By Greg Calnan – After a stretch of visiting familiar speedways in Ontario during the month of July, the opportunity finally arose to travel to a new destination on Saturday, August 14th. My father Dale and I headed back on the highway to promote OntarioOval.com, but this trip was filled with a different kind of anticipation. Since marking the date on my calendar, I had been anxious about visiting the newly renovated Sunset International Speedway in Innisfil.
Best known for his talent behind the wheel, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series driver Mark Dilley and the folks at Wide Open Motorsports Solutions took over promoting and operating the track in 2009 after the track was sold to a group of new owners. Immediately the new group began making changes to the facility. Unfortunately I never had the chance to see the ‘before’ product at Sunset, but I can tell you the ‘after’ results are astounding. It is obvious that a large financial investment was made to renovate the new high banked 1/3 mile oval, however it’s also very apparent that a great deal of pride and consideration has gone into the transformation.
Upon entering the speedway grounds, the entire facility had a very polished and tidy look. Everything from buildings to billboards are in tip-top condition while parking is ample and well organized. We signed in and headed to the pit area for our first glimpse of the track. Immediately we noticed the large expansion that was taking place in the pits. Although the track surface is complete, further progress is still very evident all around.
My father and I headed straight to the corner one fence to take a look at the new layout. Everything is fresh and new, and judging by the setup of the infield I had a sneaking suspicion that some big events are planned in the coming years. A complete pit road with a large number of stalls encompasses the track from corner three all the way around to corner two. After speaking with a number of people, it became obvious that the goal is to host a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event as early as 2011. I for one will be there without hesitation if it is added to the schedule.
Not only has the track surface and pit area been upgraded, but the spectator side of the fence has seen some tremendous work done as well. A brand new concrete walkway between the track and the stands has been poured, and much of the seating has been replaced or upgraded. The setup of the grandstand is unique. Although the bottom row of seats are a decent distance from the front-stretch fence, you somehow get a feeling like you are right on top of the action.
Before we had the chance to start handing out our promotional material and decals in the pit area, many teams came up to us and welcomed us to the track. In all our travels in 2010 everyone has treated us great across the province, but the attention we seemed to draw at Sunset was unique. It was as though we were being welcomed into the family and being shown the ropes.
Many competitors, staff and officials came to us, introduced themselves and gave us a little information on the track. Our first time to a speedway is always a little unnerving because you just don’t know what to expect, but the folks at Sunset made us feel at home within minutes of arriving.
While touring the pit area we talked to a number of teams and handed out every decal we had brought with us. A few faces were familiar, but for the most part we were meeting an entirely new group of racers. There seems to be a good amount of camaraderie amongst the teams and that was nice to see.
Once the racing began, my father headed to his usual position at a racetrack – in the infield to take photos. There he met track photographer Mike Kiers and his wife Joan. We are always careful not to infringe on each photographer’s home turf, but Mike went above and beyond to be professional and courteous. He is also a great photographer. There were some memorable moments during the evening, and he had caught them all as they were happening. His work can be viewed at www.cableguyphotos.com. I also have to mention that Mike is the first photographer I have ever seen who wears a helmet while he shoots. He said a neon vest won’t stop a car from hitting you, but a helmet might help keep you safe if a car, tire or part were coming at you. He makes a great point and both my father and I thought that it was a very positive and proactive way to think about safety.
When you first see the newly paved racing surface, you envision tight bullring type action, but the track actually races very differently. Every division on this night had three and even four-wide racing at times, making it entertaining from start to finish. The thought put behind a track’s layout is very crucial to the outcome of the final product and it’s entertainment value. No corners were cut on this, and you can tell that by how competitive the racing was in each class. My ‘tip of the cap’ on this night goes to the ownership and management group at Sunset for the fantastic job they’ve done. Being a track owner is not easy, but it is obvious that attention to detail is prevalent in all facets of the speedway.
On this night, the fans definitely got their money’s worth as the Late Model race saw a heated battle between point leader Chris Morrow, Rob Poole, and wiley veteran Stompin’ Tom Walters. In the end Walters muscled his way to victory lane and gave an entertaining interview.
The Super Stock division at Sunset has some of the most unique creations I have seen of any Street Stock style class in the province. With my father and I both being Mustang fans, the #14 of Ken Britt had to be one of the best looking race cars we have seen all year. The other major stand out is the Chrysler 300 #44 of Dave Doucette, creativity certainly isn’t lacking in this division. In the end it was Kyle Donaldson picking up another feature win after starting deep in the field. Kyle has been nearly untouchable in 2010 and I was able to see first-hand why he is so good.
The Mini Stock class had ample room to get around the 1/3 mile oval and they used every inch of the track. At the conclusion of their 25 lap feature, point leader #10 Doug Butler was standing in victory lane.
A couple of unforeseeable snags slowed the program on this evening, but overall the product on and off the track was fantastic. Side-by-side racing is the norm at this track and the action is non-stop. The signs that further improvements are being made just leads to even more excitement over the future possibilities for Sunset. I for one look forward to returning again in the near future.
THANK YOU: Thank yous go to the many teams, officials and staff that helped make our visit a memorable one. You certainly have a great family atmosphere in the pit area and make visitors feel welcome. Also, thank you again to Mike Kiers for his hospitality and helpfulness in making sure we could get some quality photos.
WHO I MET: When we go to a track for the first time it’s hard to remember all of the people that I meet. A number of drivers and crewmembers were great in welcoming us to the track. While we were there though, I did get a chance to meet track General Manager Steve Slaughter, and Tech Director Ted Gray. Both men were very helpful and took care of any need we had. It is an organized group at Sunset, and it is evident that it comes from the top.
While in the infield my father also met Luke Greiner of PitPass.tv. Luke is launching a new website highlighting tracks, series and teams through video. You can contact Luke at LukeGr@hotmail.com.
WHO WAS THERE: As is the case every race night, the voice of Sunset Spencer Lewis was there and I had a chance to catch up with him. If you haven’t heard Spencer announce before, then you’re in for a treat. He knows his racing and he knows the drivers and their stories, but most of all he knows how to announce. It was a pleasure to stand in the tower with him on this night and keep informed on all the latest news from both on and off the track. You can also catch Spencer’s Ontario Asphalt Short Track Power Rankings column in every issue of Inside Track Motorsport News. To subscribe visit www.insidetracknews.com.
WHO I MISSED: While both my father and I got to try a ‘Dilley Burger’ at Sunset, we unfortunately didn’t get to meet Mark himself. He was in Quebec on this evening competing in the NASCAR race at Trois-Rivieres. Everyone who spoke about Mark though had only great things to say about him. Hopefully in a future visit I will be able to meet him and thank him for the hospitality his staff showed towards us.
This edition of “On The Road” took us to a new location, and a newly renovated track to meet some new people who are race addicts like us. The visit was well worth the drive to see some of the best short track action we’ve seen all year.
We look forward to returning to Sunset International Speedway in the future, and meeting up again with our new friends. If you haven’t been to Sunset yet, I strongly urge you to visit. More information can be found at www.sunsetspeedway.ca.
That does it for this week’s edition, so until next time I’ll see you “On The Road!”
Greg Calnan – Editor / Columnist for OntarioOval.com. Contact Greg at email@example.com