Ready To Drop The Green Flag On Chatham-Kent’s Racing Season
By Thomas Slager / candidbadger.com
Heading into 2021, Southern Ontario Motor Speedway in South Buxton is ready to celebrate 50 years of racing. The track formerly known as South Buxton Raceway has undergone a major facelift, and now waits for the COVID situation to improve enough to host events again. When the gates finally open, racers and fans are going to find that a lot has changed in the last couple of years.
Blake Outhouse, General Manager and Promoter, along with owner Henry Kroker, are overseeing the final touches of a major redesign that has transformed the old racing grounds into something brand new. Outhouse explained, “Henry bought the track in 2019. He ran it one year as a ‘D’. That August there was a fire that damaged the grandstands, concession area, and scoring tower. That shut the racetrack down. That’s when he decided it was time for a new racetrack.”
Gone is the old “D” shape, and in its place stands a ⅜ mile, high-banked oval dirt track, completely enclosed by a concrete wall and a brand new catch fence. There is new lighting as well, replacing the old system and its dark spots on the track with brilliant LEDs. Spectator seating has been upgraded, with a new 2500 person capacity steel grandstand, and what will eventually become a grassed spectating area as well. All of this, on a new 7 foot high elevation over the old ground surface. It is, essentially, a brand new racing facility.
“The track is 80 feet wide all the way around, 20 degree banking in the corners,” explained Outhouse. The track has been reprofiled and the infield smoothed over. Kroker’s intention was to build a track that Southwestern Ontario could be proud of. Looking out over the clay track, Outhouse says, “He’s done it. They all laughed at him. They didn’t think he could do it, but here it is.”
The racing surface is ready to go, but construction around the facility is not yet finished. The concession area, track wiring, grandstands and painting, along with a number of other jobs still need to be finished. Outhouse says that the response of the racing community has been positive. “We’ve got a lot of fans, race car drivers and crews that come out on weekends and give us a hand. They do a little of this, little of that. Everybody wants to see this place get back open.”
Construction deadlines aside, the real problem is the COVID-19 Pandemic. Working with other tracks, they have petitioned the government in order to educate decision makers on auto racing, and the impact it has on the economy as an outdoor activity. “The racing industry in Ontario is massive,” said Outhouse. “Seven tracks got together and we lobbied the Ontario government. We had a survey done. The racing industry in Ontario generates $73 million a year. 120,000 fans, every weekend, go to a motorsports event. It’s huge.”
The tracks collaborated to put together a plan a year ago to keep fans, staff and participants safe during the pandemic. “We’ve got a 12-page plan to do exactly what the government wants us to do,” said Outhouse. “One person in the wreckers, social distancing in the stands, on the ground, in the restaurant. Order your tickets online so when you get here you don’t have to handle money. We gotta do what we gotta do, and we will follow their directions. Just let us open.”
Outhouse figures that if they can be allowed 30% capacity, that will be enough to open and justify the expense of running races. It will also allow enough space to keep fans socially distanced. The planned grassed area can be sectioned off into six by six foot squares, and fans can spread out in the grandstands. It’s frustrating having to watch similar tracks in the United States open while Canadian tracks stay locked down. The next step will be reaching out to the Mayor’s office. Ultimately, the decision to be allowed to open will be a local one, with Chatham-Kent Public Health having the final say.
“We’ve got a really great schedule,” said Outhouse. “I’m praying we are running by July 9th. July 9th we have a concert with four tribute bands out of Toronto and then Saturday night we got the 358 Modifieds. They have never been this far south. It will be a $5000 to win show. It will be a phenomenal show. Everybody is looking forward to it. We got some ‘Support the Troops’ nights, we got ‘Championship’ nights, we got two 360 sprint shows.”
They are eager to open the track and to get cars and drivers to test the new clay and configuration. They are excited to have fans back in to see all the changes and ready to bring back the summer Saturday night family tradition of being at a race track.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 17,” says Outhouse. “It’s a massive family thing on a Saturday night. Sure, we bring a lot of people into the local area on big events, but on a Saturday night this is where everybody wants to be.”