PINELLAS PARK — Bob Yoho stood on the track of the former Sunshine Speedway on Monday afternoon and looked with a frown to the west, where the bleachers should be.
There were no bleachers, just piles of dirt. Behind him, east of the speedway, a crane cleared small trees for a parking lot.
"It's like no bleacher company in the state is interested in making any money," complained Yoho, 51, the man trying to bring the dormant speedway back to life.
Last Saturday was supposed to be the grand opening for the new Showtime Speedway, the reincarnated quarter-mile race track Yoho has been pouring thousands of dollars and hours of hard work into this year. But hiccups like the bleacher troubles have forced him to miss his goal of a May opening.
The Showtime Dragstrip is open, though, and hosting events every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Yoho hopes the sparse attendance at those events isn't a harbinger of things to come for the speedway. He's counting on crowds to drive up 126th Ave N and pay $10 admission to the strip to help defray the $800,000 he expects to spend bringing the speedway back to life.
Yoho, the owner of a Pinellas Park towing and collision company, won the bid to lease the speedway and dragstrip in January. The speedway closed in 2004 after the Florida Department of Transportation paid $20 million for the 125-acre site on Ulmerton Road east of Largo. The state had planned to build a road over the land connecting the Bayside Bridge to Interstate 275.
After using the speedway to test toll-taking technology for a few years while waiting for funding for the new road, the department decided to lease out the property. Yoho pays the state more than $16,000 per month and has worked long hours since January refurbishing the site.
He installed new walls and a new timing element for the drag strip, gave the speedway a fresh paint job and installed new fixtures in the bathrooms and concession stands, among many other chores. He chuckled Monday when asked how many hours per week he spends at the track.
"How many hours are we here a week? Forty?" he asked Norm Cole, 64, the general manager of the drag strip.
"Aw h---, way over 40. Closer to 70," said Cole, 64. "If my wife knew how many hours I've spent here, she'd divorce me."
The bleachers have been Yoho's biggest problem. A few companies are interested in providing the seating for 3,000 that Yoho wants, he said, but none have submitted plans for approval to Pinellas Park. As a result, Yoho plans to have a "soft opening" for the speedway in the next few weeks and invite fans to bring lawn chairs to watch the cars rumble around the figure-8 track he raced on in the 1980s.
The speedway's new name, Showtime, was Yoho's racing nickname.
In the meantime, Yoho urges racing fans to check the website for the drag strip, showtimedrag strip.us, for scheduled events and to attend so he has money to finish his work on the speedway. Every Wednesday, racers test and tune their cars on the ⅛-mile drag strip, every Friday they race, and every Saturday Yoho gives local dragsters the opportunity to race for $15 each.
Racing fans can also check the speedway's website, showtimespeedway.us, for updates on its opening.
"He's on track to get it open," said James Glover, 45, a friend of Yoho's helping out around the track. "I just think his aspirations were outside the reach of anyone."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.