Posted on 26 January 2015.
By Clayton Johns
Burl’s Creek Event Grounds has purchased the Barrie Speedway and will close the track permanently.
A joint press release from the campground and Apex Motorsports, which previously owned the speedway, confirmed the sale and stated the track is now closed permanently after 45 years of operation. The land will become “supportive space” for future events at the campground.
Contrans Group Inc. CEO Stan Dunford purchased Burl’s Creek campground last October. Dunford is also a majority shareholder of Republic Live, the company that produces the annual Boots and Hearts country music festival. Boots and Hearts will be held at Burl’s Creek for the first time in August 2015.
“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 Apex Motorsports co-owner, which previously owned the speedway, via email last week.
“The Barrie Speedway has a storied history and many will be sad to see it go,” said Apex Motorsports owner Diane Cunningham.
“The decision came from an assured place however; Burl’s Creek is headed in an exciting new direction.”
Exciting isn’t exactly the word most former racers are using to describe the sale.
“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 closure leaves 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 Ontario-based OSCAAR Racing.
“I had several conversations with 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 of OSCAAR’s divisions 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. With Barrie closed, the NCTS schedule sits at just 10 races. It’s unclear how the schedule will be changed or if the race will be replaced. NASCAR officials have not responded 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 will close for good.
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.
Correction: The original version of the story reported that Republic Live had purchased the Barrie Speedway. In fact, Burl’s Creek Campground has purchased the speedway. Contrans Group Inc. CEO Stan Dunford owns Burl’s Creek Event Grounds. Dunford is also a majority shareholder of Republic Live.