by Gary McWilliams (aka Festival Nomad)
“The following is an article written after our visit to the Kawartha Speedway in Peterborough. To truly appreciate the Speedway, you need to visit it in person. Have fun!”
The Days of Thunder…
When we got out of our car there was a deafening roll of thunder. How could this be? It was a sunny day! Then there was the aroma of burning gasoline! We had just arrived at the Speedway and stock car practicing was well on its way. We couldn’t see the cars charging around the race track, but we could sure as thunder hear them!
Yes, we were at the stock car races… Kawartha Speedway to be exact. It is part of Kawartha Downs, which hosts stock car racing, harness racing and slots. I friend of mine is a partner in a race team, Stormin Performance Motorsports. Stormin’ Norman Mayhew is the talent driver and, the “driving” force (pardon the pun) behind the team. Rob, that’s my friend, had asked me to come to the speedway to see Norm perform. I am trying to help the team raise some sponsorship money for the 2008 season. So, Judi and I drove north on County Road 28 to the southern outskirts of Peterborough.
Rob had suggested we come to the pits to see how everything worked. We drove to the pit entrance and followed the traffic down the dirt road. We were stopped at the pit entrance gate where we paid $25.00 each for admittance to the race and the pits. The normal pit pass fee is $22.00 each, but for tonight (no one could explain why!) it was $25.00. By the way, everyone going into the pits, spectator, friends and crew have to pay the pit fee. You can become a “member” and the fees are reduced. Regular admittance is $14.00 each, with kids 7 – 12 at $5.00 each. There are different fees for different categories. The pit entrance is located at the north end of the property and the pit parking lot is just outside the harness track. To get to the pits you have to cross over the harness racing track, and I do mean over, it is quite elevated. From the track you go down into the pit area.
Race cars are everywhere! Five classes of race cars share the area. When walking in the pits you had to be really careful. Race cars were coming from and going to their practice turn on the asphalt raceway. Dodging the traffic, we finally found Stormin’ Norman’s pit stall and trailer. Norm was out on the track taking his turn practicing. We walk to the fence that surrounds the track to watch Norm. The speed and the skill of the drivers was amazing. When practice for this class was over, so we made our way back to Norm’s trailer. Norm rolled in and his crew took charge, going over every inch of the vehicle, checking this and measuring that! It was all confusing to Judi and me, but necessary for Norm’s speed and safety. We watched the crew for a while, and then took our leave to explore more of the Kawartha Speedway. You should have seen the old cars…
We had heard from Rob that there was a classic car show down by the Grandstand and straightaway. Every Friday night the Kawartha Speedway encourages classic car owners to bring their cars to the Speedway and park them in front of the Grandstand for display. In return, the drivers, plus a passenger, get to see the races for free.
From the pit area we wandered on the harness racing track to where the cars were parked. By the time we arrived, there must have been about 30 classic cars parked on the track. There were Chevy’s, Caddies, Corvettes, Fords and even a Nash Metropolitan. It was wonderful to see these great old vehicles. They brought back memories of days gone by. Heck, they even brought back memories of an old girl friend who use to own and drive a Nash Metropolitan. It was supper time so we went into the Grandstand food area. There was lots of activity here. People coming into the race area from the Slots, people at the bar and people lined up for food. There was even an electronic NASCAR replica that kids could drive to win prizes. By the time we got our food, the first race was about to start.
Before we could walk halfway back to the pits, the race was on. It was the first CSCAAR (Ontario Stock Car Association of Asphalt Racers) heat. Judi told me that she thought her heart was “going to stop” when she first heard and saw the fury of these sleek race cars! The noise from the roar of the engines was deafening. We were standing right at one of the corners, so close that could feel the ground shake from the shear force of their engines. I motioned to Judi (you couldn’t hear yourself think) that we should go back to the pits to see Norm “suit up” for his heat. We walked away from the roar of the engines and back to the pits…
Stock Car Racing 101…
When we walked down to the pit area, we saw an array of stock cars. Some were like the cars you seen at a NASCAR race, others were not. Since I hadn’t been to a stock car race in many, many years, I was confused. So, I went over to my friend for a quick stock car lesson. Here’s what I learned. If I am wrong, it’s all Rob’s fault… call him!
So here goes… tonight there are 5 types if stock cars racing. The first up were the OSCAAR stock cars. OSCAAR, as I mentioned in my last blog, stands for Ontario Stock Car Association of Asphalt Racers. When you go onto there website they call themselves OSCARR Outlaw Super Late Models and from the way they drive, it looks like they are driving to get away from the cops. They are fast and mean (and I say that in the kindest way possible). The speed and driving skills of these racers is breath talking. Sitting in the bleachers, you can feel your whole body vibrate as the cars go by. The OSCAAR series moves around from track to track. I believe they race at Kawartha Speedway twice this season.
