Don’t start your engines

 

Three stock cars zoom around the Hay River raceway in 2006.
– NNSL file photo

For another summer, there will be no stock car racing in Hay River.In fact, there has been no racing in town since 2009, the last year of what used to be an annual event on the Labour Day long weekend.

A number of reasons are put forward to explain stock car racing’s demise in Hay River.

Lisa Ruggles, an organizer and racer, points to a lack of volunteers.

“With anything in town or any organization anywhere, it’s always the same group of people that carry it out and it kind of had everybody burnt out,” she said.

Dennis Parker, another racer and organizer, agrees volunteer burnout played a major role, but he also noted there were too many car classes, like mini-stock, street stock and modified.

“The modified class got up into too much money into the cars, and I really honestly think if we had just stuck with the street stocks – where a guy could get it race ready for $3,500 type of thing, a maximum $5,000 – that we would have kept a lot of the guys going,” he said.

Parker noted he raced in the modified class and it would cost about $10,000-$15,000 to upgrade a car’s suspension, motor and handling.

At the end of stock car racing in Hay River, the Labour Day long weekend event was the only one of the year. It even attracted out-of-town teams running International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) race cars.

Up to about five years ago, there also used to be other races for local drivers throughout the summer.

The origins of stock car racing in Hay River go back to the early 1990s, and there is hope it may eventually return, but there are a few challenges in the way.

“I’d love to see it come back,” said Gary Asels, a racer and former organizer.

However, Asels noted the racetrack is sinking into the ground, which he believes has been caused by a rising water table after trees were removed on a nearby site for a new health centre.

“It’s going to need a ton of work,” he said, noting a lot of clay will be required to repair the track.

In addition, Asels said new people have to get interested in racing.

Parker would also like to see racing return to Hay River, but also recognized the tracks needs a lot of work and people have to get interested in racing.

“But if we could get the cars and people committed and they’re going to race, we could certainly do the track,” he said.

Parker noted there is no organized effort right now to revive stock car racing, just some talk.

“I can’t see it going next year, but I’d sure hope within a couple or three years we could have it going again,” he said.

Ruggles is more optimistic.

“If the ball started rolling in the fall and through the winter things were worked out deciding what set of rules we were going to use and this and that, then perhaps even come spring something could happen,” she said.

Ruggles said the chances are 50/50 of stock car racing returning. “It could go either way.”

There is still a fan base for stock car racing, she noted. “That was never an issue, getting people out.”

Ruggles also noted the track in Hythe, 54 km west of Grande Prairie, Alta., has taken over the Labour Day long week for racing, which had been a Hay River event since about 2000.

While there is no stock car racing in Hay River, several active racers go south to compete.

David Glaicar travels to a track near Fort St. John, B.C., so his 17-year-old son Colton can race there.

Glaicar would like to see stock car racing return to Hay River.

“I would rather race here than drive eight hours,” he said.

Glaicar, who serves as the mechanic for his son’s car and occasionally races himself, said there is still a lot of interest in stock car racing in Hay River, both by racers and fans.

Parker occasionally goes to a track in La Crete, Alta., where he found other racers who would also like to see the Hay River track reopen for another place to race.

“They’re just itching for us to get our track going,” he said.

Parker, who is the crew chief for Tom Hynes –  a racer at at IMCA events – doesn’t expect that racing circuit to return to Hay River, as southern racers feel it is too far to travel.

Usually, 12-15 IMCA teams would come to Hay River for the September races.

Ruggles said if stock car racing ever returns to Hay River, there would be about five racers ready to go right away, and possibly five to 10 more might be willing to compete with their old cars or build new ones.