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Business accelerating at Showtime Speedway as year ends

The Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park had a full slate of races on New Year’s Eve, about a year after Bob Yoho won the bidding to lease the former Sunshine Speedway and made about $750,000 in improvements.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

The Showtime Speedway in Pinellas Park had a full slate of races on New Year’s Eve, about a year after Bob Yoho won the bidding to lease the former Sunshine Speedway and made about $750,000 in improvements.

PINELLAS PARK — Bob Yoho is driving a cherry Dodge Charger covered in "Showtime Speedway" decals. The Charger still has that new-car smell and, according to industry estimates, can top 175 miles per hour.

Yoho, the man who brought the old Sunshine Speedway back to life in 2012 under a new name, is talking fast enough to make the following question literal rather than figurative: "What moves faster, Bob Yoho's car or Bob Yoho's mouth?"

It is just before noon on New Year's Eve. There are several races scheduled for the evening and Yoho is worried about the carbon dioxide. You need carbon dioxide to serve soda and beer, and Yoho doesn't think he has enough.

2012 was a big year for Yoho, the 52-year-old owner of a Pinellas Park towing and collision company named (of course) Yoho's. In January, he won the bid to lease the site of the former Sunshine Speedway, a quarter-mile and figure-8 race track that closed in 2004 when the state bought it with plans to build a road over it.

Yoho christened the reincarnated speedway "Showtime," his nickname when he raced the old track in the 1980s. He says he sank about $750,000 into the property, putting in new stands, a new scoreboard, clearing the parking lots and more.

He hasn't started making money back yet, he says, but the crowds that come to the weekly races at the speedway and the drag strip (for a full schedule of events, check showtimespeedway.us) are helping the property cover its costs. Yoho might not be making money yet, but he isn't losing any more money, he says.

Yoho is touring the property in the Charger — the track's official pace car — Monday when the phone rings. The number for the speedway goes to Yoho's cellphone. He gets a lot of calls.

"Showtime," Yoho says. "Ma'am, I've got a big event tonight. I don't have time. Thanks."

He pulls the Charger past a mud pit in a corner of the property. In addition to the speedway and the adjacent 1/8-mile asphalt drag strip, Yoho has added a mud drag strip where drivers can race in the muck. He says about 800 people showed up Saturday for the first mud drag racing event.

Then he remembers the carbon dioxide. He accelerates. The Charger zooms out the speedway entrance onto 126th Avenue N. He hangs a quick right, but the place where he gets carbon dioxide is closed. Yoho curses.

"One man can't remember everything. I can try, though," he says as he drives back to the track. The phone rings.

"Showtime. Hello? . . . Practice Wednesdays and Fridays. Mmbye."

Yoho has heard rumors the state is finally getting the money together to pay for that road linking the Bayside Bridge to Interstate 275, but he doesn't care. He's got a five-year lease, and he plans to make the most of it. He hasn't overextended his finances bringing the track back to life, he says, but he admits he's not hitting his attendance goals. He expected 1,000 people per night. He's getting between 400 and 500.

"I don't know," he said when asked what he needs to draw bigger crowds. "I think the economy just needs to come around . . . I'm trying."

The phone rings.

"Showtime . . . Well, there won't be a band tonight, we couldn't get one in time. And we can't set off fireworks, but if you come down tonight I can assure you it will be a good show."

He isn't kidding about the show. Some time before midnight (but probably closer to 9 p.m.) Yoho says he'll ride a motorcycle up a ramp in the middle of the speedway and jump 10 cars, a distance of about 150 feet.

A second later he acknowledges he probably won't do it. His 68-year-old mother, Sylvia, has objected. Someone is jumping those cars, though, he says. If mom puts her foot down, then Yoho's 36-year-old nephew, Kenny, will do it.

Yoho needs to keep his mother happy. Like many members of the Yoho clan, she pitches in at the Speedway, cooking the pulled pork that will be served to fans Monday night.

Yoho parks the Charger near the concession stands/office and ponders a question: What will 2013 hold for the Showtime Speedway? More upgrades, he says. Better stands, with cushions. A completed VIP booth. More concession stands.

"By the end of next year . . . I think we will be one of the top speedways in Florida. I really do," he says.

He walks back to the office to figure out staffing for the night. His phone rings.

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Business accelerating at Showtime Speedway as year ends 01/01/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 3:30am]
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