Longtime South Florida businessman and Homestead-Miami Speedway founder Rafael "Ralph" S�nchez died Monday morning. S�nchez (1948-2013) had been in declining health for much of the past year. He is survived by wife Lourdes, daughter Patricia and son Ralph Jr.
S�nchez, who founded and managed the Grand Prix of Miami starting in 1983, led efforts to bring the motorsports facility to Homestead. He worked with City of Homestead and Miami-Dade County officials to make the track a reality. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the track took place on Aug. 24, 1993 -- exactly one year after Hurricane Andrew wiped out much of Homestead. The track is credited with being a major catalyst for redevelopment following the Category Five hurricane that leveled large portions of Miami-Dade County.
"I am saddened to learn of Ralph's passing and offer my condolences to Lourdes, Patricia and Ralph Jr.," said Homestead-Miami Speedway President Matthew Becherer. "Whether it's the championship races that receive worldwide attention, the economic impact, or the countless memories made by fans that attend track events, it's directly attributable to Ralph and his foresight. The team at Homestead-Miami Speedway and racing fans in this region are indebted to Ralph. South Florida has lost a true visionary."
Businessman H. Wayne Huizenga joined S�nchez as a track partner before the facility opened two years after construction began with a NASCAR Busch (now Nationwide) Series race in November 1995. In 1997, Penske Motorsports (PMI) and International Speedway Corporation (ISC) became partners with S�nchez and Huizenga. Less than one year later, PMI and ISC purchased S�nchez's remaining interest in Homestead-Miami Speedway. ISC became the sole operator in 1999. The facility will host season-ending championship races in NASCAR's top three touring series for the 12th consecutive year in November (15-17).
Al Garcia, the vice president for operations at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the longest tenured track employee, worked for S�nchez starting in 1984. Garcia remembers him fondly: "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 been a lucrative career as a developer. I am very proud to have known Ralph and to have worked alongside him."
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