Archive | by Anthony Leek

Dirt Track Racing Is Family

Dirt Track Racing Is Family

By Anthony Leek – Throughout many parts of the United States and Canada, Oval Dirt Track Racing has a long and deep rooted history. In the Midwest in particular, over seventy years of racing on dirt tracks has developed into generations of families getting and staying involved over the decades.

In the small town of Emo, Ontario, Canada, a racetrack called the Emo Speedway has been a part of a community tradition since 1954. In its long storied history, family has been the main theme that has kept the spirit of dirt track racing alive. Fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles, cousins, the list goes on and on. For instance, Gary Wilson is a driver that started when his  father Orbra introduced him to it in 1970. Forty years later, Wilson is still racing, while his son Mike has been racing since late 2006.

In the Jackson family, Glen was one of the individuals to bring racing back to the community in 1965. His son Tom and daughter Linda both raced stock cars in the late 1980s to the 1990s. Richard Visser has been racing since 1966 and still continues today, while his son Anthony has been racing since 1992. There are dozens of examples that show it is all in the family. 

Whenever you drive through the Rainy River District, one thing you may notice the most is the race cars sitting on so many of the front lawns. Just mention the word about racing in a grocery store or any kind of gathering and you will find drivers, pit crewmen, officials, volunteers, and even sponsors in the crowd.

From an outsider, racing may seem pretty simple. Just jump into a car and turn left. While the logistics of racing are a bit more complicated than that, one would quickly realize that dirt track racing is not about turning left, it is about family. In the case of Kendal Gamsby (three time track champion), his older brother Garrett is a pitman as well as mechanic, his younger brother was a race car driver, and his father keeps an eye on all the statistics in the stands on race nights.

Another great example of family is the wonderful barbeques that take place after a great night of racing. Throughout the year, there are birthday parties, celebrations, and traditions that involve plenty of people, plenty of food, and of course, plenty of talk about racing. All the people involved with racing come out to these events to show support of each other.

It is more than just individual families that get into racing, the whole community does. In effect, it creates a family of community that creates a relationship within all members of the region. Like any family there are arguments, but at the end of the day, everyone comes out to support their family. Whether a person is a part of the organization as a driver, a volunteer, a sponsor, or just a fan, everyone feels connected.

In 2009, the Borderland Racing Association celebrated the fifty-fifth anniversary of the original opening of the Emo Speedway. Three original drivers of the first race to ever happen were in attendance. Raoul Cayer, who is ninety-two years old currently recalled that the “crowd was so packed into the grandstand that it looked on the edge of collapse.” Cayer won the very first race at the track and still attends the races today on occasion. He is one of hundreds of drivers that remain rooted in the racing community, even after fifty-five years.

Dennis Pelepetz is the grader operator at the track and was once a driver himself in the 1960s and 1970s. His son, Dwayne, has raced since 1986. For Dennis, his racing career was some of the most memorable moments in his life and he stated that if he could go back to the beginning of it all, he would “do it all over again”. Although it has been several years since he raced last, being a part of the community has given him the desire to keep helping out for others.

Steve Arpin is an ARCA Re/Max Race Car driver in the United States who got his start in the late 1990s at the Emo Speedway. Growing up in the Rainy River District, he got his start in Go-Karts and moved to Mini-Sprints, then to Modifieds. Even though it has been five years since his last race in Emo, Arpin continues to mention in several of his interviews about considering the track his home track and wanting to come back when he gets the chance to again. He has become an extension of the family community, spreading his talents and great personality to others throughout the racing world.

The track is a part of the WISSOTA Promoters’ Association, a non-profit organization that sanctions over fifty tracks throughout the Midwest United States and Central Canada. Being a part of a larger community allows drivers and fans alike to travel to different tracks and feel welcomed into their families as well. This creates a great network of communication that can help to build the continued success of dirt track racing to all as an entertainment venue and a tradition.

The talk of community and family is not just limited to the Midwest and WISSOTA. It is seen at all levels and regions. Kurt Busch/Kyle Busch, Gilles Villeneuve/Jacques Villeneuve, Rusty Wallace/Kenny Wallace/Mike Wallace, A.J. Foyt and his children are also examples of family at the national stage from the past to the present. 

It is at these small dirt tracks, in little communities that continue to maintain the tradition of family and belonging. It is those people that are always welcoming of new individuals and never afraid to share the passion. During the spring to fall months, a night of racing is more than just cars turning left; it is family having a great time together and sharing traditions with the next generation.

Posted in by Anthony Leek, Exclusive Features, Features0 Comments

Winning At The Fair Is A Special Moment

Winning At The Fair Is A Special Moment

By Anthony Leek –  The Emo Fall Fair over the past decades has become more than just a two day event, it has become the biggest weekend in racing in the region and draws dozens of competitors from as far west as Saskatchewan, as far south as St. Paul, and as far east as Thunder Bay.

With the two days of races, there were no repeat winners as Chuck Lambert and Cody Wolkowski took the WISSOTA Midwest Modified wins, Nolan Olmstead and Joey Galloway took the WISSOTA Modified wins, and Ron Westover and Scott Messner took the wins in the Street Stocks. 

