PINELLAS PARK — In the early 1970s, a young Bob Yoho used to make $30 a night selling Coca-Colas to spectators at the Sunshine Speedway.
In the late 1980s, Yoho started racing at the speedway, where he earned the nickname "Showtime."
In 2012, Yoho, 51, will be the man to bring the speedway back to life. The Pinellas Park native is the winning bidder to rent the property from the state for at least the next five years.
The part-owner (along with his wife, Danielle) of Yoho's Collision Center in Pinellas Park, Yoho will pay $15,853 per month to lease the 125-acre speedway site. The Florida Department of Transportation bought the property on Ulmerton Road, east of Largo, for $20 million in 2004 with plans to build a road over it connecting the Bayside Bridge to Interstate 275.
Funding for the road hasn't come through, though, and the quarter-mile track has been used the last few years to test toll-taking technology. The state decided to put the property up for rent last year at the suggestion of state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Yoho found out last week that his bid bested eight others. He's meeting with Pinellas Park officials today to go over "do's and don'ts," he said, and hopes to have cars racing around the figure-8 track by mid May.
There's a lot of work to be done before then, though. The property needs new grandstands and concession stands, and Yoho has already started reaching out to contractors. He expects some help from his brother, Randy Yoho, the owner of Dade City Motocross.
On Wednesday, Bob Yoho reflected on his long relationship with the track, which opened the year he was born — 1960.
After a night spent selling Cokes, Yoho would always bike over to the Sunshine bowling alley, he said, to pump quarters into the pinball machine until he was broke. Then he'd do the whole thing over again the next night.
Yoho is not banking on reaping a profit from the speedway. He just wants to see Pinellas Park kids entertained, he says, both as spectators and drivers. He plans to open the speedway for practice runs every Thursday, with racing every Saturday night, and the possibility of go-kart racing on Sundays.
"I didn't bid on it to try to change it," he said. "If we get a great five years out of this, and I break even, or lose a couple dollars, it will still be a success, and I'll make a lot of families happy, a lot of children happy."
The Sunshine Dragstrip, the 1/8-mile track adjacent to the speedway, will continue to hold races every weekend, although Yoho said he'll switch the dragstrip's races from Saturdays to Fridays. He hasn't figured out yet if he will manage the dragstrip, or if current management will sublease it from him and continue to run it.
Yoho still races, but said "Showtime" won't race the speedway, because it wouldn't be fair for the owner of the track to participate. When asked how he got that nickname, Yoho laughed.
"Because of the way I race," he said. "I might not win, but you'll know I was there."
Will Hobson can be reached at 727-445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.