I am the luckiest race fan in the world. At least that’s what I think when I look back at my time working at what is now called the Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s lived under many names over the past 12 years; The Homestead Motorsports Complex, the Metro-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex, the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex, and finally, Homestead-Miami Speedway. I used to have to type all of those names out because between 1995 and 1999, I ran the official website for the race track, racemiami.com.
In 1995, I was developing websites for the new frontier called the internet. Nobody really knew what it was back hen. Email was really an AOL thing. So, I had a new company and I needed a feather in my cap, as it were, so I gathered up my courage and made an appointment to meet the promotions director at Miami Motorsports L.L.C. I pitched him the idea of making a website for the new Indy-styled oval they had built in Homestead. I bartered my way into the job, which helped me get my career building websites off the ground.
More importantly, at least to me, was the unfettered access I got to the track, the garage, and eventually even Victory Lane.
I won’t bore you all with the technical stuff, you know, the website development junk. It would have been limited to that if the PR guy at the time didn’t ask me for a favor. He asked if I could make these little print out sheets that updated the top 10 every 10 laps or so. Some girl would come up to where I was set up in timing and scoring and pick them up and bring them down to the media center for distribution. In exchange, I could spend the race weekends for NASCAR, CART and the AMA fully credentialed. What race fan would refuse. So pretty much for every event from 1996-1999 (when the track was sold to ISC), I was living the dream of every race fan.
So now that I’ve set the table, let me relay some of my treasured memories of racing at Homestead.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, DAVE REZENDES?
The first time I went through the process of picking up my credentials for a race was a real eye-opener. There I am, standing in line at the Registration center outside the backstretch of the track, when I find my self standing next to none other than one Bobby Allison. This was the first of many conflicted moments where being a fan AND acting as a professional clash. What do you do when you find yourself in the presence of one of your heroes, but you are also credentialed as a “Media” member. Those media types, I soon learned, don’t always enjoy the best of reputations amongst the competitors. Maybe some do, those like Poole who they know. Me, I am a nobody. I am a small fish who looks like a freaking hippie with hair down to my butt, but who also knows his racing in spite of his appearance. So there’s Bobby Allison. There’s me. I am nobody. I am supposedly professional. What do I do?
I found this is my lot in this gig. I am the outsider looking in, a fly on the wall, unable to summon up the courage to approach my heroes. Over the course of my Homestead gig, this scene repeats itself many times. With Terry Labonte. With Kyle Petty. With Earnhardt the elder, Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty and a NASCAR rookie named Tony Stewart.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, This is 1996 and now I am in the garage area heading for timing and scoring with my little red wagon stuffed with computer gear and a digital camera. Oh, that camera. An ancient thing by today’s standards. a Kodak number that took like a full second to actually take a picture from the time you hit the button. I think it was the only one in the garage at that time. All these full on photographers with their Nikon’s filled with real film and lenses the length of my arm would look at my digital apparatus and furrow puzzledly. What is that? A digital camera. Really? Looks like a toy. Maybe, but I’ll be published by 6pm.
I load in and find myself immersed in the social equivalent of a traveling circus. Everyone seems to know each other, there are inside jokes, innuendo, Slim Jims and ashtrays for everyone. Most of the folks in timing and scoring are related directly to the race teams. Some are wives, some are girlfriends, some are sisters, all connected to individual race teams which they are assigned to score. There is a computer system in place along with transponders in each race vehicle, but these humans are the backup, the cross reference for settling discrepancies.
The ringmaster for timing and scoring for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was a woman named Betsy. Her face was lined with years of sun and tobacco. Her tone was very, very firm and when she said jump, you asked which bridge you should use. On my first day there, I saw her make a race team repaint their truck because she couldn’t read the numbers clearly. It was a nice looking truck from an independent team who had obviously spent some time on the presentation, but she didn’t want any gradient color schemes on the actual numbers. They fussed. She parked them for the first practice session. It was repainted by noon.
The race itself was the typical Craftsman Truck race of the time. A couple of Cup guys, Geoff Bodine (who had the pole), Joe Nemechek and Ken Schrader showed up. In the end, it was a duel between Jack Sprague and Ron Hornaday , who beat and banged their way out of a win on the last lap, with Dave Resendez making his way sideways through the smoke to claim victory.
Wait a minute…. Dave Rezendewho?
Yup, Dave Rezendes. Kinda faded away over the following seasons, but he ran well before the marketing reality caught up with the New Englander. He won like 2 or 3 races that year and that was that. Someone will tell me where he is now.
My lasting memory of that weekend was leaving the track the first day I was there. The garage was closed and a handful of mechanics and track officials were stillaround. There was the wonderful smell of diesel and onions lingering in the air. It was a beautiful Florida sunset making all the sleeping trucks tinged orange. I smiled. I couldn’t wait to be back.
NEXT UP: Tragedy& Triumph