The FIRM offers unique offer challenges to novice, professional, Special Forces drivers

By Don Coble don@opcfla.com
Posted 2/17/21

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Whether it be Seal Team Six, a weekend Walter Mitty driver or professional race team looking for squeeze a little more speed out of a car, the wheels never stop turning at the …

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The FIRM offers unique offer challenges to novice, professional, Special Forces drivers

Posted

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Whether it be Seal Team Six, a weekend Walter Mitty driver or professional race team looking for squeeze a little more speed out of a car, the wheels never stop turning at the Florida International Rally and Motorsport Park at the Keystone Heights Airport.

The 420-acre complex has tracks for every high-speed obsession, from novices learning how to shift gears to an off-road thrill-seeker looking to kick up a lot of dust, the sound of high-revving engines never dies just a couple miles west of town on State Road 100.

“We only close on Christmas and Thanksgiving,” said John Van Buskirk, the tracks business development manager. “Other than that, we stay very busy.”

The track was booked for open and private sessions for 26 of 28 days in February.

The paved road course is 1.6 miles long with 10 turns, banked corners, hairpin and elevation changes. The course can be configured to include extra chicanes to provide additional challenges to the most-experienced racer.

The facility also has a pair of off-road rally courses that can be configured to seven miles, a 1,700-foot-long skid pad made of lime rock to learn car control and high-speed maneuvers and a half-mile karting track.

The FIRM can feed any need for speed.

“The combined tracks can be configured for 20 miles of racing,” Van Buskirk said.

And they can be organized to fit any skill level.

Track officials evaluate new drivers. Some start in the classroom, learning the basics of navigating high-speed corners, proper braking techniques and understanding how to shift gears. Others are allowed on the road or rally courses, but their progress is closely scrutinized. Professional level racers, use the diverse motorsports facility has their personal playground.

One of the track’s regulars is Travis Pastrana, who’s won X Games gold medals in supercross, motocross and rally racing. He was at the track last week, evaluating it for possible future events.

“Between the [Sports Car Club of America] and our own events, we probably have 1,000 customers a year go through here,” Van Buskirk said.

Van Buskirk said about 200 go through the Rally school and another 500 go through classes for the road course. A lot of people may have more experience than they think they do. This is where they can find out.”

The SCCA had the track last weekend with the ProSolos on Friday and Saturday and the CFR RallyCross on the skid pad also on Saturday. The road course was open to any racer on Sunday.

The track evolved at what once as Crystal Lake Army Airfield that quickly was known as the Keystone Army Airfield. It was used to teach tactical combat techniques during World War II.

Once the war was over, the base turned over the facility to the City of Keystone Heights as a private airport, but the airport’s connection to the military remains strong.

“There is a lot of military training classes here because we can simulate a lot of different situations they face,” Van Buskirk said. “Special Forces, Seal Team Six, train here ahead of missions to refine their next assignment.”

In 1998, English rally driver Ivor Wigham set up the seven-mile European Rally School through the sand, scrub wood and pine forest on the corner of airport property.

“The rally driver is the most complete driver you can find,” Wigham told racingcircuits.info. “He can drive on all surfaces, in all kinds of conditions, in all vehicles – and that’s just what the military wants.”

Wigham invested $2 million in 2008 to create the 1.6-mile road course. Wigham then sold the track in 2012 to the investment firm, The Strategic Group of Gainesville.

IndyCar teams have tested at The FIRM ahead of the season-opening road-course race at St. Petersburg. Disney and FOX also have filmed there

The FIRM has its own fleet of racing vehicles, including Jeeps, rally racers, trucks and road-course cars. Drivers also are allowed to bring their own cars during open sessions.

“A lot of people who come here are trying to learn how to drive in competitive situations,” Van Buskirk said. “Not only do they learn something, they have a blast doing it.”

For more information, visit gorally.com.

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