CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — It’s the end of the road for race fans in Charlotte County. The 4-17 Southern Speedway may be torn down to build an entertainment venue.
It’s the only track of its kind here in Southwest Florida. You may know big-time racers like Ross Chastain, who got their start here.
Thursday, Airport Authority Commissioners voted to move forward in negotiations with Smugglers Event Management instead of the current speedway owners or a motocross group.
“Our goal is to bring a multi-use facility that can be used not only for concerts, festivals, family friends events, corporate events, boat shows, car shows, but with an upgraded food and beverage component that you don’t normally find at let’s say a fairgrounds,” Jerry Cleffi said, general manager of Smugglers Events.
Current owner, Jon Gentry, was hoping the motocross group would win the build if they didn’t get a chance to lease again. The group had told him they wanted to keep the track and allow them to use it.
Instead, Smugglers plans to demolish the existing infrastructure and build a concert venue fit with a permanent stage and shipping containers for an upgraded food and beverage scene.
The loss of the track will be felt by thousands across Southwest Florida.
“There’s typically between pits and stands, 2500-3000 people that come through [weekly],” Gentry said. “They plan their family vacations around these big races like the one coming up next week.”
Next weekend’s big race may be the last main event to happen at the speedway. They’re hoping to add a few races to fill up the rest of the calendar year, but it doesn’t take the pain away.
“[The] racing community, they’re pretty well devastated,” Gentry said. “It’s just sad to see something go away that’s been here so long.”
Smugglers said whenever they get the green light, they’re ready to start renovations, which means tearing down the track for good.