Once the premier short-track facility in Canada, Cayuga Motor Speedway has not heard the roar of racing engines since 2009.
But that is expected to change in 2015.
“Our plan is to be up and running for next year,” Frank Marchionda, COO of Cayuga, stated recently. “And we’re working on some tentative racing dates.”
After several months of rumours and speculation, Haldimand area businessmen Jerry Montour and Kenny Hill have acquired the big oval, about 50 kilometres south of Hamilton. The group has also spent considerable time and effort refurbishing major components of the facility, including spectator seating, the officials/press tower, and lighting.
The next phase is to repave the track, and the group will be utilizing the services of Bob Harrington, a track paving specialist from Ann Arbor, Mich. who works primarily with tracks under the ISC (International Speedway Corporation). Their primary business is the ownership and management of NASCAR race tracks.
Harrington said the procedure on repaving the Cayuga surface is to determine the condition of the layers underneath the present asphalt, and then rebuild the track using the most modern methods, taking the climate into account.
He stressed that if the track is to be operational next June, work needs to begin soon, with the resurfacing completed before winter.
“The object here is to go slow and smooth,” he noted. “You only get one chance at doing this properly.”
Cayuga has had some rough years since 2000. While previous owners Brad Lichty and Garry Evans, both former racers, brought in some big shows, including ARCA stock cars, ISMA Super Modifieds, and the successful Canada Day Shootout, the track, and its reputation, fell into disrepair during the decade.
After the Lichty/Evans era, a new group of investors took over operation of Cayuga, planning on bringing the track to new levels. But aside from showcasing NASCAR Canadian Tire Series events in 2007, it appeared the facility would sit idle amidst the corn fields and wind turbines.
Built in 1966 as a dirt oval, Cayuga was purchased by Caledonia trucking and lumber businessman Bob Slack two years later, and Slack immediately paved the surface for the start of the 1968 racing season. The track remained its original 5/8-mile length. An excellent promoter, Slack presented the best in oval track competition for the next 30 years, and Cayuga earned a reputation throughout North America as the place to go for both racers and fans.
Cayuga hosted weekend-long shows in the most popular classes, including stock car series such as the American Speed Association (ASA), the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), and NASCAR North. There was lots of open-wheeled action at the track with the International Super Modified Association (ISMA), the Can-Am Midgets, and the United States Auto Club (USAC) Midgets. There were also big-rig semi truck races and tractor pulls.
The savvy Slack would bring in famous racing personalities to compete at certain stocker events, and fans would line up the length of the front straight to get autographs from the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott, and other stars of the day. Sometimes the guest racer would do well against the local teams, as when Earnhardt won the 1983 Motion 250, part of the NASCAR-sanctioned Stroh’s Tour.
But the economy tightened up, big-league sponsorship went away, and Cayuga, like many other tracks, had trouble surviving. While smaller tracks could continue with their weekly shows, the specials-only format at Cayuga with five or six big weekend events a season would not last.
Now it appears the big oval will once again host racing, but along with physically restoring Cayuga, the name must be restored as well.
“We have to rebuild the brand,” said Marchionda. “We have to bring back the fans and treat them to a good experience.”
Marchionda added the group has talked to several prospective racing sanctions about returning to Cayuga, but has focused on obtaining a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event.
With the land acquisition and the improvements already made and yet to be made at the facility, Marchionda estimates about $5 million will be spent before the race cars take to the track in 2015.
If all comes to fruition, the reopening of Cayuga will be a welcome and much-needed shot in the arm for fans of this type of racing. Hopefully Cayuga will follow the successful business plan and revitalization of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport).
We may not see weekends of up to 12 divisions racing, or the six-ton semi-trucks lumbering around, or a classic Jr. Hanley-Don Biederman duel in their Late Models on the big oval near Nelles Corners, but this is a good start.
– Tim Miller, wheels.ca
Photo Credit: wheels.ca