By Clayton Johns
Barrie Speedway has been sold to Republic Live, the group that produces the Boots and Hearts country music festival.
“After negotiations with our new neighbors we believe that there is no way for the two entities to work together side by side,” said Angela Clarke, a representative of Apex Motorsports, which owned the speedway, via email Thursday.
“They have therefore bought the speedway,” she added.
Clarke deferred any further questions to a joint press release between the two groups, which is expected in the coming days. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
The Barrie Advance reported the speedway had been sold in October when Republic Live purchased neighbouring Burl’s Creek Campground. Apex Motorsports vigorously denied the sale and the paper later posted a correction.
“It’s sad,” said Mike Getliffe, a Barrie Speedway racer of eight seasons. “We all hoped for the best, but knowing the situation and concert dates being constantly added, it was just a matter of time.”
The tight, 1/3-mile paved oval on the outskirts of Oro Station opened in 1965 to host local stock car racing. It underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 2004 when it was reconfigured to its current tri-oval design.
The sale of the racetrack likely means the speedway has heard engines roar for the final time. Its closure would leave Ontario with just eight asphalt stock car racing ovals in operation.
Touring Series Caught Off-Guard
The sale of the speedway does come with some surprise. Apex management held rules meetings for weekly racing divisions at the track and began accepting driver registration for the 2015 season last November. It had also confirmed several dates with major touring series.
There was no dialogue regarding a potential sale of the track between Apex and various touring series, said Dave Gainforth, the president of the Ontario-based OSCAAR Racing series.
“I had several conversations with (track promoter) Diane Cunningham when putting the schedule together, and no indication was given that the track might be sold,” said Gainforth.
“From what I understand, everything has transpired in the last couple of days. I have not spoken to Diane since hearing the news.”
All three divisions of Ontario-based OSCAAR Racing were scheduled to race at Barrie on June 20.
Barrie is listed as a host track for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series (NCTS) on September 12, according to NASCAR’s schedule release in December. It’s unclear how or if NCTS will adjust its schedule. NASCAR officials did not immediately respond to interview requests.
“It is never good to see a track close,” said Gainforth. “In the past three years, three tracks have closed and it has definitely changed the outlook of racing in Southern Ontario.”
Kawartha Speedway closed its doors to weekly racing following the 2012 season. Canadian Tire Motorsports Park demolished its half-mile oval in the summer of 2013.
OSCAAR has no plans to replace the Barrie date, Gainforth said.
Local racers disappointed
Several local drivers were disappointed to hear the racetrack was sold and likely would close.
Current OSCAAR driver Tyler Hawn cut his teeth racing at Barrie. He made the jump to the provincial touring series in 2011. Hawn lives just two kilometres from the speedway in Oro Station.
“It sucks, there’s a lot of history there. We won a big late model 75-lapper there in the early 2000s,” said Hawn, whose father Don Hawn won three track championships at the speedway.
Andre Pepin competed in Barrie’s Limited Late Model division last summer. He finished sixth in weekly points at the track in 2014.
The track’s friendly enivronment and family atmosphere will be missed, said Pepin.
“It wasn’t terribly hustle and bustle. People just seemed to get along a little better than at other tracks,” said Pepin.
“The people at Barrie are one of a kind and felt like a family,” echoed Getliffe.
Pepin, a Midland native, said his first late model win will be his greatest memory of the track.
“Growing up watching races there and being able to win at that track was huge,” said Pepin. “It’s going to be different not having that track around.”
The speedway’s closure will leave several drives without a home track. The nearest track is Innisfil’s Sunset Speedway.
“Sunset is a logical choice,” said Pepin, but he would not confirm plans to race there in 2015.
Peterborough Speedway and Full Throttle Motor Speedway, located near Durham, Ont., are each also approximately 130 km from Barrie Speedway.