It was supposed to be the event to end all events. The drag race to end all drag races. The race promoter and the track officials at Palm Beach International Raceway (Then Moroso Raceway) girded themselves for 10s of thousands of people . Traffic control plans, crowd control plans, and paid security up the yazoo were all in place to handle what would surely be the largest crowd in the history of the track. This was going to be Autofest 2000, one of the biggest independently produced drag racing events of all time with music and all sorts of entertainment surrounding the drag race.
Virtually every big name from the sport had been booked in. Force, Garlits, Muldowney, Cannon, Schumacher, etc. Bob Frey was booked in to announce. There was a full raft of exhibition vehicles between jets and wheel standers and the culmination of the entire thing was going to be a race between Garlits and Muldowney that started at 11:59 pm and change and ended at 12: 00 am as they raced into the new millennium. The people never came. The crowds never came. The money never came. Autofest 2000 stands as the greatest singular event financial calamity in drag racing history.
In a sign that things had gone pear shaped long before midnight, there are stories that John Force cut a $10,000 check out of his own pocket and handed it to Muldowney in the winner’s circle so that the team would leave with something for its efforts and the historic, “win” over Garlits to kick off the new millennium. Other than Force’s charity and racers who were smart enough to demand some payment up front didn’t see anything. The promoter declared bankruptcy after the race and the hopes of many to get some dough went down with that ship.
One of the more amazing stories from the event is the fact that the race promoter hired a contractor to handle the parking end of things and they were charging $40.00 per car to park! This did not include tickets which were expensive also. Reportedly many people that pulled up and saw the $40.00 parking sign turned right back around and left.
Before we saw this video pop up on Facebook we had no idea that there was a record of the event on tape. Pat Welsh, a well known (in drag racing circles) and professional level video guy from Florida was there and filming. He captures lots of runs as well as one of the more zany things you’ll ever lay eyes on when a “Jungle Jim” nostalgia funny car (this is before today’s world of commonly seen nostalgia funny cars) attempts to launch and the complete rear end is ripped from beneath the car. He got it all.
I remember being in college and trying to talk my now wife into a road trip to Florida to attend this event. I really wanted to see all the stuff and figured it was going to be a blow out. Boy was I wrong. We’d have had the run of the place but it would have not been all that much fun. As you will see in the video, the place was a ghost town.