We waited longer than what we thought, but our 25th anniversary weekend finally came to pass, as we commemorated many great moments of our facility, both leading up to and during the course of the weekend.
And while it was vastly different from previous race weekends in many respects, I want to thank the entire Homestead community – government officials, residents and businesses – for having a hand in this.
Everyone should be proud of what we were able to accomplish and the visibility that we gained as a track and as a community by being the first major pro sporting event to welcome back fans, as we hosted about 1,000 South Florida military members for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Dixie Vodka 400.
I said this many times as a prelude to the weekend, but just as Homestead-Miami Speedway was a sign of hope in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, once again we were in a position of being an indicator of optimism amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And while this was just the start of NASCAR’s rollout for the return of fans, it was an important foundation that hopefully will pave the way as we return to some semblance of normalcy.
The traction that our sport has received nationally since its return in mid-May has been fantastic. Television ratings have skyrocketed, and the number of new viewers that we are getting every week has expanded. This period, while it is something that none of us wish we ever to have experience again, has provided NASCAR a forum that is unopposed in the professional sports world.
And now the fact that we are starting to have fans at our events has created another critical component in our increased prominence. People are now looking at us as a model to emulate, and taking note that our sport has the ability to put together a safe, healthy and methodical way in which we can welcome fans back to our tracks.
It’s something that we as an industry take a great deal of pride in, and certainly understand how imperative it is that we get it right, and are able to take a step forward, and not two steps back. There has been a lot of time, effort and research conducted on the part of many people at NASCAR to ensure that this works to its fullest, and we are committed to continue this progress.
And progress is what we have all been about since entering the scene 25 years ago. We have been a source of pride, in that once a year each year since 1995, NASCAR has descended upon on our track, and in all three national series every year since 1999. Locals anticipate it, regardless of whether or not they come to the races.
And this year was very special. I’ve said this before, but when you have something and it’s taken away, it makes you yearn for it that much more. That is definitely the case now with sports and NASCAR. When it was determined that we would be hosting 1,000 military members at our Cup race on Sunday, I can’t tell you how many calls I got from friends wishing they could be there as well.
For those in the community, the sounds of cars on the track – that some were able to hear from their homes – was music to their ears. It was a different time of the year than what it’s ever been as we’ve never previously run NASCAR – or IndyCar for that matter – in the month June, but it was a welcomed sight and sound.
We saw the final full-time ride for 7-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, and paid tribute to his career prior to Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400. Appropriately, we renamed our Turn 3 tunnel, “The Jimmie Johnson Southernmost Tunnel,” highlighting the seven trophies he claimed at our track. Now everyone who comes through there will know exactly what he achieved. And when you’ve made 20 starts and more than one-third of them have resulted in a championship, that is something pretty special.
At the track, we tried to make it as much of an experience as what we could for the military guests we hosted. While there were no displays or pre-race concerts, we did have some unique Miami elements as part of the lineup leading up to the green flag. Hialeah’s own Jon Secada, a three-time Grammy Award winner, performed the virtual National Anthem. What a lot of people might not remember is that he sang the anthem in-person at our track in 2010 prior to our IndyCar event that year. Former University of Miami Head football coach Jimmy Johnson, who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer, provided the virtual command for driver to start their engines. And “305” himself, rapper Pitbull, gave a special in-house video welcome to the 1,000 military guests we had on hand.
It was a true honor to have with us Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Núñez and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. All three played a critical role in, not just the return if pro sports to the State of Florida, but the ability to be the first venue to host fans as that process begins to ramp up.
And this local flavor is the type of thing we are looking to do each and every year as we have an eye towards the future. We hosted the season finale for 18 straight years – a stretch of which will likely never be matched – and had a lot of fun doing it and experienced a tremendous amount of success, a sentiment echoed by many of the drivers who relished the opportunity to compete for a title on our 1.5-mile oval with our variable banking.
Miami is who we are and what we will be, and this will be conveyed to everyone who comes to the track moving forward. And this has us very excited for 2021 as we welcome back fans.