A new documentary to air this fall will showcase the life of Ralph Sanchez, a visionary, charismatic Cuban refugee whose car racing passion transformed the streets of downtown Miami into an international speedway of global significance and changed South Florida forever.
Sanchez realized his dreams against unimaginable odds. After the Cuban Revolution, he began his new life in Miami as young boy, sent by his family to become a ward of the Catholic Church and its program, “Pedro Pan.” Under those auspices, he lived in the former World War II barracks at The Opa-locka Airport and struggled with the uncertainties of a new life and a new language. One constant in his life was a boyhood love of auto racing which he developed after hearing about the legendary Grand Prix of Cuba.
The early 1980’s was a troubled time in Miami, which was suffering from high crime rates. At this time when there was only one national sports franchise in Miami, Sanchez created generations of racing fans by transforming Miami’s iconic Biscayne Boulevard into a Monte Carlo-style raceway. In the process, he also began to transform an embattled city into the international hub for sports and culture that it is today.
The program documents how one annual event in the 1980s drew the world’s most famous racecar drivers and celebrities, to Miami, a city only emerging to be known for entertainment and excitement.
“This project is so important. It happens at a time when immigration is part of our daily national dialogue,” said producer Chucha Barber. “Ralph is a great example of how a single life can make a profound difference on a city, a state, an industry and our collective history.”
The four-time EMMY Award-winning producer described the intensely personal experience that the project represented for her.
“I was an employee of Miami Motorsports, and Ralph was a great mentor to many people, including me,” Barber said. “It’s a labor of love to tell his story and show how it’s inextricably connected to Miami’s story.”
The program will include dramatic video and photographs of IMSA car races (exotic prototypes) and INDY car races held in Miami, interviews and heartfelt stories from the “royalty” of car racing, his family, as well as those who knew him.
Former Miami Motorsports employees testify to Sanchez’s insatiable appetite for the thrill of racing, his perseverance to succeed, and for his ability to imagine and create the impossible, over and over again. Barber said viewers will be inspired to learn from Sanchez that dreams really do come true.
The program title, “Spirit of Miami,” was also the name Sanchez gave to the cars he personally entered into his own races. The name was a tribute to his gratitude to the city that took him in and the city which he so proudly served.
NBC6-WTVJ will be the first to air the hour-long program, in English, in November 2018. Telemundo 51-WSCV will air the Spanish-language version in December 2018.