On Tuesday, one of the most successful open wheel drivers of all time, Emerson Fittipaldi, visited Homestead-Miami Speedway and got behind the wheel of the historic Spirit of Miami racecar. The Spirit of Miami, which was driven by Fittipaldi in 1984, has great significance to both Fittipaldi and the Speedway.
In 1984, Ralph Sanchez – a longtime Miami motorsports promoter and founder of Homestead-Miami Speedway -- coaxed Fittipaldi out of retirement to drive for him in the Miami Grand Prix. The two-time Formula One champion (1972, 1974), Fittipaldi agreed to compete in the race and won the pole position before a transmission problem knocked the Spirit of Miami out of contention.
Following the 1984 Miami Grand Prix, Fittipaldi made a return to racing, becoming a series regular on the CART IndyCar circuit. Fittipaldi would go on to win the Indy 500 on two occasions (1989, 1993) and is thankful for Sanchez’s help in convincing him to come out of retirement.
“It’s a very special moment to, after 34 years, go back to Homestead and drive the car. Everything comes back in my memory, it’s very emotional for me,” said Fittipaldi. “Ralph’s contribution to motorsports in Miami, Florida and America was huge, but to me personally it was the way I came back from retirement. Then after the race here I felt so good and it was the way to Indianapolis for the Indy 500. Thanks to Ralph, I then had my very long IndyCar career.”
During Fittipaldi’s final season as an IndyCar driver, he got a chance to drive in the 1996 Grand Prix of Miami – the first IndyCar race held at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Seeing the growth of Homestead-Miami Speedway has given Fittipaldi an appreciation for Sanchez’s impact on the motorsports community in South Florida.
“The beginning of a big, historic event was the Miami Grand Prix and now Homestead-Miami Speedway – that’s part of motorsports in Miami,” said Fittipaldi. “It’s the championship race for NASCAR. The most important race for NASCAR is here. History has been made in Homestead thanks to Ralph. He had the vision to do all of this. International motor racing owes a lot to Ralph Sanchez.”