Motorsports Industry in Atlantic Canada Optimistic Heading into 2021 Season

For all the die-hard racing fans who’ve been waiting all winter for their fave sport to return, here’s a sneak peek at the racing season that’s expected. 

By Tim Terry

It goes without saying, 2020 was a feast-or-famine year for the motorsport and racing industry within Atlantic Canada. 

While some tracks in New Brunswick saw “COVID-capacity” crowds, neighbouring provinces saw tracks struggle to open or ultimately stayed shuttered for the year due to government regulations around sporting events and large gatherings. Prince Edward Island’s only oval did not open because they couldn’t host bubbles bigger than 50. Nova Scotia started late July for most of their tracks except Valley Raceway, which decided not to open. Both of Newfoundland’s ovals opened but under tight restrictions from their government. 

The winter months have been full of pauses and restarts, or in our industry, yellow and green flags. As of this writing, an Atlantic bubble that was envisioned by the Atlantic provinces has been busted by an outbreak in Edmundston and another cluster forming around Halifax. At this point it seems like the racing season may start within each province before any travel restrictions are lifted – but in a small area like ours it creates quite the frustration, especially in several key aspects of the sport. 

This period can be likened to watching a race where a driver has a loose wheel or a tire going flat. The driver wants to stay out for as long as they can without causing a caution to the rest of the field or ultimately crashing their car or others around them. As a fan, you think the caution is coming but you are also banking on that car getting back to pit road so the rest can continue racing and you see a great finish. As race officials, you are hoping the driver can hold on and no debris flies off the car so you don’t need to throw a caution flag. In short, everyone is expecting to continue but the smallest inconvenience could put the brakes on the proceedings and the wheels could fall off it, literally and figuratively. 

The biggest impact that travel restrictions have in the Atlantic Canadian motorsports industries can be felt on touring series. None bigger than the Maritime Pro Stock Tour.

The region’s top touring series, which just announced East Coast International Trucks as their new title sponsor, are slated to begin with back-to-back races at the end of May. These races take place at Petty International Raceway in River Glade, NB and Scotia Speedworld in Enfield, NS. Not only do these races take place in two separate provinces, race teams, officials and fans hail from all three Maritime provinces. Without an “Atlantic bubble,” these touring divisions do not exist. The Maritime League of Legends Tour, the Heart of a Champion Hot Rod Classics and Passione Flooring & Interiors East Coast Mini Stock Tour face similar challenges, though the Hot Rod Classics are not slated to start their summer until July. 

The Atlantic Modified Tour is faced with a situation where all of their tracks and all but one of their competitors, PEI’s Doug MacEwen, are based in New Brunswick. The downside they face is their lead technical inspector, Tony Leonard, lives in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick does not deem motorsports as an essential job, so Leonard has been unable to enter the province since November. With a sealed motor rule with the series and Leonard being the only one able to seal those engines, it leaves the series in a bind ahead of their first scheduled race on May 23rd at Petty International Raceway. 

The new government rule in New Brunswick that forces truck drivers and non-essential rotational workers to isolate between shifts presents a situation for several tracks with drivers running for points. As an example, Street Stock drivers Justin Cole and Chris Wilson, both career truck drivers, would not be able to go to a race track while making a living. This would create a whole new issue for those drivers running for championship points at their home race tracks in the province. 

With the Halifax Regional Municipality under a lockdown, non-essential travel is not recommended in- and-out of the region. That means Scotia Speedworld is not permitted to open for track rentals or practices even if the facility is ready to open for the year. Teams from the region should not be traveling to other tracks to shake down their cars and if the restrictions continue to the May 20th expected date, it leaves Sydney Speedway in a situation on whether they allow those teams and individuals from HRM to travel and compete in their season opening weekend on Cape Breton Island. 

In a short week, a lot has changed as the government puts the brakes on a racing season during a pandemic. There is a lot of frustration around rules, changing restrictions and even the fact that our closest friends in New England have kicked off their racing season due to their vaccination program being further ahead. There is a bright side though – with the 2020 season beginning in July in most places and vaccines on the horizon, there still could be a prosperous 2021 season. Many questions remain around the pandemic, however. 

What’s clear is that all of the region’s organized oval facilities have been working towards a racing season should the government allow it to take place. 

Here’s a little glimpse, per province, on what to look forward to in 2021.

NEW BRUNSWICK

Over the winter, all four major stock car tracks have been working together to help ease the pain on scheduling, even announcing a five race Street Stock Series with Oyster Bed Speedway in Prince Edward Island. 

Speedway 660 and Petty International Raceway anchor the schedule as both tracks will all but alternate weeks that each run. Fans and drivers from both tracks can expect much the same as 2020 presented with no conflicting events between the two popular venues. The only weekend you’ll see the tracks not hosting stock car racing events is the July 24th-25th IWK 250 weekend at Riverside. For fans that want to stay in New Brunswick though, Petty International Raceway will be presenting their Day of Destruction event, which was shelved last year due to the pandemic. 

