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Road To Bringing Formula 1 Grand Prix Back To Miami Began With Failed 1983 Race

MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – You could say excitement for this year's Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix has been building up for 40 years as the racing community has worked endlessly to bring it here – though one name has been synonymous with the effort for years.

"Some of the things he did were pretty crazy like mortgaging our house to fund a race in downtown Miami," Patricia Sanchez Abril told CBS4.

Abril's father came to the U.S. with barely anything in his pocket.

"My dad came from Cuba when he was 13 years old and he was a Pedro Pan kid," she said.

Ralph Sanchez came to the U.S. in the early 1960s as part of Operation Peter Pan, which helped to bring over 10,000 children from Cuba to get away from communism.

"He just grew up dreaming about racing and sometime in his late 20s early 30s had this dream that wouldn't it be cool to start a company that promoted a car race," Abril explained.

It was quite the learning curve. Sanchez began rising up the ladder through real estate. He then networked to bring the first Miami Grand Prix in 1983. It failed competitively and financially.

"It was a washout after like 13 laps," Abril recalled.

However, Sanchez paid the full purse anyway, $1.3 million at the time, even though he wasn't obligated. That helped to spark something – the event came back in 1984.

"First time I come to Miami I was invited by Ralph Sanchez I never been in Miami, it was Biscayne Boulevard, Bayside, it was incredible street surface challenge," Emerson Fittipaldi said.

Racing legend, and at one time driver of the Spirit of Miami, Fittipaldi fell in love with the city after the race. He still lives in the area, but Sanchez's promotion of the event helped rev up the appetite for racing.

"Ralph Sanchez had the dream to bring Formula 1, and we lost Ralph a few years ago, but now it has happened, Miami will have Formula 1 finally," Fittipaldi added.

The Grand Prix is huge, but Formula 1 racing is considered the apex of motorsports, hence why it's so widely courted around the world.

"His favorite line was from Winston Churchill and it was never give up, never give up, never give up," Abril said.

Though Sanchez passed in 2013, Abril believes he will be looking down with pride to see F1 racing in Miami.

A special History of Autoracing in Miami, featuring the "Spirit of Miami" race car and other memorabilia, will be on display at the Art Deco Museum in Miami Beach.

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