By Clayton Johns - Big waves were made in the Ontario racing community when Gord Bennett announced his purchase of Varney Speedway Motorplex on Monday.
The news quickly spread on social media after Bennett made the announcement on his personal Facebook page. He confirmed the purchase to Joe Chisholm on Racetime Radio (RTR) Monday night.
Bennett is a veteran driver on both dirt and asphalt. He raced a late model at Flamboro Speedway and a sprint car with the Southern Ontario Sprints last season.
Varney’s former owner, Kent Nuhn, thanked fans, staff, and drivers on the track’s Facebook page for their support during the family’s two-year ownership of the track.
No financial terms of the transaction have been made public.
The track will be renamed Full Throttle Motor Speedway, based on Bennett’s marketing company, Full Throttle. The change represents a new chapter for the speedway, Bennett said.
The biggest news the Cambridge, Ont. resident offered was a $50,000-to-win, triple-50 Pro Late Model race on August 31. A driver will have to win all three segments to take home the payday, he told RTR.
Six divisions will race regularly at the ¼-mile bullring about 90 kilometres north of Guelph. Race night will switch to Friday from the traditional Saturday, a wise attempt to avoid conflict with nearby Sauble Speedway.
Drivers in all divisions will compete under the rule package from any other Ontario track, but cannot combine rulebooks. Utilizing rules already in place is a smart and necessary decision with just two weeks before most tracks open for the season.
The decision could be a step towards a common set of rules between the province’s asphalt short tracks. Asphalt promoters need to take that page out of the dirt handbook. Perhaps this is Bennett’s way of bringing his dirt experience to the other side.
Bennett also told RTR he is adding an extra lane to the bottom of the track’s tricky turn four for this season. But the fix appears to be temporary. The front-stretch of the track will receive a makeover at season’s end and will be moved back 12-feet, said Bennett.
Changes to the layout of the racing surface and rules structure are a positive step. But there are a number of changes Bennett should consider to solidify the track’s future, assuming the financial support is available.
The sand and gravel lined pit area is in serious need of improvement. There aren’t enough concrete pads. The outdoor technical inspection needs to be updated and brought indoors. Asphalt needs to replace gravel laneways. Bennett has the space to make Full Throttle’s pit area the envy of the province. And he should.
If reinventing the track’s front straightaway is part of Bennett’s plan, the change will be more than a new floor plan. Moving the retaining wall 12-feet means the spectator grandstand will need to be moved. Here’s hoping they are torn down and replaced.
The existing structures have served their purpose well, but are outdated. At the very least, they are in need of a major face-lift. New grandstands that better suit a change in track design will help improve the fan experience.
New washrooms and concession stands will be essential to entertaining new fans. It’s a racetrack, so nobody is expecting a crystal chandelier. But the current facilities feature chipped paint, ugly plumbing, and crooked stalls. They need to be replaced.
The track has an automated transponder scoring system, but lacks a (working) scoreboard to relay information to fans. A scoreboard is a necessity in modern sport. Short-track racing isn’t any different.
A lack of ambition certainly won’t be Bennett’s problem. A $50,000 prize proves he has plenty. But Ontario’s newest promoter will have to do more than throw money at drivers to put Full Throttle among elite tracks.
These changes won’t happen over night, and many will take between three and five years to achieve. The diehard and dedicated Varney fan and driver base will continue to stream through the gates. That’s not going to change.
But the experience and appearance matters to the casual fan, to the skeptical driver. Bennett needs to please that group if he hopes to be successful in his newest adventure.
Regardless, Bennett’s first steps are good news for racing in Ontario. His fresh ideas bring new life to a track that would otherwise be closed. The road ahead is tough, but Bennett has the ability and the will to succeed.
The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Clayton Johns @cjohnsmedia.