MIAMI (AP) -- South Florida businessman Ralph Sanchez, who founded the Grand Prix of Miami and Homestead-Miami Speedway, has died. He was 64.
Speedway officials said that Sanchez passed away Monday morning following prolonged health problems.
"It's difficult to underestimate the impact Ralph Sanchez had on motorsports in South Florida," speedway president Matthew Becherer said. "Through the Grand Prix of Miami race that was originally run downtown, he put the region on the global sports map years before the Heat, Marlins and Panthers. Also considering that Sanchez leaves this community with a world-class venue that hosts championship races, his legacy will live on."
Sanchez, a native Cuban, was sent to Miami alone as a child in the early 1960s. His father was concerned, because Sanchez had been recruited to help forces fighting Fidel Castro's new regime.
Sanchez initially lived with an aunt and uncle in Miami before the couple moved to Nicaragua. Sanchez then lived in a Catholic orphanage until he turned 18. His parents, his brother and grandmother joined him in Miami in the late 1960s. Sanchez eventually went on to earn an accounting degree from Florida Atlantic University and to become a successful land developer.
Sanchez founded the Grand Prix of Miami in 1983. The International Motor Sports Association race was held downtown until 1993.
After that, Sanchez worked with Homestead and Miami-Dade County officials to build the speedway. The project broke ground in August 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 5 hurricane that leveled large portions of Miami-Dade County. The speedway hosted its first NASCAR race in November 1995.
Al Garcia, the vice president for operations at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the longest tenured track employee, worked for Sánchez starting in 1984.
"He was charismatic, yet tough as nails," Garcia said of Sanchez. "Above all, Ralph was very loyal. You have to give him credit for pursuing his dreams in racing and forgoing 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."
Sanchez is survived by his wife Lourdes, daughter Patricia and son Ralph Jr.