This weekend’s Nitro Rallycross is a big deal for the county

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KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – This weekend’s Nitro Rallycross race at The Florida International Rally and Motorsports Park isn’t a big deal just because it will bring as much as $2 million to the local economy.

It’s not a big deal just because 2020 NASCAR champion and four-time reigning Most Popular Driver Chase Elliott is in the field.

It’s not a big deal just because world-renowned rallycross drivers like Travis Pastrana, Scott Speed, Timmy and Kevin Hansen and Steve Arpin will compete.

It’s not a big deal just because the race will be shown on the Peacock Network.

It’s a big deal because of all of those things. And more.

If you love motocross racing, you’ll love Nitro RX.

If you love close-corner sports car racing, you’ll love Nitro RX.

If you love stock cars beating and banging, you’ll love Nitro RX.

If you love interacting with some of the most outgoing, if not outrageous, personalities in sports, you’ll love Nitro RX.

And if you love world-level professional sports in our own backyard, you’ll love Nitro RX.

The FIRM has been converted into a high-speed, high-flying circuit of flat pavement, hairpin turns, off-road corners and two-story-tall ramps for the final race for the inaugural Nitro RX season. Either series-founder Pastrana, Speed or Timmy Hansen is likely to leave the track at the Keystone Heights Airport with the championship trophy.

The real winners, however, will be the new fans this daredevil sport attracts.

Getting here was unlikely and difficult. But NRX built it. Now we need to come.

Transportation challenges forced all of the European teams to keep their equipment in the States for the two-month season. They stored their cars and tools in shipping containers and hauled them from stop to stop.

Generally, foreign teams stay a few days after a race to repair and prep cars for the next event. The Thanksgiving holiday and the trucking issues throughout the country prompted them to pack up and get to Florida as soon as possible.

One of the containers arrived late after it was lost – twice – in transit.

Teams unloaded cars from the Nov. 21 race at San Bernardino, California, for the first time Tuesday at The FIRM. The cars were dirty and battered. Fenders crumpled. Bumpers were missing.

If this is the level of racing we can expect Saturday and Sunday, rallycross will make a lot of new fans – and friends – in Northeast Florida.

The track is spectacular. It uses everything The FIRM has to offer – and more. It uses the flat tarmac and soft-sand corners. It goes through the trees and there are a couple of ramps that will test a driver’s nerve and a car’s durability.

The biggest jump has a canyon cut through the middle. To stay on course, a car must fly about 100 feet to the back half of the slope. And if that wasn’t enough, the track circles through the canyon, which means cars will be flying overhead and racing underneath in the same spot like a two-dimensional crazy eight. Bring a camera because it’s one of the best Kodak moments in sports.

Nitro RX took a gamble on The FIRM. It’s the only rallycross race for the organization in the Eastern Time Zone. The series will expand to races in Europe and the Middle East next year, but not before returning to The FIRM.

There will be Subarus, Fords, Hondas, Peugeots, Mini Coopers, Hyundais and Audis on the track. The field will include drivers from the United States, Sweden, Canada, Jamaica, England, Norway and Latvia. What a perfect match for Keystone Heights.

It’s up to us to make sure we’re always part of their international schedule. I know the racing will be wild and entertaining. The beaten cars unloaded Tuesday were proof of that.

Anytime a driver can earn frequent flyer miles while driving a car will certainly get my attention.

And it proves Nitro RX really is a big deal.

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