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Jax Daily Record Friday, Oct. 11, 201905:10 AM EST

Fast track for fun cars: North Jacksonville automobile handling course planned

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Philip “Tiger” May plans course where, for a fee, drivers can push the limits of their vehicles.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

A 16-acre site in North Jacksonville could become the region’s first automotive handling course by next year. 

DPC JAX LLC, led by Philip “Tiger” May, bought the North Jacksonville property at Interstate Center Drive, Broward Road and Zoo Parkway, west of Interstate 95, in March for $1.1 million. 

The facility is designed to allow drivers to improve their skills and test their cars in a safe environment. 

“We wanted to broaden the accessibility,” May said. “There are so many people out there who have fun cars and enjoy driving, but there’s no place they can legally and safely go around the First Coast area to push the limits of their car, and try it out in a controlled environment.” 

Plans comprise two components: A 275-foot concrete skidpad used for wet road conditions training, and a 1½-mile road course, used for dry conditions, braking, performance handling and crash avoidance training.

Philip “Tiger” May said the idea for starting the road course came after he attended the BMW Performance Driving School in South Carolina.

May said the course will be open to the public. He hasn’t set requirements on the types of cars that will be allowed to drive, but there will be guidelines to ensure the car is safe to operate. 

Drivers can buy a minimum of two 20-minute time slots on the track, which he estimates will cost $79.

The two time slots don’t have to be used on the same day. Three 20-minute time slots could cost $99, but the prices and durations for the time slots haven’t been determined.

The facility will have open-track days, teen and adult driving courses, corporate team building, municipal driver training and motorcycle events, according to its website. 

It won’t be a racetrack, May said. Course marshals and traffic monitors will keep cars spaced safely on the track.

“You’re competing against your best time, and maybe your buddy’s best time, but you’re not out there battling for a position on the track,” May said.  

City Council voted 19-0 Tuesday to approve an $80,000 Northwest Jacksonville Business Infrastructure Grant to offset a portion of stormwater retention and drainage improvement costs for the project. 

The goals of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund, which provides the grant, are to create access to jobs for Northwest Jacksonville residents, encourage the creation of new businesses to serve the needs of the community, stimulate new investment in the area that adds to the tax base and encourage redevelopment of vacant space in the area. 

A map of the road course.

May said he estimates the total project cost at $4.5 million. He submitted plans to the city Oct. 1. Once approved and construction begins, May said it would take up to six months to complete the project.

The idea to build the road course came after May and his wife, Stacy, visited the BMW Performance Center Driving School in South Carolina. 

“I just had wicked crazy fun doing it,” May said.  He said it was one of the most “enjoyable experiences I think I’ve ever had as an adult.”

When they returned, May and his wife wanted to find a place where they could practice the skills they learned in South Carolina. The closest place to do so is at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park in Starke.

“We couldn’t find any place locally that had the capabilities that we were looking for so we said ‘Well why don’t we build a place?’ We did some research, investigated land and it materialized,” May said. 

Former NASCAR driver Tim Fedewa will work with Driver Performance Center to create performance driving programs and provide instruction.

May said several area auto groups are interested.

Among them, the Ponte Vedra-based All Florida Safety Institute driving school likely will buy a subscription to use the course for driver training and classes. The school also would offer advanced driver training. 

Institute owner and President Mark Allen plans to build a driving school at the facility as well.

The school offers drivers license training classes and education to drivers of all ages and skill levels. It has 12 locations throughout Florida.

“When you’re trying to do driver training, your choices are limited to the real road that we drive on every day or mall parking lots, which are typically not the best or safest places to be,” Allen said.

“The opportunity to have a place that’s designed for closed course training learning is an absolute opportunity for us to be able to advance students more and put them in the correct environment,” he said.

As a car enthusiast, Allen owns “a handful” of performance vehicles. He said he and others like him look forward to having a place to drive their vehicles. 

“Jacksonville is a car enthusiast town,” Allen said. “Personally, I can tell you I’ll be renting a few of the track days myself. There’s no doubt.” 

May worked as a banker for 12 years until 2001, when he left to found Scuba Tiger, a scuba diving business in Orange Park.

He sold the company and in 2013 opened On Target Sports in Orange Park, an indoor shooting range and firearms dealer. 

“We want to be an active and positive participant in the community, and hopefully it will become a destination spot for Northeast Florida,” May said.

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