The second type of stock cars to race were the LLM. That stands for Limited Late Model. According to Rob these are the cars that most resemble the type of late model car you might drive. The next class to take the field were the Thunders. These are souped up race cars of different vintages. It looked like the drivers were of different vintage too. There were both “wet behind the ears” and “long in the tooth” drivers. It almost made me feel like I could fit into this class!!?? Then came the LM. That’s Late Models to you uninformed. As you can see, I’m now becoming quite the “expert”? They guys and gals who drive these are really good! They have to be, these car cost a fortune to build and maintain. These race cars, like the LLM, look like the cars you and I might drive, but they sure don’t drive like ours. They are very fast and get around the 3/8 mile track in a heart beat, and they don’t fool around. Get out of their way or else. It was great fun watching them race. Finally come the Minis.
Like the Thunders, there are a whole array of different types and vintages of cars. They are certainly fun to watch. It’s almost like watching traffic on Hwy 401 at rush hour. The actual racing starts with qualifying heats in all the classes. The best then come out to run “Semi Feature” races. The number of laps vary for each class from 8 to 10. Then comes the “Feature” races. The first Kawartha Speedway Feature was for the LLM class. Theirs was a 25 lap race. Then came the Thunders. Theirs was 20 laps. Next, the LM series at 25 laps and the OSCAAR’s at 50 laps. Finally, the Mini’s at 20 laps. Next a description of the races and an interview with Stormin’ Norm…hang on for a rough and tumbled ride!
Let’s Go Racing…
When we got back to Norm’s pit stall from our “walk about”, we found Norm relaxing in a chair near his car talking with a friend. This is his way of chilling before a race. His crew were at the track fence watching the other races. We waited around, talked with Norm and looked at other cars in the area. Finally his crew returned to the pits and Norm started preparing for his race. Judi and I decided to get out of the way and we headed for the pit bleachers. The stands were full, but we managed to squeeze ourselves into two spots. A race was already in progress. Soon it was Norms turn.
The cars came onto the track out of the pit area for the second Late Model series qualifying race. Five cars from this heat would go on to race in the semi feature race. They all lined up behind the pace car. As they rounded the Kawartha Speedway track, they started to pick up speed. Finally the pace car peeled of onto the inner part of the track. As the cars rounded the 4th corner, they were nearing full speed. The green flag dropped and the race was on. This would be a 10 laps race. The noise, as they passed the bleachers, was deafening. All the drivers were on their best behavior until the last few laps.
Positions changed as drivers tried to overtake their nearest rival. The stands vibrated as the cars charged past. Finally it was the last lap and Norm was fighting for the win. His charge came a little too late and he came in second. The winner took the checkered flag a drove around the track for his victory lap. The other drivers left the track returning to the pits. Other series qualifying heats continued, and then it was time for the semi feature races. Judi nudged me and said “Anyone who enjoys NASCAR racing on TV should get off their sofa and get to the track!” This coming from someone who leaves the room when I turn on racing! But I agree with her… seeing it live… feeling the vibrations… smelling the burning rubber from the tires and hearing the roaring engines… all add up to great fun and excitement. It was now time for the Late Models to race in their semi feature. Norm was one of the last to come through the pit opening. The drivers who did poorly in the qualifying heats are put up front while the winning drivers were placed at the back. Again the cars followed the pace car until they were lined up to the starter’s liking. The pace car peeled off and the race was on. This was to be a 10 lap race. Norm was at the back, but holding his own. Somewhere, towards the end of the race, Norm started to have engine problems. The race was over and Norm limped back to the track exit. The car stalled just as he neared the exit and his crew were on hand to push him off the track and back to his pit stall. Judi and I were worried that Norm and his crew might not be able to fix the problem. We waited, with anticipation, to see if Norm would start in the feature race. It was finally the Late Model’s turn. The racers started to enter the track. With a sigh of relief we saw Norm’s car come into view in the middle of the pack. The cars started to follow the pace car. This would be a 25 lap race. Engines roared and the cars past us by at breathe taking speeds. The green flag dropped. Cars jockeyed for position. Norm was holding his own, moving up through the crowd. At the other end of the track we saw Norm racing closely with another car. After that encounter we noticed that Norm was dropping back, not as competitive as he was at the beginning. I though he was having engine problems again. Even though he didn’t seem as fast now as he was in the beginning, he was still holding his own against the other racers near him. He moved up to 6th place and then a crash occurred. (Not Norm!) They safety team quickly cleaned up the track. The remaining cars lined up, the green flag dropped again and the race was on. Norm kept on racing hard, but the speed just wasn’t there. Finally the race was over and Norm finished in 7th place.
We stayed for the next race, the OSCAAR feature and then headed back to Norm’s pit stall. Norm and his crew were relaxing after the race, talking with one another and with other nearby racers and their crew. On our way back to our car, Judi and I stopped to thank Norm for an exiting and enjoyable evening. While saying good-bye, I asked Norm what had happened to slow his car. He told me it was no big deal, he and another car he was racing rubbed tires (at break neck speeds) and through his car out of alignment. After the rub, he struggled for the rest of the race. A true racer, he told me he’d be back, faster and better for the next time he raced. I believe him! He’ll be back and the other drivers’ better watch out! His next race is June 22nd and I’ll be back to the Kawartha Speedway with Judi, my daughter and her two boys. The sofa will still be there when I get home!