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YouTube Star Says He Has Purchased the DeSoto Speedway Racetrack and Has Big Plans For it

YouTube Star Says He Has Purchased the DeSoto Speedway Racetrack and Has Big Plans For it

DeSoto Speedway

By Chris Anderson

Herald-Tribune columnist

The old racetrack is an eyesore, like a beater that’s been up on blocks too long in your neighbor’s oil-splotched driveway. Someone needs to roll up their sleeves — assuming they actually wear sleeves, that is — and get this thing purring again.

Cleetus to the rescue!

Hell yeah, brother!

It seems a YouTube star known as Cleetus McFarland — real name: Garrett Mitchell — says he has purchased DeSoto Speedway and plans to call it the “Freedom Factory,” a place where he can shoot video for his wildly popular internet car channel as well as hold smoking-tire “burnout” championships and maybe even return local stock car racing to Saturday nights.

It’s an interesting development for Manatee County, to be sure, and somewhere a man in a pair of Sansabelt slacks just slapped the hood of a burnt-orange custom-made van and yelled “Tom Stimus, Number One!” as a wink of approval.

DeSoto Speedway

Remember Stimus? The late used car salesman owned the speedway in the 1980s and ’90s and turned it into a birthday party bounce house for local racing fans. The area has never known a promoter more entertaining. By 1992, however, Stimus was bankrupt, the speedway was sold, and it was never as fun again. For the last two years it has sat vacant, with weeds growing through the asphalt and faded tire tracks looking like scars on a beat-up face.

McFarland, 24, appears to be a millennial Tom Stimus, a testament to how much the promotion game has changed. Whereas Stimus had to appear on the “Phil Donahue Show” and put a $100,000 bounty on the head of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi, fly a banner over Sarasota County inviting the Shah of Iran to stay at his house, promise he could get Frank Sinatra to come to Bradenton and pay a local TV station $1 million to set up StimusVision — a 24-hour used car channel — for publicity, McFarland uses his YouTube channel instead.

It has nearly 2 million subscribers.

McFarland grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, where his father — like Stimus — owned a used car lot. He graduated from the University of Tampa and was attending law school at Stetson when he began doing car videos for 1321 Video, a company that had 4 million Facebook followers. McFarland worked for free for two years until the company took off.

The whole Cleetus shtick was a fluke. He bought a black Chevy T-shirt for $5 at a Walmart in Colorado, tore the sleeves off and began talking about cars while his friend videoed it after introducing him as Cleetus McFarland, making the name up on the spot. They posted it on YouTube as an afterthought, and after it picked up 500,000 views overnight they knew they had something big.

Being Cleetus McFarland appears to be a lucrative six-figure endeavor. He has sponsors and sells merchandise. And much like Stimus, some of his antics are attention-grabbing, like the time he left a stock car with the valet at a Cheesecake Factory. He talks about eagles on his channel, Dale Earnhardt and likes things that are made in “Murica.” He says “Hell yeah, brother’” a lot too.

But for all his success, there is still one thing millennials such as McFarland need to keep in mind: It’s all been done before. And no one did it better than Stimus.

Stimus came to Bradenton broke in 1979, borrowed money from family to buy a car lot, made it a success, and eventually purchased the speedway for $800,000. He put another $1 million in it for repairs and, on Opening Night, cars were backed up eight miles on State Road 64 just to get in the place.

Stimus once had NASCAR legends Geoff Bodine, Michael Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt race at the speedway — all on the same night. The King — Richard Petty — even showed up. And who can forget the night Robbie Knievel jumped 30 Subarus on his motorcycle. Evel was there, but left just before the jump after getting into a fight with his son

Stimus’ used car commercials remain hysterical to this day, were the YouTube of his time and helped promote his name. He filmed spots with elephants, pigs, Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Stargell and wrestler Dusty Rhodes.

McFarland, meanwhile, plans on having his first public event next November and said he is open to holding races if the right promoter can be found. Of course, this should be eyed with some skepticism. Remember the minor-league hockey team that was coming to Lakewood Ranch? The professional spring football league? Sanborn Studios? Fiascos, all.

Herald-Tribune columnist Chris Anderson Posted Feb 4, 2020 at 2:55 PM