Rex Guy could see the signs at his Auburndale Speedway pointing in the same direction as they had at the start of the decade. Short track raceways, such as Auburndale or DeSoto Speedway, weren’t what they once were.
Auburndale competed with DeSoto for drivers and fans.
DeSoto competed with the old Charlotte County Speedway in Punta Gorda.
Certain cars could only compete on certain tracks and most racers were only able to race at their home course.
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Guy knew he needed something to change.
“Car counts were down at tracks, and uniting with each other will make it better for the tracks,” Guy said.
Partnerships such as the ones DeSoto Speedway and Auburndale Speedway forged for the 2016 season weren’t unfamiliar to Guy. Earlier this decade, he partnered with four other Florida short-track speedways for two years and saw all of the tracks benefit. After the partnership fizzled, he tried to reestablish a similar partnership.
In 2016, Auburndale and DeSoto partnered to standardize their rules, making it easier for drivers from one track to race at the other. The result was a roughly 50 percent increase of cars, series director Ricky Brooks said. The success was enough to draw the attention of the operators at 4-17 Southern Speedway in Punta Gorda, who are in their first season operating the facility after it has undergone years of instability and management turnover.
“All the tracks have fought against each other,” Brooks said. “There was no reason to keep fighting.”
The latest season of the Sunshine State Challenge Series (SSCS) opens Saturday in Bradenton with the SSCS Double Header at DeSoto Speedway. Races will be run in street stocks, open wheel modified, modified minis, three-quarter midgets and mini stocks. If the addition of 4-17 works out the way the track operators hope, DeSoto could be in for its biggest opening night in years.
The original partnership between DeSoto and Auburndale has its roots in the end of 2014, when Ricky Brooks became Auburndale’s race director. Guy made it a directive for Brooks to help orchestrate a series similar to the one that had existed.
“Uniting with each other, will make it better for the tracks,” Guy told Brooks.
They reached out to Ronnie Bacelo, who owned DeSoto Speedway at the time, about standardizing the rules. The changes weren’t particularly significant — mostly changes to wording and slight adjustments to meet in the middle of DeSoto’s and Auburndale’s rule books, which made the transition easy on most drivers. At both tracks, the feedback was mostly positive.
“They’re all willing to give it a try,” said Ken Sands, who took over as DeSoto’s promoter in November, “and that’s all you can really expect them to do.”
The two-page rule book includes regulations for the cars’ bodies, engines, fuel systems, ignition, suspension, tires, transmission, brakes and safety. The classes that share rules among the three tracks are open wheels, street stock, super late models, bombers, legends, pro trucks, sportsmen and modified minis. As part of the seasonlong series, Each class will race four times at each of the three tracks
“It’s good and it’s getting better,” Guy said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Theoretically, the addition of 4-17 should increase car counts even more and create an even larger appeal to other speedways in the area, although Brooks said at least two others turned down offers to join the SSCS.
Brooks’ initial claim was bold when the SSCS announced the addition of 4-17. He said it would “be huge for Florida racing,” and the early indications have rewarded his optimism. Desoto Speedway is the last of the three facilities to begin its season.
“This is something new we’re trying,” Sands said. “In theory it should work.”
When: Saturday (gates open 4:30 p.m.; racing 7 p.m.)
Where: 21050 State Road 64E, Bradenton
What: 3/8 mile oval, asphalt track, 12 degrees banking (corners), 6 degrees banking (straightways)
Admission: Adults $20; senior/military $15; 10-and-under free
Race card: Street stocks, open wheel modified, modified minis, three-quarter midgets and mini stocks