Tracy Patton and Seth Munson drove 13 hours from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for a front row seat at last weekend’s Nitro Rallycross race at the Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park. It proved to be time well spent.
“This is better than we hoped,” Munson said. “I watched rallycross on TV and I decided I wanted to see it in person. Being here in person is cooler than on TV.”
Eric and Sharon Smith drove 13 minutes to the racetrack facility at the Keystone Heights Airport. Like the out-of-state fans, they were amazed at the sights and sounds of cars on dirt, pavement and flying in the air.
“We came here because of Chase Elliott,” Eric said. “I really like this racing. It’s cool. We bought our tickets on Friday and I’m glad we did. We will be back.”
The Smiths were lucky. By purchasing tickets in advance, they weren’t shut out when the last ticket for Sunday was sold on Saturday afternoon.
Despite being in a small, rural area, Keystone Heights and neighboring Starke put on a big show. Not only was Nitro RX impressed, so was an international audience who watched two days of high-flying action on television.
“When you’re putting on a show, it’s a real tell-tale when the first day [Saturday] fills the second day,” series founder and driver Travis Pastrana said. “A lot of times when they come back, they expect more. When you can deliver better than what people expect, that’s always key. It’s only going to get better from here. We focus so hard to make this racing authentic and legitimate, the tracks the best we could.”
Pastrana was more concerned with building the perfect off-road track that using a big city skyline as a backdrop. The FIRM exceeded his expectations.
“Just looking at the mistakes of rallycross in the past where they’d try to go where the crowds would be,” he said. “I want to go and get the best tracks. Let’s get the best racing. Let’s get the best TV. And when you can bring in a crowd, that’s awesome. Although it’s a little far out and you’re not getting the 30,000 spectators, the spectators that were there were all motorheads. They were all into motocross, into NASCAR and Late Models. A lot of them are going to go back and go to The FIRM. We brought in a lot of clay and opened up the area. It’s going to be better for them to teach rally and hope we grow the sport. It’s really a great area for motorsports.”
Officials with Nitro RX, Airstream Ventures and the Keystone Heights Airport Authority will meet in the next couple weeks to decide if the series will return in 2022, according to KHAA board member David Kirkland.
It’s clear the City of Keystone Heights, Clay and Bradford counties and thousands of fans who packed every seat and stood 10-deep against the fence want Nitro RX back. And it’s clear Pastrana, who won the series’ first championship last Sunday, wants to be back.
“I really believe it’s a great area for motorsports,” he said. “The great part is this track was so awesome. There’s definitely a lot we need to do to make it more raceable for years to come, but I think for the first year, it was our chance to prove the concept. Working with everyone there, and how excited the drivers were and the fans were, I know it was a tougher call for guys higher up [in the organization] than me to say, ‘I don’t know if the area is big enough where we want to do this in the future.’ But for me, it’s exactly what we need to do in the future. Those are outside of my call – a little bit – but it’s really where I’m hoping to go. You have a rally training school. You have everything we put into that track. They can take it and build the sport from the grassroots up. That’s what we need to keep building the sport.”
Pastrana already has ideas to make the show even more exciting by incorporating his popular Nitro Circus show with rallycross to create an overwhelming rush for the biggest of adrenaline junkies.
“We found out the tracks we want to come back to and the tracks we don’t. We’ve got to really go out in the next couple months in the offseason and get the backing to make it even better, make it even more spectacular. In the down time, we had the Can-Ams and the side-by-side and the Light [NRX Next] cars, but I want a Nitro Circus show. I want to make this even more exciting, not just for racing enthusiasts, but as a father I know I can’t go off on weekends to things my kids don’t want to go to. We can do a better job with Nitro Circus and put on a great show.”
That means adding five-story-tall daredevil flips and jumps to three racing divisions that kick up a lot of dust – and keep the crowds satisfied.
“This is wow,” said Green Cove Springs fan Chris Buckaloo. “I can’t believe how big the turnout was.”
And it’s only going to get better.
“That’s a good start. If they come back, they’ll bring friends, and we’ll start building these areas,” Pastrana said. “This was the most regular kind of track and we definitely had the most carnage, for sure. It was difficult to pass. I tell you: I love The FIRM. You guys have been awesome, everyone down here in Florida.”
And we’ll keep the light on for you when you come back.
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