Ralph Sanchez has died
Ralph Sanchez at the August 1993 groundbreaking for Homestead-Miami Speedway. Photo courtesy South Dade News Leader
The racing world lost an innovator in South Florida when Rafael “Ralph” Sanchez succumbed to physical maladies that had plagued him for much of the past year. Ralph Sanchez leaves behind his wife Lourdes, daughter Patricia, son Ralph Jr and a host of friends made and kept during a long career in the sport.
Sanchez, born in 1948, founded and managed the Grand Prix of Miami, beginning in 1983. He was a hands-on manager who brought the CART championship to his adopted hometown of Miami and later to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where devastation from Hurricane Andrew had flattened the town. He had a vision of racing being the catalyst of renewal for the Homestead and Florida City areas and neatly managed to fulfill that destiny.
Born in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, Sanchez came to the United States when his father became fearful for the safety of his son. He lived with an aunt and uncle before they moved to Nicaragua, then in a Catholic orphanage to adulthood, before his family joined him in Miami through freedom flights in 1966 and 1967.
Sanchez, after earning an accounting degree from Florida Atlantic University worked in real estate, becoming a land developer and a motorsports promoter, which became his passion and elevated him in the world of racing. The initial races in the mid-1980s that were promoted by Sanchez were always hard-fought and well-run.
Sanchez convinced the City of Homestead and Miami-Dade County officials to make Homestead-Miami Speedway a cornerstone of South Florida racing activity. Groundbreaking took place in late August of 1993 – a year after the massive hurricane pummeled the area – and the first NASCAR Busch Series (now Nationwide) race took place in November of 1995. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, CART and later INDYCAR followed and had many exciting events on the 1.5-mile oval, which has been reconfigured many times.
In 1997 Penske Motorsports (PMI) and International Speedway Corp.(ISC) joined with Sanchez and his partner H. Wayne Huizenga in running the track. Less a year after that, these two entities purchased the balance of Sanchez’ shares in the facility, which became an ISC track in 1999. Homestead-Miami Speedway has been the site of NASCAR’s season finale for 11 years and will host the final races for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World series again this November, for the 12th consecutive year.
Ralph Sanchez was always a tireless worker at his events and always had a willing smile for all participants and fans he encountered. Al Garcia, VP of operations and the longest tenured track employee at Homestead-Miami Speedway had these appropriate words to say about his former boss: “He was charismatic, yet tough as nails. Above all, Ralph was very loyal. You have to give him credit for pursuing his dreams in racing and foregoing what had been, to that point a lucrative career as a developer. I am very proud to have known Ralph and to have worked alongside him.”
Ralph Sanchez will certainly be missed in the racing community. Plans for his memorial service are forthcoming.
By Anne Proffit