Many Canadian NASCAR fans may not be aware that the American stock car racing giant has ties to Canada go far beyond its Canadian Tire Series operation. For the past several years, NASCAR has been involved in supporting weekly stock car racing programs at tracks across the country. It began with two announcements on the same day in 2004 when both Delaware Speedway near London, Ontario and Autodrome St. Eustache outside of Montreal became NASCAR sanctioned weekly tracks. Edmonton Raceway and Barrie Speedway came on board shortly after, with Sun Valley Speedway in Vernon, British Columbia joining the mix most recently.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series started years ago and has gone through a number of transitions over the years but remains rewarding for the weekend warriors that do battle in their local bull rings every Friday and Saturday night. The number of tracks involved was well into triple digits a few years ago, but has dwindled and now sits in the 60s. The reasons have been two-fold, with a number of tracks feeling that NASCAR was just trying to cash in at the expense of small promoters and wanting only to sanction the best short tracks in North America.
Delaware did have a hiatus during the middle of that time period, but Race Director Jeff Wilcox is thrilled to be back on board with the Weekly program and to have those famous NASCAR bars behind him. “NASCAR gives us so many tools and so much support - if you don’t take advantage of the tools that they give you, you’re not helping your program. It also gives our track more credibility with sponsors, competitors, and when it comes to selling tickets. Not everyone knows what a Late Model is, but everyone knows about NASCAR.”
Last year Delaware tried something new, as they trimmed their point fund, and paid out more prize money during the season. “We had no point fund and it was a really big deal. This year we have a point fund that will be over $40,000. If it wasn’t for the NASCAR Weekly Series program there is no way we would have access to those kinds of funds.”
Wilcox also points out one of the biggest advantages of the program, which isn’t really as important to Canadian racers. “The insurance program is great. We just had a Late Model racer named Robbie Pyle come up to our track to race from the U.S. We told him what his membership included, and about the insurance and he couldn’t wait to sign that paper. That is much more important in the U.S., but it can still be useful here if something happens.”
NASCAR also stays out of the local program in pretty much every way. “The just let us run our racetrack,” he explained. “They only say that you have to run 18 races to be eligible. The other cool thing about it is that it also gives both us and the racers a third party that we can talk to.”
Barrie Speedway is in their fourth year under the Whelen NASCAR Weekly Series and track owner Jim Payetta is thrilled about the program that NASCAR brings, saying, “The amount of money that they pump into our track is a great addition. After we had a couple of our champions go to the banquet and see what it’s all about, it’s a pretty big deal meeting all the other 58 track champions.”
While the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series is a different entity, Payetta admitted that they like to help their own. “From their end, they want to see the Canadian Tire Series where they run the weekly series.”
In addition to a National champion, and track champion, NASCAR crowns a state/provincial champion. Three of the Canadian tracks they have no competition, but in 2009, the Barrie Speedway drivers have to compete with Delaware racers for the Ontario Provincial Title. Competitors can score points at either track, but so far there only been one driver has attempted to race at both- Steve Mathews.
Payetta explained why there isn’t much cross-competition. “Our cars are still quite a bit different. We’re really looking forward to sitting down with Jeff and the staff at Delaware to see if we can get on the same page. I think some of the guys making trips to the other tracks would be great. Sure it’s a long haul, and when you consider that racing if something happens at Delaware on Friday, it might make it tough to get to Barrie on Saturday, and there is also the pure economics of running at both tracks. But, all that being said if we can get that rule package closer I think it will help both tracks.”
Rules dictate that to be eligible a driver must compete in 18 races, and with all the wet weather in Ontario early in 2009, this has made it tough for both tracks. Drivers have had to run double features on a number of nights to make that 18-race minimum, but it is an unavoidable obstacle given the short Canadian racing season.
Edmonton Raceway in Westaskiwin, Alberta, has been a Weekly track for five years now and promoter Loretta Thiering is thrilled with their involvement with NASCAR, “We wanted to set ourselves apart from the other tracks, and since we started with NASCAR they have been great to work with. We raised the eyebrows of a lot of sponsors just because of the NASCAR association.”
As for the racers and the cost associated with purchasing a NASCAR membership, she says, “It’s not that big of a deal, because the racers get so much back.”
“We have a lot of signage for stores that don’t exist in our area. They have put up a $10,000 matching program for purchasing track equipment. We’ve tried to take advantage of that program for sure. And as a promoter, when you do have a question, they are always available,” Thiering said when asked about what benefits the track receives from the relationship.
“They have really helped our competitors by giving a lot back to the drivers. We had a lot of drivers that have gone and raced touring classes, but have returned this year. NASCAR also steers clear of dictating rules that we run at our track,” she said referring to Edmonton’s top class, the Late Models.
Sun Valley Speedway came aboard shortly after Edmonton Raceway, and Autodrome St. Eustache has been around since NASCAR began sanctioning weekly tracks in Canada. What makes the program in St. Eustache unique is that their top class isn’t a Late Model, or a Modified, but their ProTruck division – a rarity in the NASCAR world.