By STEVEN PETTY
2020 was a year to remember and one we would all like to forget. With the daily and constant changes happening all around us, there was still one constant that helped make things a little easier, that was being at the track. However, in the Western New York region and on the Niagara Peninsula in in Southern Ontario, racing was sparse. Some facilities in the region raced with fans, most without. Some didn’t even open their gates at all in 2020.
Two tracks that did not open their gates at all were the Ransomville Speedway up in Niagara County and Freedom Motorsports Park down in Delevan. The two Western New York tracks were not going to open without the ability to have fans in the stands and to have drivers come race that live outside the region.
The Ransomville Speedway had a schedule that was the jammed-packed from start to finish in 2020, however the gates at the Braley Road speedplant stayed closed all season long.
“Like many other tracks and businesses across the state, we waited patiently in the spring for phase 4 to begin and used that time to develop the appropriate safeguards at the track to be CDC compliant,” said Ransomville General Manager Jenn Martin.
Ransomville was prepared to open with a safe environment for everyone concerned, including fans, but unfortunately, the Governor of New York’s kept extending his restrictions regarding fans in the stands and the continuing US-Canadian border kept the gates at “The Big R” closed for the season. Ransomville was set to host “The Greatest Show on Dirt,” The World of Outlaws Nos Energy Drink Sprint Cars, the big-block Modified Super DIRTcar Series, BEI Lightning Series, and the Empire Super Sprints this season. Ransomville did make some capital improvements to the facility with a new catch fence plus more work was done to the parking areas and pit area.
Under the direction of track promoter Bob Reis, Freedom Motorsports Park will be running the same program that was originally scheduled for 2020 with the return of the Super Late Models as the headlining division. The DIRTcar Sportsman, Econo/Pro Mods, Street Stocks, Mini Stocks, and the Bandits will all be competing on top of “Thrill Hill.”
“We plan on having our schedule roughed out and posted on our website and social media accounts in the coming weeks” stated Bob Reis. “Our sponsors have shown us some great support during this pandemic and have already plugged them into their respective race nights for 2021 on the same weekends that they would have been scheduled in 2020.”
The Genesee Speedway had a few races that were streamed on DirtTrackDigest.TV In a season that was called “Coronaseason,” the Genesee County Fairgrounds in Batavia saw two-first time track champions in Cameron Tuttle (DIRTcar Sportsman), and Jimmy Johnson (RUSH Crate Late Models). Bill Taylor and Jesse Qutermous were crowned co-champions in the Street Stocks. Dylan Duhow (Novice Sportsman), Brad Whiteside (Mini Stocks), and Jake Bansmer (Bandits) all collected track titles. Track promoters Jim & Pam Johnson are already starting to make plans for the 2021 season, their sixth at the helm of the “Place to Race.” New clay has been transported for resurfacing the 1/3rd mile facility.
“There will be some surprise races for the 2021 season and that will be released once all the dates get finalized,” Jim Johnson said. “We look forward to having all of our great fans and drivers back next season.”
My personal thanks to Jim & Pam and the entire staff and racers at Genesee for letting me provide coverage on the season and for allowing me to share their stories week in and week out.
Over in Southern Ontario, Ohsweken Speedway did not open their gates at all. The 25th Anniversary season for the Styres family facility will now be shifted to 2021.
“When it comes to our neighbors, friends, and family, we need to do the right thing to protect everybody and keep them safe,” Glenn Styres said. “Racing at Ohsweken Speedway is paused, but we are still moving forward and keeping our racing spirit alive with plenty of improvements.”
