Setting Sights on Sydney

Next chapter in Sydney’s stock car racing begins in July

After a two year hiatus, stock car racing will return to Cape Breton Island in 2019. As was the case about five years before, social media was ablaze in January with the rumor mill churning that the quarter mile oval track on Grand Lake Road in Sydney had been sold once again. Since opening in 1976, the facility has gone through several reincarnations and ownership groups. This time, it was announced that Greg Dowe, a local Nova Scotian businessman and race fan, would be trying his hand at track ownership.

Dowe purchased the oval from Bill Vasil, who operated the track for three seasons from 2014 to 2016. Vasil also operates the NAPA Sportsman Series, which promotes Late Model Sportsman division racing at Riverside Speedway outside of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The two had began talks in early 2018 before the deal finally closed in the opening month of this year.

When it comes to stock car racing, Dowe has done about everything except for steering the ship at a race track. Dowe has driven race cars, he owns Bandolero and Legend cars for his daughter Brooke and son Dylan and has sponsored the sport through his company, PPM Inc. His business keeps him on his toes, but his love for racing and the opportunity to revive racing in Cape Breton was strong enough to pull the trigger on purchasing the oval.

Since the announcement of the acquisition on January 16th of this year, Dowe has seen a steady stream of messages from those wanting to congratulate him on purchasing the facility, to those willing to help out at the speedway, those who wanted to enter cars, advertisers wanting to put themselves in front of the dedicated motorsports community to individuals wanting to give advice and suggestions on what they want to see. Liken it to a driver getting introduced to a crowd before a race, if the fans are making noise, it is a positive because they are reacting to what was announced.

With the purchase of a speedway that has set silent since the end of October 2016, there is plenty to do to get the facility up to racing condition. Most of the buildings and structures were still solid, except for the officials tower that needed some new boards and the grandstands that will need new lumber. The grass needed cut and some of the trees that had overgrown needed to be trimmed, as would be the case with any property that hadn’t been maintained in over two years. The pit area, which was known for soaking up the water when it rains heavy, is also being looked at to receive a little bit of love.

With the turn of the winter season to spring, the racing surface is set to get some attention. At the end of the Vasil ownership, the pavement was getting a bit rough in places. “Character” as some would call it, while some would call for it to get attention. The straightaways showed a lot of that so called “character,” while the transition heading into the third turn was rough to pass over with a street car, let alone a race car. At press time, Dowe and his team were awaiting the asphalt plants to open so some new blacktop could be laid down on the oval. The team is not planning a complete repave, as a repave would take away the current top lane preferred groove for the bigger cars, but concentrate on the places that need some love after neglect over the past Cape Breton winters.

Once the paving and patching are completed comes the “trim.” The final tending to the landscape, painting, signage and finishing touches. Like any outdoor facility when the Summer rolls around, a new coat of paint to give the place some life and color is always a great touch.

Scheduling racing is always a tall task regardless of what geographical location you are in. Whether you are in the Carolinas or within small several communities in Canada, racing venues that work together typically create happy race teams, drivers and fans at the end of the day. With an area that had seen a lot of cars sold when Vasil announced the track was for sale, combined with the car count that was there at the time, it was deemed that the area likely couldn’t support a weekly racing program. In fact, only four race tracks in the region run on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, with the closest of those to Sydney being Prince Edward Island’s Oyster Bed Speedway or Scotia Speedworld. You also do not want to put multiple events on against other race tracks. When those events compete against each other, they split up car count and will sometimes split up fans.

This is also where the love for racing crosses over into the business side of owning a race track. As much as we all love racing, this is also a business for many individuals. Simply put, if the dollars and cents don’t add up, then a business doesn’t survive. If a race track doesn’t have enough cars to produce a show on a weekly basis, the fans will not come and the revenue does not come in to pay insurance, staff and additional operation costs. Typically, less events typically give a track a concentrated car count on those nights and it makes those limited events special and a “must see attraction” for fans.

