When Craig Norwood and his business partners first opened The Track in 1989, their U.S. Highway 98 location was on the outskirts of Destin.
“We used to see bobcats and coyotes on the dunes by the parking lot and customers would express concern to our management,” Norwood said.
Thirty years later, it’s hard to imagine Destin as a rural, undeveloped area.
Originally from a small town outside of Houston, Texas, Norwood decided to build the park in Destin after driving through on a whim.
“My partners were looking at building a park on the East coast so I drove down the coast and came back up through Panama City,” he said. “I hadn’t seen a place where I wanted to raise a family so I drove through Destin on the way home and said, ‘This is the place.’”
When the park opened during Memorial Day weekend of 1989, it only offered a family go-kart track, a rookie track and kiddie carts. Within the next year, the mini golf course was added and the park has continued to expand to what it is today.
The Track was one of the first parks to put in an elevated wooden go-kart track, which is still the only one in the area and the number one attraction for the park.
Norwood said business has boomed over the years but they have faced a few challenges along the way.
One of those challenges was when Hurricane Opal hit in 1995. Norwood said he was tying down a giraffe on the mini golf course when he saw funnel clouds and decided to evacuate with his family. When Norwood returned, debris littered the park and rides and roofs were damaged but thankfully, no water had gotten in the buildings.
“I think Hurricane Opal and the BP oil spill have been our biggest obstacles,” he said. “We don’t say the ‘H’ word around here.”
Norwood and his management team take pride in keeping the park family-friendly. The music played over the speakers is censored and no alcohol is allowed.
“Family vacations are so special and this is a place where people come year after year,” said Meg Norwood, Vice President of marketing for The Track. “We’re a part of their tradition, which is amazing.”
Craig said he loves seeing people who grew up going to The Track, now bring their children to experience the park.
The Track is also where a lot of local kids land their first job. During the off-season, the park employs around 30 workers but during peak-season, the number swells to about 100.
“We have a lot of high-schoolers who can’t work during the day but they still work with us on the weekends,” said Travis Kearney, the General Manager of The Track. “It’s nice to have them year-round because it makes it much easier at the start of the season.”
This will be Kearney’s 25th summer there.
“They treat us well and that keeps you around,” he said. “The way they treat us allows us to treat the employees the same way … that makes it a fun place to work.”
“Morale is huge especially during the heat of the summer when things are really busy,” Craig said. “We do outings and take them on little trips like bowling or lock-ins at the park.”
Craig said he plans on keeping The Track in the family for as long as possible.
“It’s been a great 30 years and we plan on another 30 years of being family owned and operated,” he said.”