Petty International Raceway sees stops from all major regional touring series, anchored by three scheduled East Coast International Pro Stock Tour events. The River Glade International moves to early July and the Mike Stevens Memorial weekend continues with its traditional September date. Speedway 660 has several major events, including the 21st Annual SpeedWeekend on Labour Day Weekend. The season once again extends past the long weekend in September and closes with the Ricky Bobby Street Stock 150 presented by DMR Auto on September 25th.

Speedway Miramichi saw a resurgence in 2020 and included more than one “COVID capacity sellout” at the historic oval. The track ran a winter demolition event in March once government restrictions allowed and are planning on another busy schedule that is slated for a May 15th green flag. The Very Best Fall Shootout returns in October but expands to a two-day show on October 1st and 2nd. The season will wrap up on October 23rd with the Halloween Spooktacular and the Last Call Bomber 100. 

The CENTRE For Speed also returns after a successful season in 2020 that saw Greg Turner help promote the Grand-Barachois facility. Several events are on the ever-changing schedule for the track, including the Atlantic Stock Car Championships on Thanksgiving Day Weekend in October. 

NOVA SCOTIA

Scotia Speedworld and Riverside International Speedway, the two best known oval facilities in the province, remain on the list of recognized venues with the province as of press time. With those facilities, they are typically allowed to host bigger bubbles or pods of crowds, though 2021 regulations have not been announced and are sure to be fluid with the way the pandemic has turned. 

Both tracks have schedules that are headlined by the East Coast International Pro Stock Tour and are similar to those laid out in 2020 prior to the pandemic hitting. The CARSTAR Weekly Racing Series at Scotia Speedworld kicks off on Friday, May 28th and runs every Friday night (with off-weekends July 23rd and August 27th) until the middle of September. Riverside International Speedway has four major weekends with the Steve Lewis Presents the IWK 250 Super Weekend taking centre stage on the July 23rd-24th weekend. 

Lake Doucette Motor Speedway was the first Nova Scotia track to re-open in 2020 and is planning an eight race schedule in 2021 that sees the half mile oval operate every second Sunday beginning June 13th. The Passione Flooring & Interior East Coast Mini Stock Tour is slated to race at the southern Nova Scotia track on August 8th and an INEX-sanctioned Legend division will be added throughout the year.

Sydney Speedway, who got their 2020 season started by racing without fans last July, have added two more divisions (a six cylinder Thunder and four cylinder domestic Hobby class) and are shifting their focus towards a local schedule. More events have been added compared to previous seasons and former Mini Stock champion Kody Quinn will oversee the local portion of the program. The Maritime League of Legends Tour will return to the Cape Breton Island oval on June 5th with the Passione Flooring East Coast Mini Stock Tour heading into town two weeks later on June 19th. Their Thanksgiving Thunder weekend moves a week earlier in 2021 to October 2nd and 3rd.

Valley Raceway, the province’s only organized stock car dirt oval, is slated to get back to racing on May 30th for a full season. The track recently updated their Sunday calendar after taking previously released area schedules into consideration. The season ends in late September with the first two Sundays in October reserved for rain dates from the year.

NEWFOUNDLAND

Both Eastbound Park and Thunder Valley Speedway are aiming to be open this season for stock car racing.

Thunder Valley Speedway in Bishop’s Falls, was first to open in 2020 under strict guidelines when it came to gathering limits. The Central Newfoundland bullring will race five times in 2021 beginning on June 26th and completing their schedule on August 21st. 

Eastbound Park, back under NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series sanctioning for 2021, will look to return to a ten race schedule. Headlined by the NASCAR Division I Sportsman class, the season will see the green light on Victoria Day Weekend and run until late September. The track saw a shortened season in 2020.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

The only Atlantic province that saw no stock car oval racing in 2020 returns in 2021 at Oyster Bed Speedway with a ten-race schedule. The race season at the Oyster Bed Bridge oval begins on the Victoria Day Long Weekend on Sunday, May 23rd and will conclude on Monday, September 6th with the option of rain dates being added at the end of the season. Two East Coast International Pro Stock Tour dates bookend the month of July and they will also see the Maritime League of Legends Tour, the Passione Flooring & Interiors East Coast Mini Stock Tour and the Heart of a Champion Hot Rod Classics in July.

Several major local events litter the calendar from May to September. The track will also kick off the Maritime Street Stock Series with a 100-lap feature on Saturday, June 12th. 

These schedules are subject to change as the pandemic and restrictions do. For now, if you want to check out what is going on every weekend throughout the season, you can head over to Tim’s Corner Motorsports and their Master Schedule (timscorner.ca/masterschedule) of all the tracks listed above! As always, be sure to check with your local venue on information about their events prior to heading to the track!

The bright side? The 2020 season was still a memorable one, albeit different, and it didn’t get started on time. Let’s hope we get started before, we can enjoy some great touring series racing and every driver, track and fan gets to enjoy the sport we all love right in our back yards. Stay safe, follow protocols and we’ll all get back to the track in due time.

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