We’ve spoken in this space before about the full experience you get at a race track.By Tim Terry
The experience that a race fan has at a track varies based on what they feel like they should get out of it. For some, they want to go to a track, spend some time enjoying some great racing and return home until the next time. Some make a weekend out of it, bringing campers, motorhomes or tents and camp at the track to make an event out of the racing card. A race team or driver experience will differ from a race fan as they are a part of the show, scratching their need for speed in different ways than sitting themselves in the grandstands.
Plenty of these emotions and experiences are shared, regardless what side of the fence you are on. The common thread is that everyone enjoys the sport we love. Whether you are there to watch the rising stars in Late Models, working on your sibling’s Mini Stock or just there to see some great short track racing, the common bond is the sport. Outside of that, there are some other things that are shared, one of those things that I am famous for checking out at every track I go to.
That’s right, I’m talking about the refreshment stand!
Think about it though, besides one race track in the region, folks go to the track to see the competition, spend time with their friends and go to their “happy place.” A majority of folks do not go to the track to eat at the refreshment stand. Though, speaking from experience, a good eat at a track can stick in the mind of a race fan and they’ll return with that in mind when they visit the track the next time.
We’ve chatted about it in these pages before but the best refreshment stand experience in the Maritimes, bar none, has been Valley Raceway. Chef Will Macintosh has redefined what it means to eat at a track and is the exception to the rule above. Several folks have been known to drive to the Melvern Square, Nova Scotia track, out in the middle of the woods, to pay admission and the bill at the food window to eat Will’s food. For those folks, the racing comes second.
Macintosh’s specialty is the Valley Raceway Burger. A double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and his special Thousand Island-esque sauce. The beef is lightly seasoned and is sourced locally from Meadowbrook Meat Market in nearby Berwick. They also have different offerings on the menu, including fresh hand cut French Fries and even Deep Fried Mars Bars to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Now, most race tracks will play the cost card. They want to keep their margins high. A Valley Raceway Burger or something to that effect, is non-existent at any other track in the region. Simply put, the attention to detail is not there. No other track will you find lettuce and tomato as options on your burger or any sauce. That does not go to say that burgers at other tracks are not delicious but they, as the kids say these days, “hit different” at Valley Raceway. With COVID-19, the track has yet to run a race in 2021 after sitting dormant last season but the dirt track crew is hopeful to get back on the clay surface later this fall.
Simply put, quality keeps people coming back. As much as it is the case with the racing product on track, the same can be said with the off-track experience as well.
Scotia Speedworld, led by concession manager JC Fortes, has also set up their game when it comes to their burgers, dumping the frozen patties and getting their beef from Withrow’s Farm Market. A new bun, similar to those that fast food chain Wendy’s uses, puts the burger over the top as one of the best in Nova Scotia. The track even offers Kismit Kettle Corn as a sweet treat to go along with the biggest Weekly Racing Series in the Province. COVID has cut the Speedworld offering down and while you cannot find Onion Rings, poutines or Chicken Fingers on the menu yet, they have focused their attention on the limited offerings.
Not to be outdone, Lake Doucette Motor Speedway has a great barbeque burger that is a wonderful accompaniment to some great racing the Clare area track has to offer. Across the Northumberland Strait, Oyster Bed Speedway prides themselves on quality eats at their canteen. Like Scotia Speedworld though, public health has chopped the grandstands into zones and it ultimately has changed how they operate their refreshment stand.
In New Brunswick, all four paved ovals offer their own concession offerings. Speedway 660 stands apart as the track with the best French Fries in the region, winning “Fan Favorite Food” from Tim’s Corner Motorsports several times over. Speedway Miramchi continues to bring the heat with fresh burgers, poutines and even pizza! Petty International Raceway has Peggy’s Trailer in the pits with several different offering, depending on the day, from spiral fries to mozza sticks along with your favorite race track foods. Shediac’s CENTRE For Speed continues to offer excellent canteen fair, including their famous bologna burgers, at an affordable price to their fans and teams alike.
Some race tracks, whether due to COVID-19 or other operation hurdles, outsource their refreshment operations. Riverside International Speedway has tapped Cabana’s to take care of keeping race fans fed over the past two seasons and their offerings have been some of the best around. With bringing outside operations into a race track, it opens up for different offerings and with Cabana’s comes Fish and Chips. One of the only tracks to offer it on a regular basis, it is an affordable, delicious and different option than the typical burgers and sausages – and yes, they offer those too!
Like Riverside, the CENTRE For Speed has been known to bring in a food truck or two over the Summer to accompany their own in-house concession stands. KC and Sons Fish and Chips have stopped in a couple times over the 2021 season and it isn’t odd to see a truck offering sweets like Mini Donuts at the track – something that isn’t usually seen at racing venues around the region.
The question is – what track will stick their neck out and give us something completely different? There are tracks around North America serving different eats but who will be the first to bend that fine line between profit margins and quality to give the fans something unique. Sure, you’re likely not going to find a salad at a track in the Maritimes anytime soon but we’re awaiting that next breakthrough innovation that will give us something new to talk about in these pages.
Of course, several fans like myself have favourite stops to and from the track in the region. If I’m going to a race at Scotia Speedworld, I usually hit up the Wooden Door Bistro at the Quality Inn Halifax Airport behind the track. They even have a chicken parmesan type dish named after multi-time track champion Dave Matthews. Moncton race fans have been known to visit St. Louis Bar & Grill after the race to support longtime motorsport fan Keith Mackintosh. A Lake Doucette run wouldn’t be complete for me without a stop at Rudder’s Brewpub on the waterfront in Yarmouth. This sport is all about creating lifelong memories and some of those finest bench racing moments are crafted around a supper table after a good hard day of racing.
While COVD has changed the way these tracks operate in every facet, the return to normal or “living with COVID” we hope to get to in 2022 is sure to see changes. From basic operations to something that might seem trivial to most like refreshment stands, there is a lot that goes into planning a show. With COVID provincial guidelines, the restrictions in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are all different. At press time, New Brunswick does not have any restrictions on events or mass gatherings while the other three Provinces have mandated major venues like race tracks to group their fans into separate bubbles or pods. This creates a situation where each pod needs washroom facilities, its own entrance and exit gate along with access to concession stands.
As the racing season winds to a close, get out and enjoy a race at your local short track. Before you know it, the snow will be flying and we’ll be dreaming about the smell of race fuel, burnt rubber, the sight of door-to-door racing and, of course, the taste of race track food. I’m already thinking about my next Scotia Speedworld cheeseburger as I type this.
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!