www.ocala.com ZUBER — The worker circling the dirt track here on a road grader last week was none other than nationally syndicated shock jock Bubba “The Love Sponge” Clem.
“This is therapeutic,” said Clem, a lifelong racing enthusiast who bought the track most recently known as Ocala Speedway last year and renamed it Ocala Bubba Raceway Park.
Clem, a racer himself, has a hands-on approach at maintenance that includes leveling the surface with heavy equipment while holding Bianca, his Yorkie pup.
Clem, who claims to be the second-most fined DJ in radio, sports a ball cap, dark glasses and black sweatshirt marked “censored” while he and Bianca later pace the track on foot, intently checking the dirt on the D-shaped oval.
Clem, 45, who hosts his five-day-per-week, talk-only radio show out of FM-102.5 in Tampa, hopes to breathe new life into the speedway with some major improvements and big draw events — including the inaugural Bubba Army Late Model Modified Winter Nationals with Hulk Hogan as grand marshall on Feb. 18.
“We put down 300 truckloads of fresh clay, widened the track by about 20 feet and increased the banking in the turns from 7 degrees to 18 degrees,” Clem said. “We added more guard rails, concrete walls and $20,000 more (in) lighting.”
Clem's big plans for the start of the season also includes visits by the UMP Open-Wheeled Modified series, the USAC Winter Dirt Games, and the All-Star 410 Winged Sprints.
Clem said the purses at the three-eighths-mile track are “double other local tracks” and the combined purse for February's planned events will be “almost $400,000.”
His ambitious plans for the 2012 season, along with his technical approach to the track, have been endorsed by racing regulars such as 2011 late model points champion Ivedent Lloyd Jr.
“He has an edge because he's (both) a driver and a track owner,” Lloyd said. “He knows how to help the drivers and keep them in balance.”
Lloyd, 45, the two-time defending champion of the track's signature Powell Memorial annual event, said Clem's attention to the track's condition has opened the door for more competitive racing by allowing lapped drivers the opportunity to fight their way back into the race.
Lloyd also praised Clem's ability to promote the track — Clem often talks about the past weekend's racing during his Monday radio broadcast.
“I once got a call from a contact with Hoosier Tire after a remark about their tires on his broadcast was heard in Indiana,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said the larger-than-life personality heard daily on Clem's radio show is “entertainment,” and not necessarily the same guy who runs the speedway.
Clem also separates his radio persona from his role as a father, businessman and racer.
“Schwarzenegger wasn't The Terminator when he was governor,” said Clem, who traces his “Love Sponge” nickname back to his football playing days at Indiana State University, where he majored in broadcast journalism.
Once at the track, he's just “Bubba” — until he returns to work on Monday. He said he prefers Marion County's solitude and “wide open spaces” to the alternative, which would be to “stay in his St. Petersburg mansion.”
“I've sort of infused myself here,” said Clem, who said he's a regular at regular-guy Ocala establishments such as Waffle House and Cody's Steakhouse. He also lauded the recent relocation of a Scorpion Racing Products facility into Ocala as a boost to the racing community.
“I love this area,” he said, adding that his dirt-track roots in Indiana, Marion County's relaxing atmosphere, and the desire to support his family racing efforts all pointed him toward buying the Marion County racetrack.
His 9-year-old son, Tyler, also factored into the decision. Tyler, Clem said, is a developmental driver with Stewart–Haas Racing — co-owned by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, and the track “is a natural way for him to practice.”
“We've made a go-kart track near turn one,” Clem said, “I plan to make a mud bog area nearby.”
Clem also plans to race this season in the track's late model division, which begins racing on March 3.
It's all part of a busy agenda for a famous voice who's just looking for a quiet place to pursue his passion for racing.
“I'd like to build a house in those woods,” Clem said, pointing his finger just outside the track compound, “and live right here.”