- Matt Colville
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Southern Raceway 9359 Nichols Lake Rd Milton, FL 32583
Year Opened: 1988
Located just east of Pensacola in Milton, FL sits a 3/8-mile dirt track known as Southern Raceway. Also known as “The South’s Finest Dirt Track,” Southern Raceway opened on Labor Day in 1988 and has brought excitement to fans and drivers of all ages from beginners to long-time veterans. The raceway offers all forms of racing from pure stock, stingers, open wheel modified, and sprints and late models, just to name a few.
Every October the track closes out its racing season by hosting the Southern 100, which is considered the biggest dirt track race of the year in Florida. The Late Model 100 lap feature lasts 3 days and attracts some of the top late model dirt track drivers in the country.
Food & Beverage 4
As soon as you enter through the main gate the main thing most people notice is the massive selection of food on offer – after entering through the main gate there are food booths lined up along the entire walkway. Sugar Shack is located at the far north end and here you can find typical sweet items such as funnel cake, packaged candy, cotton candy, and pretzels; Sugar Shack sells ice cream and sno cones as well. But the biggest food booth on the walkway is the Straightaway Café; this stand is set up like the typical food booth you would find at a local fair or carnival, with a makeshift café setup where you walk in and place your order. The basics such as hot dogs and hamburgers are sold here and the prices are reasonable.
Right next to Straightaway Cafe there is a boiled peanut stand as well where you can get a bucket of peanuts for just $7. Continuing down the walkway is a grill stand set up that sells grilled items, as well as a pork stand that offers pulled pork sandwiches and ribs. In addition to the wide selection of food, alcohol is prevalent as well, with a liquor bar in addition to another stand that sells draft and canned beer. For such a small venue food is plentiful, and this is one place I would recommend getting something to eat at the track instead of getting something to eat beforehand.
Southern Raceway is the definition of what small town southern stock car racing is all about, and the clay covered dirt track provides a unique change from the asphalt tracks that most fans are used too. Because of the nature of the track Southern Raceway has a kind of a rustic feel too it – as soon as you pull off the main highway onto the grass field which is the parking lot, you see the rusty covered grandstands, which immediately transport you back to the Saturday night racing days of the 1950s and 1960s. The fact that Southern Raceway opened in 1988 amazes me, because it seems much older by the looks of it. But in this case it works, because it adds to the old school charm.
The track is a 3/8-mile dirt oval that faces north and south. The ticket office and main gate are located on the west side, as well as a rather large playground set up at the main entrance. There are metal bleacher style grandstands that extend from Turn 4 on the north side to Turn 3 on the south side.
One unique thing about Southern Raceway is that there is berm seating that extends in front of the entire grandstand from north to south. Because of this setup the grandstand is farther away from the track than at other raceways, but the stands and berm section are absolutely packed with fans and families, with fans set up in lawn chairs and blankets along the berm.
Another interesting thing about this track is the pit location – the pits and garages are located on the northwest side of the track with cars entering from the north side. If you walk past the grandstands to the northwest side fence you can get a good view of the cars getting worked on before they go out.
One of my gripes with the venue is the sound system; there is a public address announcer but you can’t make out a word he says. I understand the cars are pretty loud, but still all you can hear over the sound system is muffled speech. Another issue is that while there are three sets of restrooms, all of them are rundown and outdated, and definitely need some upkeep.
The neighborhood would be deserving a 1 if not for the fact that this is still the Emerald Coast of Florida, and the crystal-clear waters and white sandy beaches are close by. But in terms of places close by or things to do there is nothing within walking distance. Southern Raceway is off a highway about two miles south of Interstate 10, with the closest places of interest being a Tom Thumb Gas Station and an RV park right across the street.
There are several attractions a little further out, however, as Southern Raceway is located halfway between the scenic river town of Milton and the beach town of Navarre Beach. The town of Milton a few miles north has a pretty cool downtown that overlooks the Blackwater River, where many people can be found boating, kayaking, and swimming during the summer months. The Blackwater Bistro is a popular restaurant and is really the only place in downtown where you can find live music on weekends.
The closest beach town is Navarre Beach about 10 miles south. The tiny beach community can lay claim to being home to the longest pier in the state of Florida – the pier stretches for almost a quarter of a mile and rises to 30 feet above the beautiful clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The town is also famous as one of the filming locations for the movie Jaws 2, although many of the filming locations have been destroyed by hurricanes over the years. Alternatively, you can bypass Navarre Beach and get on Highway 98 to take a scenic beach cruise east to Destin and Panama City.
The biggest city in the area is Pensacola, about 20 miles west of Southern Raceway. That’s where you’ll find the closest airport, better lodging and restaurants, and more attractions. For nightlife in Pensacola definitely check out the Seville Quarter and South Palafox Street in downtown.
There was quite a big turnout at the most recent race I attended; the berm was absolutely lined with fans young and old and there wasn’t an empty seat to be found in the grandstands. Many of the races were only 5 or 10 laps, so even though a lot of the fans weren’t familiar with some of the drivers, most fans still enjoyed being able to watch the short races. There is also a section for families in the grandstand that is alcohol free, which I think is nice.
There really is only one way to access Southern Raceway and it is fairly simple – if coming from the interstate the track is located on Highway 87 about two miles south of I-10 at Exit 31. The closest beach access is located in Navarre Beach about 20 miles down the road; Highway 87 is pretty much a straight shot from the interstate to the beach.
Once at the track the grandstands back up pretty close to the concessions area, so the walkways get pretty congested from time to time, especially right around the main gate entrance. Also the line to purchase tickets gets backed up, so it may take about 10 minutes to finally get up there. It was nice that there was a big crowd on the Saturday I attended, but it would have been nice if the venue had another entrance somewhere to help with overflow.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices are as follows: for regular nights Adults are $10, Military/Seniors are $9, Students (13-18) are $7, and Children (6-12) are $5 (5 and under are free). Ticket prices and concessions prices are about average for an event of this caliber; not too high and not too low. I thought the prices were fair; it got me out of the house on a Saturday night when I had nothing to do, and I got a chance to see dirt track racing for the first time which was pretty neat.
I’m not the biggest racing fan and I know nothing about stock car racing, but I had a good time. If I can get enough out of it as a non-racing fan, I feel like most fans will feel the same.
Not only is the Southern 100 the top dirt track racing event in the state of Florida, but it is one of the top dirt track races in the country. Every year it attracts some of the best drivers in the country and is a favorite track for many prominent NASCAR drivers as well, when their NASCAR schedules permit. Kyle Busch, Ken Schrader, and Tony Stewart are several drivers who have raced here in the past. In fact, ever since retiring from full-time racing in 2016 Stewart has made three appearances at Southern Raceway, racing his USCS Outlaw Sprint Car; Busch and Schrader also both competed in the Southern 100.
Southern Raceway is a great place to spend a Saturday night. The speedway and grandstand may look a little rough and outdated from the outside, but once you get inside your view will change drastically. Everything from the food options to the fans to the action on the track is exceptional. Southern Raceway is definitely a hidden gem of racing and is a must-visit for all race fans, especially for its dirt track. After spending a Saturday night here it’s easy to see why Southern Raceway is Florida’s biggest dirt track.