Truth be told, I have some amazing memories from every track I have ever been to. Whether it was because of some incredible racing action, hanging with some great people or something funny that happened at the track, every race weekend I think of brings a smile to my face. While I have fond memories of virtually everywhere, for some reason the old half mile track in Belleville holds a special place in my heart. Part of it could most likely be attributed to the many weekends spent in town for road racing events that were years before I ever even got involved in flat track. Or maybe it was because that for all my son’s race wins over his career, Belleville was the one and only time I joined him for a checkered flag photo. Regardless the reason, there was always that familiar home like feeling every time I steered the truck off the 401 at exit 543A and headed down North Front Street.
There have been some amazing races in Belleville in my time, and many more that occurred long before I was even attending the event. This piece is just a little flashback on a few of the things that are etched in my memory and make me grin whenever I think of them, so I will apologize for those of you looking for an incredible race recap here.
First let me set the scene for those of you that never got a chance to witness a race there. The track was set in the middle of town with apartments across the street and a seniors home not far off of turn four. There was also a plaza across the street which was a great place to grab a pizza during that break between practice and racing action. In the early years of us attending, there were still horse barns on the back straight and I have a slight grin as I type this and I think of Braden’s first race there. He was on a 65 that year and was feeling quite nervous as this would be his first half mile. Watching him pull off the track after his first practice session Kim and I immediately noticed that his nervous look had been replaced with a bewildered look. It seems that Braden was shocked when he exited turn two for the first time and took his first run down the back straight. Along with taking in the experience of his first ever half mile, Braden had the bonus of coming face to face with half a dozen curious horses that were sticking their head over the fence. Indeed these horses seemed to enjoy the show and no doubt had a great view of the action all night long.
Belleville always had a great crowd. There was one large grandstand on the front straight that was always packed, and people would line their vehicles through turn four and turn one and watch the action from there as well. The track really seemed like an insurance nightmare as people would back their trucks right up against the fence to watch (and no doubt smell, feel and taste) the racing with a view like no other. What was perhaps even more amazing was the wall on the front of the grandstand. At only about three and a half feet high, fans in the front row were pretty well on the track and no doubt could have high fived their favourite rider or maybe even slapped the ones they disliked.
I think it was our third trip to Belleville when we had the misfortune of the lights going out in turn four about halfway through the night program. Try as they might, the fairground workers could not find either a cause or a solution for the problem. After what seemed like an hour a few of us drove our trucks over to the infield in turn four and pointed our headlights at the track. Within a few minutes we were joined by five or six other trucks and before we knew it, we were racing again. Once again, insurance nightmare.
Belleville for whatever reason always had a pretty good turnout in the ATV class. As at all tracks, if you are a new rider, you not only need a racing license but of course a racing number as well. At one race where my wife happened to be doing sign in, a very eager ATV newbie decided that even though he was going to be making his numbers out of duct tape, he had the desire to be number 369. Kim even tried to convince him to be number 11, but his mind was made up. Sure enough, about 45 minutes after he walked away and had no doubt cursed the sky blue as he struggled to make 369 out of tape, the rider sheepishly returned and asked to switch to number 11.
Belleville was kind of a strange place for an announcer. We would announce the races from a gazebo on the inside of the track and just a few feet from the finish line. This would allow us to view the bikes as they excited turn four, for the length of the front straight, through turn one and then we would lose them as they left turn two. On the mics we would take what we had witnessed as the bikes excited turn two and then try our best to fill in the blanks with what we thought might be happening while they were out of sight. It was almost like a game as we would guess a scenario and wait eagerly for the bikes to come back into view. Once in awhile we were even correct!
While the announcing location wasn’t super for viewing the track, it was incredible for other reasons. In between races I would leave the gazebo and walk over to the grandstand to interact with the crowd which is one of my favourite parts of the job. It also gave us the opportunity to interview riders right after the checkered flag lap or when they came to our area to check the race lineup. One year just for something to do, I hopped into the water truck and interviewed the driver as he did a slow lap. He didn’t look comfortable at all, but I thoroughly enjoyed my ground-breaking reporting.
My favourite memory of all was one of those times that we were interacting with the crowd. I was working with my buddy Frank Wood, and we were rolling along smooth as butter. During a delay for track prep, I trotted across the track with mic in hand and offered to buy somebody a beer if they could answer my trivia question. Sure enough after getting an answer I handed the winner five bucks and he headed for the beer garden. Not to be outdone, Frank was soon beside me offering to buy a t-shirt for the person who could answer his trivia question (the answer is always either Dave or Doug Sehl or Scott Parker by the way, wink wink). After getting the answer to his question, Frank proudly opened his wallet to discover that the only thing in there was cobwebs. The next words out of his mouth were, “You got twenty bucks I can borrow kid?” So basically, I bought one guy a beer and another guy a shirt and listened to Frank tell me for the rest of the night that he didn’t set me up. Well played sir.
- From Todd Vallee