The first full season of competition at Florence Motor Speedway under the guidance of new owners Steve Zacharias and Savannah Brotherton is set to begin this weekend with the Icebreaker.
Zacharias, Brotherton and the rest of their staff have worked tirelessly to transform Florence into a modern facility after officially taking over in July 2020, with Zacharias expressing optimism that 2021 will be the first of many great seasons at the track.
“I’m ready to get season one going even though we had an abbreviated 2020 at [Florence],” Zacharias said. “We’re really excited about the Icebreaker this weekend and everyone is looking forward to getting things started up.”
Previously serving as the general manager of Myrtle Beach Speedway, Zacharias was saddened when he learned that the track would be ceasing operations at the end of the 2020 season, but he was also initially concerned about his future within the short track industry and began searching for employment elsewhere.
Long-time Myrtle Beach competitor Jamie Weatherford came to Zacharias’ aid by getting him connected with Charlie Powell, who was looking to sell Florence. The two engaged in numerous conversations before Powell agreed to let Zacharias and his staff purchase the track and begin holding races there following Myrtle Beach’s final race on Aug. 15.
Powell passed away from COVID-19 complications less than a month after the transaction was completed, but Zacharias was determined to maintain the same passion Powell displayed at Florence for so many years and formally began the track’s new era on Sept. 4 with a 100-lap Late Model Stock Car feature won by six-time Myrtle Beach track champion Sam Yarbrough.
While numerous tracks around the East Coast dealt with several challenges that stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic, Zacharias said that he encountered relatively few financial issues and was impressed by the amount of people who came out to support Florence’s reopening as opposed to the crowds Myrtle Beach typically received.
“Unfortunately I was used to only 300 people showing up at Myrtle Beach,” Zacharias said. “We did everything we could to get great crowds there and it just never worked out. Florence proved to be a different animal, because we all love racing in this area, yet we don’t have the Medieval Times, Dollywood or all the things Myrtle had. Car counts and crowds were great, which bodes well for the potential of Florence Motor Speedway.”
With regular events returning to Florence that included the rebranded South Carolina 400 from Myrtle Beach and the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour-sanctioned Aaron’s 250, Zacharias methodically went to work on improving the foundations at the track so that both fans and competitors could be provided with a quality experience on each visit.
“I didn’t have time to build concession stands for the first race, so we had food trucks that week,” Zacharias said. “Right now, we’ve torn down a building in the infield and we’re going to put in brand new bathrooms, but those won’t be ready for the Icebreaker. We’re trying to get power back in the infield and we’ve finished the grandstands with everything being aluminum now. I also want to make sure that we do a really good broadcast for the 2021 season. Every day is a new day around here.”
Currently, Zacharias has no plans to add any other major races to Florence’s packed schedule that will see the CARS Tour return on Oct. 2, and is focused on putting on the best event possible for the Icebreaker, which has over two dozen drivers on the preliminary LMSC entry list after 35 started the South Carolina 400 in November.
Zacharias is excited to kick off the 2021 season with what he believes will be a fantastic Icebreaker and is hoping to enjoy a sense of normalcy at Florence now that his staff is done transitioning from Myrtle Beach and devoting their efforts towards making Florence a premier short track destination on the East Coast.
“I’m just excited to being back in one place for 2021,” Zacharias said. “Last year was insane for me to try and help Bob [Lutz] close everything properly over there without walking away bitter or upset over anything. With that being said, it was crazy to end everything at Myrtle Beach and then start something at Florence, but this year we can all focus on just one track and build from there.”
The feature races for the Icebreaker will begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday with the 125-lap LMSC feature that will include a talented field consisting of two-time CARS LMSC Tour champion Bobby McCarty and defending NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series champion Josh Berry.
Photo by Andy Marquis