Everyone has the right answer to what makes a race track, or any enterprise for that matter, work. If you ask ten different people, you’ll get ten different opinions on what will be the secret to success. Is every race track perfect? Not even close. You better believe Sydney Speedway will have its own path to their success, much like every other entertainment venue in this region.

But, we’re getting a bit off track – no pun intended!

Sydney Speedway is slated to open July 6th and 7th with a double header weekend. They’ll have another late July event on July 27th before taking almost two months off before a Thanksgiving Day Weekend Double Header on October 12th and 13th. The schedule has major events and series in mind, along with the local contingent who wants to see racing back in Sydney. Most teams will not want to travel a long distance during their point championship season but with two strategically placed double headers, management is hoping it will spark the interest for some teams to get on the move to Cape Breton.

The next hurtle to clear was what divisions to run and what building rules would be set for said classes. Dowe has a soft spot for Legend and Bandolero racing with his children racing Bandoleros and himself racing a Legend car from time to time. With both cars coming from the US Legend Cars International shop as turnkey racecars and several used for sale around the region, including a couple from the PPM Inc Motorsports shop, the divisions are easy to enter at the track. The Bandolero cars are designed for youngsters and drivers from aged eight to 16 will be able to compete in these cars at Sydney Speedway while drivers as young as 14 years will be able to compete in Legend competition.

Before the speedway sat idle, the three major divisions at the track included Late Model Sportsman, Street Stock and Four Cylinder Mini Stocks. All three will return to the race track in 2019, with the four cylinder cars represented on all cards with the Sportsman and Street Stock cars racing on both double header weekends.

One of the headlining races on the Opening Weekend will be the Passione Flooring & Interiors East Coast Mini Stock Tour. The series, who has several competitors race on the Tour from Cape Breton, will compete in two 75-lap races, one on July 6th and one on July 7th. The races will be Rounds Three and Four on the nine race schedule. A number of current East Coast Mini Stock Tour drivers competed, and won, at Sydney Speedway when Vasil owned the race track and are excited to be headlining the first weekend of competition at the track since 2016.

When it comes to racing operations, two major hires were made in April to help the racing program succeed in 2019. Tony Leonard and Frankie Fraser Jr. were formerly introduced to the crowd at the Information Meeting held on the Easter weekend at the Hearthstone Inn. Both are racers who have been around race tracks all their lives and will bring their experience and expertise to the track to help grow the facility.

Fraser is one of the big names when it comes to stock car racing in the Maritimes. Not only has Frankie Jr grown up building race cars and traveling to race tracks with his family, he has also driven race cars around the region. Fraser will serve as the Race Director and oversee the track on the three weekends at Sydney Speedway in 2019.

Leonard will serve as Technical Director at the track this upcoming season. Leonard currently serves as the Technical Director for both the NAPA Sportsman Series and the Atlantic Modified Tour and has helped out in technical inspections at both Speedway Miramichi and the CENTRE For Speed in New Brunswick.

Dowe has also set out to purchase and acquire the essentials some might not think of prior to operating a speedway. In addition to technical inspection tools like scales and gauges, Dowe has shopped around for an electronic timing and scoring system for the track. The track had access to a timing and scoring system up to 2016 but was previously borrowed from another facility. Other things such as racing flags, tickets, bracelets and signage are also being acquired in advance of the first race on July 6th and 7th.

That just scratches the surface of what has been put into motion for the Grand Lake Road oval in 2019. Most of the preparation for the new chapter of this story will be completed by the time you get your hands on this issue of Auto and Trucking Atlantic. The remaining staff members will have been put in place, the finishing touches will have been completed and the green flag will be set to fly if it hasn’t already. A new era in motorsports in Cape Breton has begun with the vision of Greg Dowe and his staff at Sydney Speedway!

For up to date information, be sure to give them a follow or a like on your favorite social media channels at @SydneySpeedCA.

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