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Track Marks

Modern racetracks are moving upmarket. It's an unnecessary trend 

My first racetrack was a one-third-mile dirt stockcar oval. Inside the front gate a woman in a plywood booth sold safety glasses. Safety glasses? As cars pitched into the corner, debris wicked up and over the concrete barrier and whorled into a typhoon of rock, dirt, spent fuel, lost motor oil, baked antifreeze and the aerated remains of a brown slurry dumped on the track to keep dust down. This brown goop, a byproduct of the pulp-and-paper industry, was death’s fragrance. Pungent, putrid, and capable of, I was convinced as a teen, inducing hallucinations. I have always been very fond of racetracks.


Racetracks were once like dive bars in industrial towns. A place to go to do what needed to be done. To race. Or, at the bar, to drink. But changes are afoot. I passed through Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and stopped at a low-down tavern I’d visited years before. But the men slumped on the bar that had been laid low by failed marriages and lost jobs had been swept to the gutter. Now the bar was populated by handsome men and strapping women sipping organic microbrews. The mood was upbeat and pleasant. No-one was on a bender. The bar’s original clientele had been steelworkers, but the blast furnaces that once provided them with work had been repurposed as tourist attractions.  


The changes that have happened to racetracks are no less dramatic. The word amenity, as applied to a track, once meant outhouse. But recent converts to racetracks want more. This new breed of affluent sportscar and superbike owner wants to exercise their vehicle in a place that doesn’t look like post-industrial Detroit. The humble racetrack has been reimagined as an experience centre. While watching MotoGP and F1 we’ve seen the great tracks of Europe. And Barber, in Alabama, has gated-community-worthy lawns and gardens. Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, is a track that goes on for days.


The corporatization of racetracks isn’t necessarily a negative. But amenities aren’t what’s important. What matters is what’s below. When your knee is skimming the track at 90 mph, the comfort of the chairs in the conference centre is irrelevant. As is the water pressure in the showers or the preparation of the beef carpaccio in the restaurant. What matters at a racetrack is the track.


Shannonville Motorsport Park, a staple of car and motorcycle club racing in central Canada—and the subject of these photographs—is dog-eared and downtrodden. I grew up 10 miles from this track, and with no other connection to my hometown anymore, Shannonville feels like a home. I’ve had good races here. And I’ve thrown bikes to the sky and broken bones here. While riding at Shannonville, it’s necessary to scan the surface as carefully as I would rock-and-root-strewn single-track aboard a mountain bike. Shannonville’s mis-matched patches and weeds and bumps and more bumps make racing treacherous.


Shannonville Motorsport Park is for sale. My advice for the next owner? The washrooms are fine. I don’t mind jiggling the flusher to stop the toilet from running. And the peeling paint on the grandstand? On Pinterest it’s called patina. And the uki sign that’s lost the letters Suz? Leave it. We know what it says. Just sink whatever’s in your budget into smooth, fresh pavement. The rest is irrelevant.


Every racer needs to start somewhere. Around here, that's Shannonville.


Before the great recession of '08 crowds filled the grandstand for big races. Even regional races drew a crowd. After a decade of lean attendance, numbers are rebounding. More racers, too.  


Overshoot the corner at the end of the back strait and you're straight into the starting blocks for the drag strip. At 150 mph, it's an eye-opener.


This is not a miniature Japanese garden. This is the racetrack. The optimum racing line is one that keeps you away from on-track shrubbery. 


Throw the ball through the tire and win a stuffed duck. Shannonville's aesthetic is reminiscent of the rough-and-tumble fairs that come to the countryside in fall. 


Poor Suzuki just can't catch a break. Signage isn't removed my man, but by the ravages of time. The freeze-thaw cycles of our northern climate are as cruel to structures as they are to man.  


Business is...slow. But with a cool '70s typeface the Shannonville logo is so out of style it's back in style. But about that pavement...

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