ST. PETERSBURG — Not much could surpass the passion that Cal Holland Jr. had for the Florida Gators or former NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
Greyhound racing was the exception.
"He loved the dogs," said his father Cal Holland, president of the Tampa Bay Greyhound Association and a kennel owner at Derby Lane. "He was about 3 months old when he came in the greyhound business. We had our own kennel (in Miami) and put him in his little carrying case and took him to the kennel. We had a special place for him so we could do our work, and he kept looking and laughing at the dogs."
Mr. Holland Jr., 50, a St. Petersburg resident, died on April 4. A memorial service is set for 1-3 p.m. on Sunday at Royal Palm North Funeral Chapel, 2600 Gandy Blvd. N in St. Petersburg.
"He was a very good trainer, very good at what he did," Derby Lane racing secretary Les Robison said. "I respected him a lot. I was very, very happy that CJ was part of our family, and we're going to miss him."
Mr. Holland, a native of Hialeah and the oldest of three siblings, was the family's fourth of five generations to be involved with greyhounds. He worked with dogs in Colorado, Florida, West Virginia and Wisconsin — even hauling them as far as Oregon.
Besides assisting his father at Derby Lane, he worked for kennel owners Rod Connell, Randy and Pat Floyd, and Vincent Savill of Whitman, Mass., who owned Patriot kennel, Mr. Holland's final job as manager and trainer.
"He was a valued employee and a good friend," Randy Floyd said. "I knew him since I first got in the business 40 years ago when I worked for Cal Sr. at Tampa (Greyhound Track). He was a little bitty tyke (back then)."
Pat Floyd said Mr. Holland was a class act who relished working with Joe Hearns, the Floyds' only All-America first-team selection in 2005.
"Anywhere, he was so respectful to people," she said. "I never heard Cal criticize anyone. He once told me, 'You know Pat, Joe Hearns is the best dog I ever snapped a lead on.' He was good with all the dogs."
Joe Hearns, a stakes-winning dog who finished sixth in the inaugural Derby Lane Million in 2006, died several months ago at age 12.
Mr. Holland left the Floyd operation in 2011 to take over Patriot, which won three of its four Derby Lane championships under his leadership. He also trained 2013 All-America first-team member and stakes winner Venus Espinosa.
Jenna Holland, 23, who works for Patriot, said her father stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy kennel.
"He always taught me about injuries," she said. "He said the No. 1 thing is the active list.
"Dad watched Swamp People all the time, and he really loved to grill stakes, ribs and chicken. He was big into (preacher and televangelist) Joel Osteen, and got emails from him every day. He would go to the gym for a while, stop, go back and stop again.
"Every time I get a win (now), I'm like, 'That was my dad.' For me, being in the kennel is a stress reliever. … It's like all of my worries are left at the (kennel) door."
Justin Holland, 28, trainer for Cal Holland kennel, treasured his father's support.
"I've always been with my dad and he's been at a lot of tracks all over," he said. "I learned everything from him and my grandfather."
One father-son moment for Justin Holland came when he was 8 years old in Denver.
"I did my first turnout with only about six or seven dogs in a little kennel, and (Dad) told me to get it done," he said. "The dogs started jumping on me, and I got them all put up. Then I went over to him and started crying, because the dogs were a handful and they had torn my shirt that I liked. (Dad) was always right there behind me or beside me."
Mr. Holland made an immediate impact on Wisconsin racing. When Wisconsin Dells Greyhound Park became the first Badger State dog track to open on April 30, 1990, the Hollands entered Alabama Tide in the inaugural race. The dog won at 6-1 odds, sparking a memorable presentation with then-Gov. Tommy Thompson presenting the Hollands with a plaque and red and white silk blanket.
After the race, Mr. Holland, Alabama Tide's trainer, told Milwaukee Sentinel reporter Mike Christopulos: "I feel ecstatic because my dog won. He's only 18 months old, but I knew he was good. He's one of our best dogs in my kennel."
Mr. Holland did more than handle greyhounds. He once was the foreman of a crew that built 18-wheeler trailers, a certified welder and a meat cutter.
Family was important to Mr. Holland, whose mother Brenda died in 2012.
"(Dad) loved my grandmother very, very much," Jenna Holland said. "She was the nucleus of our family. … My dad missed her so much."
Eighteen days after her death, Mr. Holland won the $10,000 St. Petersburg Consolation Derby with Art Allen. He dedicated the victory to his mother, and the group in the winner's circle shouted in unison, "Brenda Holland!"
"He worked with me for all those years," Cal Holland said. "He was that type of person that loved everybody. I don't know of anyone in the world that did not like him.
"I've gotten calls from Washington, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Wheeling (W.Va.), Southland (Park in West Memphis, Ark.). … I already do miss him."
Mr. Holland also is survived by wife Joy Holland, stepdaughter Patricia Isaac, brother Robert Holland of Oklahoma and sister Renee Starling of St. Petersburg.