The capacity crowd had their share of watching some great entertainment with several close battles and last lap passes. The high car counts of all three classes showed a wide variety of talent and luck. There were several surprise moments throughout the weekend as well. 

On Friday night, Nolan Olmstead returned to the Emo Speedway for the first time in seven years and claimed the checkered flag after holding off a hard charging Joey Galloway and Derrick Big Eagle. During the post-race interview, Olmstead was gleaming. 

“To come back here after seven years and win on a fair night is really awesome. It is so great to see such a large crowd come out because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy what we do out on the track.”
Olmstead is the promoter for Greenbush Race Park, approx. 2.5 hours west of Emo. He has not had much time Modified racing this season due to that commitment but the Emo Fall Fair will definitely be a highlight for him for months to come. 

Another driver, who rarely is able to come to Emo anymore, is Joey Galloway, who now works out in Saskatchewan and races normally on the IMCA circuit. While this was not his first win during the fair, the feelings of pride and accomplishment are no less.

“The Emo Speedway put on a really great show this weekend. It feels just as great to win it a second time as it did the first time. Without all the help from my family and friends this just wouldn’t be possible. It feels great to come back and take a win.”

It was definitely a time for celebration for Chuck Lambert who has run a more limited season this year, but came out flying during Friday night’s event.  “It was awesome to win. It was actually a scary thing. Cody Wolkowski, Kevin Monteith, and others I knew were coming. It’s really good to win since it is the Rea Memorial. The Rea’s are big supporters of racing and it means a lot to me to win it for them.”

For Scott Messner, winning at the Emo Speedway is something he enjoys doing and the noise the crowd made when he won on Saturday showed that local fans approve of him. It was a hard fought weekend for Messner, who has several engine troubles on Friday night which ended his race early. But Saturday night was a big change as he drove from deep in the field to battle for top spot with Darryl Desserre just beating him on the last lap.

“I have to thank all the fans, my girlfriend, and my family and friends for being able to support me and my racing career. It feels great to come back a year later and win at the fair again.”

The Rea Memorial Championship is a two-day points battle that are added up on the end of night two and presentations are done in front of the pit canteen after the completion of events. Glen Strachan was the big winner in the overall points, despite not winning on either night. High, consistent finishes were more important in the points chase. 

“This year has been a really big change from last year. We had so many problems last year with engine, transmissions that it was starting to become a burden. This year has been a big difference with leading the points this year and now winning the Rea Memorial Championship.”

Every driver has someone to thank and it was really shown during the feature interviews in front of the grandstand. It is this kind of dedication from fans, drivers, sponsors, families and friends, that make the Emo Speedway and the Rea Memorial Weekend a special place to be each and every year.

Posted in by Anthony Leek, Emo Speedway, Exclusive Features, Features0 Comments

Emotional Win For Wilson

Emotional Win For Wilson

By Anthony Leek – Racing has been in their blood for three generations, so it came as no surprise to see young Mike Wilson eventually take his first feature win on July 17th after starting in the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds class in 2006 at the Emo Speedway. His father, Gary Wilson has been racing since 1970, when “Grandpa” Wilson got him hooked on the idea. In Mike’s fifth year of racing, the season began with a rough start with only a couple of top ten finishes by mid-season.

“I haven’t had a very good season for the most part. I’ve been broke a lot.” Wilson said, “But I want to try and make it to the front to mix it up with the guys.”

Most of his career in the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds has been up and down. In July 2007, Wilson blew a right front tire on the last lap of his heat race, causing him to fly over the embankment and rolled several times before coming to a dead stop on the horse track. It has been a long road to get back on track and finally be able to achieve a moment he had never experienced before in his racing career.

“I just didn’t think that white flag was ever going to come. I think Bob [the flagman], added a couple laps at the end. I just held my line and ran as smooth as possible.” Wilson recalled. “The last caution had me a bit worried.”

And worried he should have been. Points leader Brady Caul had moved up to second spot after having started further back in eighth and was given a green-white-checker chance to beat Wilson to the line.

“I knew someone was going to take a shot at beating me, but I realized that if I raced clean and stuck to my line that I could hopefully hold them off.”

What was most important for his first ever feature win was how much it would make his father proud. After decades of racing, including a track championship at Emo in 1986, Gary Wilson was a man with an unforgettable smile that night.

“It was a highlight for me. It was just as important to me for him to win a clean sweep as it would be for me to win a clean sweep. I hope he wins a few more so that we can all celebrate again.” Gary enthused.
For Mike, feelings ran high as he grabbed the checkered flag for the very first time and dedicated the victory lap to his father.

“It was very emotional holding that flag after winning the feature. I wanted to make my Dad happy more than anything. It was a big deal for him to watch me win, which is what makes me feel the best.”

Plans for the future are vaguely known to Mike, but according to the smile on his face, “I don’t plan on quitting any time soon.”

Posted in by Anthony Leek, Emo Speedway, Exclusive Features, Features0 Comments