CRESTVIEW — The Emerald Coast Dragway's track is cracked, the control room's windows are shot out, and weeds surround the bleachers. The lone sound comes from rushing vehicles on Interstate 10.
But Ozzy Moya and Robert Brown envision engines screaming, the smell of burning rubber and packed bleachers.
Reviving race tracks is Moya's passion. After selling a chain of auto racing supplies stores in the late 2000s, he rehabilitated the Lakeland Drag Strip, Orlando Speed World Dragway and the South Georgia Motorsports Park near Valdosta.
“He’s amazing. He’s the man,” Brown said. “He’s the 'track whisperer.'”
Now it’s the local track’s turn.
REBIRTH OF A TRACK
Emerald Coast Dragway, between Holt and Harold, was foreclosed in 2011, and crumbled over the past four-and-a-half years as it worked its way through financial and legal systems.
Moya and Brown credit real estate agents Gary Watson of Exit Realty in Pensacola and Jake Maurer of Premier Property Group in Miramar Beach for guiding them through the complicated acquisition. “Without them, it would have been a very hard battle,” Brown said.
The partners anticipate the track's purchase to close on Feb. 26. Within three months, they hope the sound of auto racing will again pierce the air of west Okaloosa County’s rural countryside.
But first, they plan several improvements to the facility, including:
●Repaving the track and bringing the surface up to industry standards
●Replacing metal trackside walls — Moya and Brown call them “can openers” because they can slice open a racecar that hits them — with formed concrete barriers
●Renovating the vandalized control building
●Replacing the front gate and lighting
●Expanding the sand pit at the end of the strip, a safety feature that arrests cars unable to stop
EVENTS AND SAFETY
When the gates open, possibly by Memorial Day weekend, area residents can expect more than high-performance cars zooming down the track.
Moya and Brown want events that attract drivers of all ages and skill levels. “At one of my tracks, we gave a (winning Big Wheel racing) kid 150 bucks in singles,” Moya said.
For a fee, backyard mechanics will be able to test their souped up cars on the track at “test-and-tunes.” Young hopefuls can get their first experiences before embarking on a NASCAR career.
“We’re going to promote the junior drag strip events,” Moya said.
And the partners want to provide a safe place for inexperienced drivers to race. “I cringe when I see these street-racing shows that encourage kids to do that,” Moya said. “We can save some lives here, get the kids off the street.”
“It’s all about safety,” Brown said.
'A LABOR OF LOVE'
As Moya and his wife, Marie, walk the track, they see 5,000 fans in the bleachers, and families sharing an evening together.
“Racing’s a family sport,” Moya said. “Anytime you can offer a sport where you can keep the family doing things together for a long time, it’s a good thing.”
And it benefits the area economy, he said. When tournaments come to the track, drivers and pit crews will stay at Crestview area hotels. They and race fans will dine at local restaurants.
“This is a labor of love for me,” Moya said. “We have big plans for this place.”