The pause on the 2020 campaign up in Six Nations, Ontario gave Styres and his team the opportunity to renovate the facility with new additions and upgrades throughout the property. The updates to the facility over the last five months have included a new poured concrete wall on the front stretch which replaces the uneven block wall, a freshly paved pit entrance, new wireless networks, and a satellite tower, construction of VIP Suites overlooking the backstretch and a new parking lot for fans behind the main grandstands. Ohsweken will be the place to catch a race in 2021, with the announcement of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series making its debut on the dirt at Ohsweken next summer as well as the anticipated return to the Big O for the Big-Block Modified Super DIRTcar Series. The tradition will also continue with the 16th running of the Canadian Sprint Car Nationals next September.
Don and Lorraine Speice’s Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ontario raced their way through their 69th season of operation in 2020. Merrittville was featured on a couple of occasions with a Canadian National audience watching on REV TV Canada and streamed live on GForceTV.net. The 358 Modifieds split time with the 360 Sprint Cars as the headlining division at Merrittville. The 358 Modifieds saw reigning Super DIRTcar Series champion Mat Williamson earn three wins and 2019 track champion Gary Lindberg also earning three wins. In the 360 Sprints, Jordan Poirier won two features, with Mitch Brown, Aaron Turkey, and “The Real Deal” Chris Steele each picking up one victory. Greg Panunte led the DIRTcar Sportsman win count with three. James Michael Friesen and Brad Rouse each earned two and Chad Chevalier also scored a win. The competitive Hoosier Stock division saw multi-time track champion Dave Bailey earn a six-pack in his Six Pack special. Multi-time champion Rob Murray won on three occasions. Donny Lampman and “The Merlin Magician” Steve Shaw also scored wins. In the 4 Cylinder division, Kyle Rothwell led the way with four wins and Fabio Olivieri won three. Rob Goulding and Jay Moulton each scored a victory as well. The Mod Lites saw multi-time champions Josh Sliter (4), Jeff May (3) lead the way. Brent Begolo also scored a victory. Jordan Fidler scored four wins in the entry-level V6 division. Josh Dmytrow won three times and John Couture took his Batmobile to victory lane one time in 2020. Only one race was called off due to rain once Merrittville started racing weekly. The last race took place the first weekend in October, the longest that the facility raced in its 69-year history. The Merrittville Reunion Committee presented long time sponsor Terry Keagan with the CAA Dedication to Racing Award. Terry and his business, Baron Roofing & Siding can be seen on several top racecars throughout the Niagara Region and was a co-sponsor of the Super DIRTcar Series race at Merrittville in 2019.
Improvements were made to the historic Thorold speed-plant prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The turn one bar got renovated and a banquet-style room was added to provide fans and outside groups a chance to have meetings, parties, etc. during the offseason and beyond. The concourse area was completely paved for ease of access for fans. With the 70th season at Canada’s Oldest Dirt Track expected in 2021, Merrittville continues to be the Saturday night home of racing in Niagara.
The Humberstone Speedway in Port Colborne, Ontario ran four races this season, with a pair of shows being shown live on GForceTV and broadcasted on REV TV Canada in front of a Canadian national audience. Out of those four shows, only three took place with no more than 100 people in the grandstands in an agreement with the Canadian Ministry of Health and track operators in Southern Ontario.
Racing began at Humberstone on June 13 with Mat Williamson winning the lone 358 Modified event this season. For the first time in a couple of seasons, the 360 Sprints returned to Humberstone and it was Quebec’s Jordan Poirier in victory lane. In two races for the DIRTcar Sportsman, Brad Rouse, and Adam Leslie picked up the checkered flags. The Crate Sprints made three appearances in 2020 with Jacob Dykstra, Josh Hansen, and Liam Martin picking up victories. Charlie Sandercock won the only appearance of the season for the Late Models in open competition between crates and open motors. Justin Ramsay won two Thunderstock events and Steve Shaw also saw victory lane. Austyn Werstroh, Dylan Llord, and Kyle Rothwell won the Mini Stocks events this season.
At the beginning of October, it was announced that Terry Vince will be taking over the Humberstone Speedway starting in 2021. In an agreement with track owners Linda Cosco and Bob Davidson, Vince has taken over from Dave Bitner and starting to put together a plan for 2021.
