By Peter Turford – I really believe with the lack of respect shown to the Southern Ontario Sprints by some teams and several speedways that they are the Rodney Dangerfield of Ontario motorsports. Here is why I love the Southern Ontario Sprints so much.
As far as being an open wheel racing fan goes, I grew up in the best of times and worst of times. When I was 6 years old there where 3 speedways running supermodifieds within an hour’s drive of my home in Stratford ON. When I was 9 there were none. There was a bounceback for almost 3 years when Jack Greedy first promoted Delaware. Unfortunately, by the time I was a teenager, supermodifieds were all but dead and buried in Ontario. There would be the odd “special” and even attempts to go weekly at Speedway Park and Delaware but it never “took’. In general if I wanted to see full size open wheel racing I had to travel to Oswego, NY or Sandusky, OH. The Late Models that replaced the supers locally, would turn the track at speeds closer to that of a hobby car than a supermodified. By a late model I mean a late 60′s early 70′s Camaro or Chevelle with more dents and bangs in it than you would see on a street stock today. They just never did it for me – I realize I am the exception and many people loved the Earl Ross, Norm Leliott, Biederman and Junior Hanley era – but I was and remain an open wheel guy. As I grew older I would drive by several late model tracks to get to Sandusky Ohio, or Oswego New York. I spent more hours and more dollars traveling to those tracks than I care or want to admit. Most times I felt I saw a good show and I believed that the time and money were worth it. I figured my race watching and participation was forever limited to this until 1996…….
That was when I first heard rumours about a new racing series being started by Jon Banas and others in Ontario. It was to be 360 sprint cars run on the dirt tracks in Ontario, two of which were to be new facilities allegedly being built, one on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford and one was to be part of the new Grand Bend Motoplex being built on the site of the old Grand Bend Dragway (never happened). The other track that was to be involved was South Buxton Raceway near Chatham (which up until that time I had never heard of). The thinking was to match the rules of the other nearby racing series in Michigan (SOD) and New York (ESS). The cars(chassis) would be available for minimal cost as used chassis and parts could be picked up at the Fremont (Ohio) and Silver Springs (PA) flea markets for pennies on the dollar. Another important key to success is that the series for all intents and purposes would be built around the small block Chevrolet (like all other sprint car series). In short a guy could go hard core racing with less than 10 grand in his car. We’re talking full up, fuel injected, open wheel racing where the motors were loud and the cars were fast. The very things that I loved about the supermodifieds and drew me into the sport all those years ago.
I attended that first ever SOS race at South Buxton as an official with the series – worked as the cone man (in those days the cone was on the backstretch) did safety tech and even wrote up a race report – which was never published and was lost long ago. But I do remember John Naida and Jerry Whitney putting on a spirited deal which I believe Whitney eventually won. The car count was 11 and the club was on its way. Over the years the club grew in fits and starts, but usually with the right trajectory. Like all racing organizations there were complaints about inadequate purse, handicapping rules/tech enforcement etc. But eventually the club was performing with full fields and in front of full houses.
As it grew, the club was seen by many as anochronistic, pay spread through the field, last to adopt cockpit adjustable wing sliders, last to allow titanium brake rotors, banning piggyback shocks, never getting off the very hard and unracy American Racer MC-3 (that would last forever). Most saw this as regressive – my belief is that these rules took some of the “money” factor out of racing. The thinking being if you can’t hook up the power , you don’t need the power. I will also believe that as the years went on, the teams that would most benefit from those rules, with few exceptions, never fully supported the club.
I will say this, 10 years ago when my son expressed a desire to go racing – I could not find a more viable nor cost effective option. I still believe that to this day. Like in all racing you will never make any money, but you will go broke later racing with the SOS than in any other form of racing. There where many nights when something dumb happened and we had a craptacular night – BUT – the SOS pay structure spread through the field like it is, allowed us to keep our show on the road. I believe that even today, SOS tow money pays better than 10th spot in a World of Outlaws B Main.
The last few years have been tough for the SOS and yet SOS President Mike Ferrell and his team keep plugging along. Tracks continue to do well by the series, but for some reason the SOS is still on a bit of slippery ground. My personal belief is that the SOS does not have and has never really had a strong sales type guy pushing things along. At one time I tried to be that guy and it just wasn’t me – and I think Mike would say the say about himself. The club has always tried to be upfront and work with integrity with the teams and promoters and while I feel this is the right way to do things it is probably not the most advantageous. I believe the majority of promoters still would rather be sold a line of crap when booking a show than have someone undersell and over deliver. I can’t remember how many times the SOS would go in put on a solid show, the promoter would be pleased “promise” to book us for next year and by November have amnesia, or that promoter would be out, a new one in place and having to start all over again.
My final thought is this, right now we are overwhelmed with sprint car racing in Ontario – and that is all well and good. But don’t take it for granted – we used to be overwhelmed with supermodified racing and later super late models – things can change in a hurry. Support what we’ve got.
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 Peter Turford at firstname.lastname@example.org.