Florida To Lose Leo Musgrave's Historical Sunshine Speedway
by Bill Green - "From Behind The MIC!"
I was there at age 5 to see it open. The vision of Leo Musgrave, that has been a Pinellas County Landmark for now on 44 years, will see it's last races on November 20th, 2004. That is the date given by current promoters, Frank & Bonnie Hill, Bonnie being one of the 11 children that Leo and Sybil Musgrave raised on this gulf coast peninsula patch of farm land.
My first day at Sunshine Speedway is only a distant memory some 44 years later. An old family photo of me in front of the front stretch fence, with my Dad's 32 Ford coupe on the track behind me has even disappeared over the years. Coming full circle in 1997, I became an announcer at Sunshine "ACTION" Speedway and remained there until my move to East Bay Raceway Park in 2003. I was privileged to have work where legends like Bobbie Allison, Red Farmer, Smokey Unyoke, Buzzie & Wayne Reutimann and thousands more, have driven and walked those sacred pits.
Progress has killed off the bulk of Florida's speedway's over the years. After a little research I have found there were some 47 race tracks for automobiles in the peek of the 1970's. But unlike Golden Gate Speedway, Phillips Field and the dozen other tracks that have come and gone over the years, Sunshine Speedway has made it through over 40 seasons of Saturday Night stock car racing as progress closed in on its four asphalt turns.
Leo Musgrave had visited those other raceways over the years leading up to the birth of his big plans. Seeing the car tags, that were from mostly his home county of Pinellas in the parking lots of those "other" tracks, set the wheels turning. Leo owned quit a bit of land in Pinellas County and the new airport wanted some of it, so a deal was struck and the vision began to rise up from the farmland.
Sybil Musgrave has outlived her husband, but still owns the entire Sunshine Speedway complex. The loss of which will have an effect on the stables, oval track and drag strip. But, it is the Sunshine "ACTION" Speedway signs that will come down first. All to make way for the future roads planned through and over the property by the Florida Dept. of Transportation.
Leo was one of the first race track owners that saw the races not as a competition, but as a live show for the spectators.
My father told me a story about Leo and a visit to Sunshine in the late 60's. Seems Dad had been a fairly regular visitor to the raceway and Leo knew that the towing of a stock car from the little town of Mulberry, some 50 miles away, was tedious at best. This particular night Dad's car blew up, sending a piston rod through the block in a very smokey and fiery display during the practice laps. Leo caught up to Dad after the car was loaded and shook his hand, placing in it a crisp $100 dollar bill. Leo only said the following, "Guess we'll see you in two weeks?" My dad looked into his hand and with what he called a big grin replied, "Yes sir, you sure will." The rest of my Dad's life, through June 1970, he never missed a race at Sunshine if he was in town, even when he no longer campaigned a car.
Thousands of central Florida race fans over the years have trekked the necessary miles to visit the gem Leo and Sybil Musgrave designed in the late 50's. But you, YES YOU reading this story, you only had until that final checkered flag on November 20th to get a look at the amazing sites and sounds of the fastest 1/4 mile in the South. Now you've missed it. You will not see the dream come true and be able to pass down the story of the farmer and the vision, the opportunity and the institution that will forever be, Sunshine "ACTION" Speedway.
As of Sunday morning the roar of race car engines and go-kart screams will forever be silenced at Sunshine, but the track will live on somewhat. Port Charlotte's Charlotte County Speedway will benifit from the Pinellas County loss, as they are set to rebuild their damaged track with Sunshine Speedways parts. Grandstands, towers and other parts of this grand ole dairy will help others enjoy their Saturday night racing passion for years to come. Hopefully, years from now, lets say 44 years or so, maybe some youngester of today will take the time to note the passing of a Florida speedway.
I hope not. I hope they last forever.
For more information about Sunshine Speedway, call the track office at 727-573-4598. Tell them you read it here, in this "From Behind The MIC!" commentary and you want to be at the final Champion's Banquet on December 3rd. Come out and live a little of Leo's Magic.
We'll See You At The RACES!
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