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‘Like the death of a family member’: One year after final Western Speedway season start, racers begin to mourn

Work progressing on finding property for a new track
Jason Frost, vice-president of the Vancouver Island Safe Speed Association sits in his race car at Western Speedway. Frost said VISSA has started negotiations on a potential site for a new track and is continuing the search for other potential options. (Courtesy of Jason Frost)

It’s been about a year since the final racing season at Western Speedway got underway, starting the countdown to the final checkered flag.

For some in the racing community who made the oval their home away from home, the reality the track is no more has yet to catch up to them, and for others, their attention has become laser-focused on finding a new location to revive motorsports in the region as soon as possible.

Rory Smith, who drove his car to victory in one of the final races, is one of those racers who are still in the post-season mindset as his racing categories traditionally started up again later in May, but he knows it’s going to hit him hard when it finally does sink in.

“It’s a pretty special place for me and my family. Both my uncles raced, my dad raced, obviously my grandpa raced, my other grandpa raced. It’s been quite a place for my family,” said Smith. “You could ask any guy in the pits for a part or a hand or for some advice and they would give it to you, even if you would be racing against the same guys within an hour.”

READ MORE: Checkered flag waves for the last time at Westshore Motorsports Park

Smith grew up at Speedway, with his grandfather managing the track for a time. Like most racers, he said it was the community that organized itself around the track that made it as special as it was to so many, but the track itself earned a spot in his heart as well.

Compared to many other oval tracks, he said it was unusually flat in the turns, and at 4/10 of a mile long, it was the perfect length. The grandstands were also unique, being much larger than those at other tracks in B.C.

Now a father himself, Smith is sad his children won’t have the same experience growing up around racing as he did, though he considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity.

Brandon Carlson said in a lot of ways, he too is still in denial, refusing to accept he won’t be roaring past those grandstands on the home straight this season.

“It’s starting to hit me though now that we are into May, and I walk into my garage and my late model is just sitting there on floor jacks,” said Carlson. “It kind of feels like the death of a family member honestly. I know it’s kind of morbid, but I’ve been racing there myself for 20 years and my parents would take me basically from the time I was born.”

Carlson considers himself lucky compared to many of the other racers. He is fortunate enough to be able to travel down to the United States for races there and, like Smith, is able to make the three-hour or so trek up to Saratoga Speedway in Black Creek.

But even those alternatives can be no true replacement for Western Speedway in his eyes.

“I was so fortunate to be able to go race in front of my children. We could leave the house at noon on a Saturday, race the cars with the kids watching, and we could be in our own beds that night. For me, nothing will ever replace that. The track was 20 minutes from my house. Nothing will replace the Speedway and the family atmosphere that was there.”

For Jason Frost and the team at the Vancouver Island Safe Speed Association, the closure of the speedway has led them to shift focus from racing themselves – though they too are competing at Saratoga every now and then – to finding a location to build a new motorsports park for the next generation of racers.

To that end, Frost said several potential properties have been identified, and progress is happening.

“We do have an offer in on one property, and we are at the very beginning stages of negotiating there, but we are still looking at other properties as well,” said Frost. “We are actually just as excited about a different property. So we are not really concrete on anything yet, and even if we do secure one of those properties, we would still have a lot of work to do, but the society is going in the right direction and leaving no stone unturned.”

READ MORE: Unsung heroes of Westshore Motorsports Park keep the wheels turning


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Justin Samanski-Langille

About the Author: Justin Samanski-Langille

I moved coast-to-coast to discover and share the stories of the West Shore, joining Black Press in 2021 after four years as a reporter in New Brunswick.
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