On October 2nd, Brad Gavey and BGPR Schools hosted a track day at Race City Motorsports Park in Calgary, Alberta. This event was significant because it marked the end of 25 years of motorcycles at Race City.
Following a protracted and often public dispute with its landlord (the City of Calgary), the track will be permanently closed at the end of the 2011 season in order that seven acres of the 150-acre facility can be used to accommodate the city’s ring road project. The balance of the land has been designated to accommodate anticipated expansion requirements of nearby city land fill operations.
Drawing any conclusions as to the fairness or appropriateness of the events which have led to the closure of Race City would include some level of speculation and ultimately have no influence on the final outcome. What does warrant consideration is the impact that the closure will have on organized motorcycle racing in Calgary and Western Canada.
Race City originally opened its half-mile oval track in 1985 and added an NHRA-approved drag strip the following year. The facility hosted its first National Event in 1987 on a new 3.2km road course which during the ensuing quarter century has been the site of countless amateur and professional races. Classic photo finishes between Clint McBain and Jordan Szoke in 2006 and again in 2007 are consistently mentioned when fans speak of their favourite races, as is Brent McCormick’s final corner pass on Jordan Szoke in the 2009 Parts Canada Superbike feature. Names like Picotte, Crevier and Martin have entertained the Calgary racing fans as have local characters like the “King of Calgary” Murray Clift and Stu McColl (pictured), who attended every motorcycle race in the track’s history.
Race City played host to dozens of track days and performance schools organized by local companies who are now faced with the reality of reinventing themselves or closing their business. At the same time, participants will have to rationalize the extra time and cost required to travel to similar events at other tracks.
Each of the 116 licensed racers belonging to the Calgary Motorcycle Roadracing Association will be making similar decisions. Many believe that the Stratotech roadcourse near Edmonton (scheduled to open in 2014 and nearly three hours from Race City) lacks the length required for the faster classes and the narrow nature of the track provides limited passing opportunities. Some CMDRA members are opting to travel as far as Spokane Raceway (Washington) or Miller Motorsports Park (Utah) while others are giving consideration to indefinitely suspending their racing endeavours.
One area that cannot be overlooked when contemplating the impact of this closure is the role that both the track and the CMRA have played in the development of roadracing in Western Canada. Young stars including Bodhi Edie, Royce McLean, Cody Matechuk and Brett McCormick all had the opportunity to continue their racing education in part because of the proximity of Race City.
In addition to the road course, motorcycles are frequent participants in the Secret Street program on the facility’s quarter-mile drag strip every Friday night. Race City president Art McKenzie has frequently explained the role this program plays in reducing illegal street racing, a position that was reiterated in a motion brought before city council. To date no alternative site has been identified; in the interim, McKenzie indicates that the popular weekly event “will continue until the snow flies,” after which the facility will go dark.
Given the impact on the motorcycling and motorsports communities, groups and activities associated with the track, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that replacement of the track is a necessity and an obvious priority for city officials. To date, Alderman Shane Keating has been the major proponent of replacing the facility, establishing a committee to explore options and bringing motions before council. To date, his success has been limited to obtaining a two-year lease extension for the adjacent Varsity Speed Park (home to the Alberta Mini Roadracing Association) and there is growing concern among displaced racers that this will be the limit of his abilities within an otherwise disinterested council.
The political landscape may in fact be overshadowed by economic realities. President McKenzie, who has been involved with the Race City organization since 1995 acknowledges that with a limited five-month season for generating revenue and substantial upfront capital requirements, the business proposition of owning and operating a facility of this nature in the Calgary region is “break even” at best.
The closure of Race City has worked its way from being a rumour to a concern and now a reality. The final impact on the roadracing community in Western Canada is yet to be determined, but the fact is that there were motorcycles before Race City, and there will most certainly be motorcycles after Race City.
Ride smart and be safe.