WEST PALM BEACH – Racing fans around Palm Beach County will celebrate the rich history of the Palm Beach International Raceway and the subsequent closure of the famous track this weekend.
Despite the best rally efforts of the racers and fans flocking to the defense of PBIR, formerly known as Moroso Motorsports Park, the logistics of track closing for Portman Industrial LLC has been completed.
In the wake of the community’s loss, racers Antron Brown, of Don Schumacher Racing, JR Todd, of Kalitta Motorsports, and John Force, of John Force Racing, among others, are echoing the disappointment of South Florida racing fans.
Brown, a three-time world champion in Top Fuel, left himself almost speechless after learning that the track was to be demolished and replaced with warehouses by the real estate developer.
He said, “Oh, man.” “This is just a shame.”
The turn of events for the track that was built in 1964 reminded him of a small track he grew up with in South Jersey called Atco Dragway.
“The track is still open, there are talks about buying it and depots and all those things are going to take over as well,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things that touches your heart because you think about all the memories that were there and how many other memories you have to give.”
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Todd, the 2018 NHRA Funny Car World Champion, recently moved to Jupiter from Indianapolis and was hoping to create more memories on the track almost down the street from him. But among the few times he’s run in PBIR, this was the last race over the past year’s Pro-Winter Warm Up that he remembers best.
“It’s been November since I stepped on the throttle in a funny nitro, so I got down in March and got rid of the rust,” he recalls. “The weather is nice as always. You run and you come down to the end of the track, and there are a couple of sand jacks hanging there at the end of the track.”
“I thought it was cool, just the wildlife on the racetrack there, things you don’t normally see on different tracks around the country,” he said. “That’s one thing that popped into my mind when I ran there.”
John Force was also present at this year’s mod, but his favorite memory of the PBIR goes back years to a test event at the facility, which he has been racing for over 20 years.
“One thing I remember really meant a lot: I did a three-day test race,” said Force. “Good crowds. Then my daughter, Brittany, who was blasting her Top Fuel, had me race her for one round. Of course you beat me. But that was cool, I’m in a funny car, it’s in a Top-Fueler. You never see that.”
For Brown, the excitement of having a local racetrack as an entertainment venue becomes his own version of Friday Night Lights, the nickname often given to describe the high school football atmosphere.
“What also makes that special is what you see in the drag racing community,” he said. “It has no color. People have always given you respect for what kind of car, what kind of racer you were. But drag racing is easily accessible to all walks of life because it has no price. You can bring anything you want to a drag racetrack and pull it up and have fun.”
Brown says losing track isn’t just affecting the drag racing community.
The loss of PBIR will be felt by many, including students in educational programs who are used to using the track as an educational tool – and even as a business opportunity.
“It’s more than what we’re talking about right now,” Brown said. “It also applies to future generations in professional careers in the automotive field. You have local schools doing things on the racetrack. There are STEM fields that you see a lot of.”
Brown says that STEM programs — STEM — are used to get students into alterations, and some students have even brought resumes to the track in an effort to join race teams.
In a broader sense, the community of Palm Beach County and surrounding South Florida may be affected on the roads.
Don Schumacher, owner of Don Schumacher Racing, fears that losing the PBIR could lead to a spike in street racing without using the track as an outlet.
The contestants echoed those concerns.
“The Highway Patrol, the Auto Club, these guys have worked over the years to get kids off the streets, give them a place to race, learn how to drive race cars,” Force said.
Eventually, the community will learn how to overcome the loss of facility as racers and racing enthusiasts are drawn to other places far from their passion.
Come finalize the sale this spring, it will be the first time in 58 years that the county has not had a track to call its own.
“It’s sad to lose her,” said Fors. “I love the people who run it. I thought it was far enough away that it would never be taken away. But land is valuable, and the world is changing, so we just have to adapt.”