events like motorcycle demolition derbies and motorcycle dare devils like Sky Lungston to the Speedway. He once even got into the boxing ring himself as a promotional event, although I can't remember why anymore.

Gail Cook, the best 50/50 Girl that Charlotte County Speedway ever had and my best friend says she loved working with Davidson because he was never afraid to take a risk. He would guarantee $1,000 50/50 drawings when there was only $500 in sales some nights.

By the end of the night, she would have reached her goal and even went up to $1,200 one night. She said he never lost money when he guaranteed the $1,000 although he would be nervously chewing his famed toothpicks to shreds until the goal was made.

The Summer of 1994 is one that will be long remembered by long time CCS fans. That was the season of White Hats vs. Black Hats.

Two of the Top Gun limited late models drivers of that time, who have both since retired from racing, were feuding weekly on the track, reeking havoc on each others cars week after week. Davidson decided to use their grudge match as a great promotional tool.

The more aggressive of the two drivers was put on probation after a particularly rough night of racing and the next Saturday evening, Davidson had him brought through the back gate in a Sheriff's cruiser handcuffed.

As the cruiser circled the track, the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly played and the vehicle came to a stop in front of the flagstand and a deputy led the driver out of the car, where he met his car owner and Davidson to sign his bail papers as his car owner paid his fine.

The driver in question was much like the recently deceased Dale Earnhardt, you either loved him or you loved to hate him so the crowd went wild with both cheers and boos being heard throughout the stands.

Davidson had five white and five black Western hats made for the two drivers and their crewmembers and a ten lap grudge match was supposed to be run but, unfortunately,the driver in the White Hat broke an axle on his car and the race was shortened.

Davidson also had one hundred felt ribbons of each color made for fans to buy at a buck a piece with the proceeds going to the Junior Fan Club, which was huge back then.

Selina Kuykendall, who was simply the best office manager/race director that has ever existed, spent untold hours on Junior Fan activities way over and beyond the call of duty. That was Selina though, she always had a smile on her face and there was nothing she could not do.

Anyway, the Junior Fan Club had Art Contests and Box Car Races that were fully supported by the track management, big trophies were given out and prizes too. There were Gold Rushes where pennies and other tokens with prizes such as trips to Busch Gardens were thrown out on the race tracks and the kids would scramble to see who could get the most. One year a go-kart was given away to the child who accumulated the most points, membership in the Junior Fan Club was way up then.

My dear friend, Sara Carmean, who does an excellent job as Junior Fan Club Director misses those good old days too but has continued on the tradition of the Easter Egg Hunt and Trick or Treat the Drivers, which has since become a ritual at many other Florida race tracks as well.

That was another area Davidson tried to do well at, building better communication with other race tracks like Jack Smith is trying to do now with KARNAC.

Sometimes I think that is why I enjoy working with Jack and Rick so much because they are born risktakers too! Davidson got this wild idea to start an organization called the Florida Area Race Tracks Association, with the acronym of FART, to unite all the track owners in Florida.

Unfortunately, he did not have a great marketing tool back then called Karnac to help him in his quest but they are carrying the banner right now, doing the very same thing by having monthly owners meetings. He had the same philosophy that Karnac has; we do not have to compete with each other, we can all work together!

When USA International Speedway in Lakeland was being built, Davidson spent weeks helping to set up the infield walls and painting at a track that could be considered his biggest competition at that time.

He even moved Charlotte's racing program to Sunday evening, the first week Lakeland ran so his limited late model and late model drivers could participate in USA's first race.

When Hurricane Andrew did extensive damage to Hialeah Speedway,Leroy traveled there with generators and tools to help them get ready for their weekly show and he took up a collection at CCS to help Hialeah.

Leroy Davidson taught me what the word philanthropy means. The dictionary defines it as love of mankind shown by practical kindness and helpfulness to humanity.

Two good examples of present day Florida racing philanthropists are Bill Green with his yearly Family Fundraiser to raise money for racing families who have suffered adversity throughout the year; and Rick Bristol with his NASCAR Nana Memorial go-kart races to benefit a childrens home in Central Florida.

KARNAC will soon have a fund of their own to help those in the racing community who need it. Glen Vanhorn, the current president at CCS, also opens his heart and track up to worthy causes such as the Do the Right Thing program, MDA and March of Dimes.

He never said no to any worthy cause when I was the public relations director at Charlotte County Speedway. That is one thing that has never changed at CCS, good corporate responsibility, giving back to the community.

Davidson was also like that, raising $5,000 to help buy a wheelchair for a severely injured young woman; auctioning off Enduro cars to benefit a child who needed life saving surgery; presenting checks to groups for the prevention of child abuse.

When one of his drivers, George Richardson, had a terrible accident in which his race car fell on his head, Davidson gave him a life time pass to the Speedway because he said "George has a harder head than I do"!

Particularly dear to my heart and to those in the racing family who live in my community is a little something called Noise for Toys in which we hope to raise funds and collect toys to give needy children in ourcommunity a good Christmas.

Davidson was the founder of Noise for Toys; another one of his promotional tools to try to overcome adversity. The year after the Speedway opened, there were people in Charlotte County that wanted it shut down because of the noise created by the racecars.

They almost got their wish; it came so close but the persistence of Davidson kept it open (along with an 11:30 curfew and mufflers on all the cars). It was shortly before the holiday season when this occurred and Davidson had already planned to do something for the disadvantaged children of Charlotte County for the holiday season.

The name Noise for Toys seemed appropriate and over 100 children for three years straight had a good Christmas because of Davidsons hairbrained idea. We hope we can do the same in our community this coming holiday season and we hope our community will help us in our endeavor.

That's the key: helping each other out, no matter which community is involved. Charlotte County Speedway is now facing another crisis of sorts.

The Airport Authority has raced their rent astronomically and the county commission will soon vote on whether it will happen. Its times like this that Leroy Davidson would come in real handy because somewhere in that off the wall head of his, he would figure a way around it.

Therefore, it is up to the Charlotte racing community and our fellow tracks all over the state to unite for this cause. Petitions will soon be appearing to protest the rent increase and all of the racing community needs to sign them.

If you don't, my dear family at CCS, your Field of Dreams surrounded by what is now a cow pasture in Punta Gorda may die. We all need to come together for the greater good of our racing family, if not we may not have a Speedway to call home!

Robin Smith Meiser

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