Early Season Test and Tune for Drivers and Track at Southern Ontario Motor Speedway
By Thomas Slager / candidbadger.com
The sound of race engines filled the air Thursday night at Southern Ontario Motor Speedway, located in South Buxton, Ontario. The gates had been opened and the track prepared for a “test and tune” session. Around 15 teams had shown up to get extra track time to work out setups, check repairs, and bank some laps on the new track. Blake Outhouse, the General Manager and Promoter at the track along with Henry Kroker, who owns the facility, were busy tending last-minute jobs that go into putting cars on a race track.
Outhouse stopped for a few moments to talk about the season so far, which began late, and without fans, because of Covid-19. “It’s a new facility, so it’s a challenge every week. You are always going to have bugs to work out. Especially since it’s new. You’ve got new staff, new everything.”
The biggest challenge has been the weather. “We’ve had two rainouts,” explained Outhouse. “We have had to cancel two shows already. But we have a great sprint show coming on August 7th, the Pinty’s Knights of Thunder series will be here. On the 14th we have the nostalgic modifieds. We have some good races coming up, as long as mother nature decides to start playing nice. We sent her flowers and told her that she was beautiful!”
There is a noticeable priority to be family and fan-friendly at the track this season. One of owner Henry Kroker’s changes was to move Victory Lane outside the walls and into a “Fan Zone.” behind the fourth turn. At most tracks, the winner celebrates on the track or in the infield. This slows down the show and keeps fans at arm’s length. Having Victory Lane where it’s accessible allows for longer celebrations and a lot more interaction with the fans.
The track is also bringing back the “Junior Fans” club for kids. Outhouse said, “They will get a T-shirt and there are games. There is always something every week where they get to interact with the drivers. The season is running to October, so we have a bit of time for the kids to enjoy themselves.”
Another part of the fan and family focus comes from a determined attempt to get the shows in before the night gets too late. This keeps it family-friendly, particularly for younger kids. Outhouse said, “We’re doing well. We are done by 11 o’clock.” This leaves time for people to venture over to the pit area to meet the drivers after the show.
A night at the races is also affordable. Outhouse remarked, “Ticket prices are the best in the province–$15 for adults,” for regular race nights. “We’ve got the snack shack where everything’s at. We sell Shaws Icecream now. You can get anything you want–slushies, popcorn, peanuts, suckers–anything you crave. It’s been a tough year, year and a half. People need to get out. They still need to spend a few bucks, but not a fortune, so let’s get them in and let’s have some fun!”
Saturday, July 24, was the first opportunity to showcase the new track to the public. That night provided a lot of satisfaction and showed that the hard work of rebuilding the facility from the ground up was the way to go. “The fans love the place,” said Outhouse. “They ate it up. It’s fast racing. They couldn’t get over how fast and great the racing was. It was a fantastic night.”
There is still more to be done to get the facility 100% finished up. The rainy weather has slowed down some of the work that still needs to be done. The grandstands are currently built to about half their full capacity and the track is still putting the finishing touches on the main concession stand and a few other projects. But everything that is needed to run a track and provide a great experience for the fans and drivers is in place. As each week goes by, more and more gets checked off the to-do list.
The goal is to build Southern Ontario Motor Speedway into a premier track that attracts racers and fans from all across North America. It’s a long-term vision of the future that is just starting to play out. Standing next to Victory Lane under a blue sky with the flags snapping in the warm breeze, Outhouse looked over the facility and said, “It’s a new track. We’ve had our ups and downs, but come on out and see the new place. Give us your viewpoints. We want everybody to be just as happy as they can be out here. That’s why Henry built it. The racing is the best I’ve seen out here in a long long time.”