“I would like to thank Dave Bitner and his family for their time at the speedway,” commented Bob Davidson. “Three years ago, he came looking to get involved and with the passing of both Pete Cosco and Don Simpson, it was exactly what we needed as I could not be at the speedway and the trucking company (Pete Cosco Haulage) and do the job needed to be successful at both businesses.
“I wish him and his family nothing but the best and success on their future endeavors,” Davidson continued. “After speaking to Terry Vince, I feel greatly confident that his ideas and vision is good for our local passion for Dirt Track Racing in the Niagara Region. A lot of what we have talked about are all the same reasons that Pete purchased the speedway 16 years ago.”
I can see great things ahead for Humberstone in 2021. Full details about Vince’s plans will be announced soon.
I cannot thank the track operators enough in Southern Ontario for still allowing and entrusting me to handle the media releases to give me some sense of normalcy in a time where it was anything but. For my announcing comrades Jonathon Howe, Clinton Geoffrey, Greg Calnan, and Adam Ross, what can I say? A simple thank you wouldn’t cut it as you guys all went above and beyond to give the fans in Southern Ontario someone to listen to and watch the races this year. It was different to only watch from my computer screen instead of calling the action live. My gratitude and appreciation to all of you for sending updates and for everything you guys did this year. Fingers crossed that next season we can all be back in the towers together.
A couple of memorable moments for me this season included a stop at Land of Legends Raceway in Canandaigua on Thursday, July 2, and was able to announce a few heat races with track announcer Steven Ovens. I was finally able to check out the set up they have for Land of Legends TV and it was quite impressive, and the crew was top-notch. I was thrilled about getting the chance to call a few heat races with Steve. It was exciting for me as I was finally able to give a checkmark to calling some action at Land of Legends. Thanks to Steve for allowing me to come to announce as I know one person for sure who was smiling down on Canandaigua that Thursday night, the late Gary Montgomery as a couple of his prodigies were behind the mic. That night in Canandaigua was the first with fans in the stands and it certainly was a “sight for sore eyes.” I was able to attend a few races at Land of Legends and cannot thank Paul Cole and his staff enough for the hospitality this season. The place looks amazing and I know that will continue under the leadership of Paul and his staff at the Land of Legends.
A second memorable moment(s) was to provide coverage for DIRTcar Racing’s OktoberFAST in October. I was finally able to check off a new track for me, CanAm Speedway in LaFargeville. The “Nasty Track of the North” lived up to its nickname and Anthony Perrego was able to secure the Big Block win for his second win of the week, in what turned out to be an emotional week for his family. Seeing Jimmy Phelps sweep the 358 and Big Block races at Fulton, to the incredible top three runs by Mike Mahaney all week long was nothing but astonishing. It was not the Super DIRT Week that we had originally planned but it was a great substitute for this year. To see “Mad Max” Max McLaughlin win his first Super DIRTcar Series race at Weedsport was unforgettable. For those enough that were lucky to be there, the most emotional and celebratory moment was McLaughlin’s victory lane ceremony at Weedsport. With everything that Max and his family went through to be able to continue racing and having Max race the car that his dirt racing idol (Matt Sheppard) build, and passing him for the win was a must-see experience that everyone that was there will be able to say that “I was there when…”
I was joined in that trip and several others by friends Marty Czekala and Kelvin Lapierre from RSN Trackside on the ROC Sports Network. Marty and Kelvin were getting their feet wet in motorsports coverage in our region this season and glad I was able to be there with them to experience this season.
I was lucky enough to attend a few races this year to cover the action for Dirt Track Digest. I cannot thank Mike Mallett and the entire staff enough for their support this season and for allowing me to do some writing and provide coverage.
This season was certainly one to remember. We can only pray and hope that 2021 will be a lot more normal so come opening day at whatever track you call home, we can all be there together, united, and watching in person.