Sanchez also had built a road circuit through Tamiami Park where the cars and stars of Indy contested season-ending races from 1985 through 1988. Notably, Al Unser edged son Al Jr. by a point for the 1985 title, and Bobby Rahal fended off Michael Andretti for the 1986 and ’87 championships.
Progress in the bayside area that had been depressed when Sanchez began running the Miami Prix eventually spurred development that forced city officials to “evict” the race.
If Brabham darted the Nissan he drove to four Miami Prix victories through the turn off Biscayne Boulevard that existed then, he’d crash into AmericanAirlines Arena.
Sanchez, however, already had solicited governmental support to build a permanent racing facility in Homestead as a significant project toward the devastated area’s recovery from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ground was broken in 1993.
The picturesque facility with its 1.5-mile oval sprung up in time for Dale Jarrett to headline NASCAR’s initial venture here with a dramatic Nationwide (then Busch) series victory in November 1995.
Jarrett added to his niche in the speedway’s history when he clinched the 1999 championship in the first Cup race (then Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup) contested there.
NASCAR president Mike Helton credits Sanchez with adapting to the stock car sanctioning body’s needs in various track modifications in the initial years and making Homestead-Miami “a very significant destination for NASCAR and its fans.”
“Ralph certainly believed in the original [relatively flat and rectangular] design of Homestead, but he also was willing to make adjustments to accommodate the sanctioning bodies,” Helton said. “He always delivered on what he was trying to accomplish.”
Sanchez relinquished his interest in what quickly became known as “the track that Ralph built” to allow ISC to accelerate its later expansions. NASCAR made Homestead-Miami Speedway the site of championship season finales in all three of its major divisions in 2002.
Also, Michael Andretti, the late Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti all scored multiple IndyCar victories on Homestead’s oval between 1997 and 2011.
Sanchez is survived by his wife (Lourdes), son (Rafael), daughter (Patricia Abril) and grandsons (Nico Abril and Victor Abril).
Funeral arrangements are pending.