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Homestead-Miami Speedway braces for Hurricane Irma

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Homestead-Miami Speedway – site of NASCAR’s Nov. 17-19 Ford Championship weekend – has already begun preparation to protect itself for a potential Hurricane Irma landfall this weekend in Florida. 

It’s a tough lesson in storm caution the facility – and immediate area – knows better than most and has proven it can handle.

Officially, the track’s main telephone number answers to a recorded message, “Thanks for calling Homestead-Miami Speedway. Our offices will be closed due to Hurricane Irma until further notice. “

Neal Gulkis, the track’s director of communications, confirmed workers have already been busy taking precautionary measures at the track.

 “We began preparations from a facility standpoint in accordance with our hurricane preparedness plan yesterday,’’ Gulkis said. “They continue today (Wednesday) and in all likelihood into tomorrow.

“They include many of the same things you would do at home – i.e. putting up shutters, taking down canvas and awnings, etc.  We are also tying down or storing away anything that could become a projectile including banners on the leaderboard, garbage cans, temporary bleachers around the road course, etc.”

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The Homestead area has experienced and rebounded from the hardship and devastation that a major hurricane can bring. Hurricane Andrew essentially leveled it and the surrounding area in 1992 and is still considered one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

In the case of the speedway, however, the storm also inspired action.

Longtime South Florida race promoter Ralph Sanchez broke ground on the speedway a year after the storm as part of an effort to restore and rebuild the area, known as the “Gateway to the Florida Keys.” The 1.5-mile track’s first major race was NASCAR’s Busch Grand National (now XFINITY Series) finale in 1995 – an exciting, sellout event won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

Since 2002, the track has hosted NASCAR’s premier championship-crowning races in all three of its major series.

And yet even since then, the facility experienced and recovered from another major hurricane, Hurricane Wilma in October of 2005. Sister ISC tracks (International Speedway Corporation) such as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway assisted getting the track not only back in working order, but ready to host the NASCAR  season finale four weeks later.

Part of the track’s catch-fence, several hundred grandstand seats and even entire hospitality suites were destroyed. Much of the massive clean-up and rebuilding work was done using generators for power in the days right after the storm.

And all the hard work paid off in time for that season’s NASCAR finale. Other than a few oddly colored seats (borrowed from another facility), a large and happy crowd watched Tony Stewart win his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

As for this week, weather.com currently lists the weather for Sunday in Homestead to include rain and 105-mph winds. Showers and high wind are forecast for Saturday through Monday in the immediate area.

“Our operations team – many of who have been here almost as long as the track and are from South Florida – has prepared extensively for weather systems such as this, and our emergency safety procedures are in place,” Gulkis assured.