Madyson Clark is all smiles as she heads out to continue mowing the grass in the pit of the Clearwater Speedway. (Stephanie Hagenaars photo)

Clearwater Speedway gets green light

After being shut down for almost two decades, the Merritt Stock Car Association is looking to have the oval dirt track open for a season next year.

After being closed for almost a couple of decades, the Clearwater Speedway has gotten the green light to re-open.

The land was purchased from Canfor, and the new owner, B.C. entrepreneur Brian Fehr, gave the Merritt Stock Car Association the all clear to cull back the overgrown vegetation and bring the speedway back to life.

“He remembers doing family days out there with his mom and dad and he was on board 100 per cent with us using the property and restoring it,” said Dale Calder, president of the MSCA.

Members of the MSCA have begun the restoration process, equipped with weed wackers, a ride-on mower and chainsaw to take away the overgrown trees and brush from inside the pit and around the track. Even just after four hours, the landscape looked very different.

Anyone that is interested in getting involved, either at a racer level or a volunteer level, they are welcome to visit the speedway and check it out, said Calder. Many of the volunteers cutting back the brush are long-time racers and are happy to talk rules and cars.

The biggest thing about the race tracks, said Calder, is they depend on community support.

“We can’t do it without community support,” she said. “(They) all run on community support, community sponsorship, community money. We’re all non-profit. I can’t push enough the support we need from the community.”

The Clearwater Speedway, like other dirt tracks that have bit the dust in the past, came into an issue with insurance — it just became too expensive, and the community support wasn’t there.

In addition, hard times hit, Calder said, making it difficult for a non-profit to survive. But, many of the MSCA members remember driving on the dirt track, visiting the dirt track or have family that drove the track over 30 years ago.

And for many, the love of racing runs in the family.

“I’ve been doing it for 43 years and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Calder. “I have five or eight cars in my driveway. My whole family races…We’re all family. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any blood relations at all. Once you join the dirt track, you become part of that dirt track family.”

Drivers can start as early as 14 years old, no license required. A few local teens have been driving for a few years, and others are excited for their first season next year, when the Clearwater track opens.

Madyson Clark is 14 and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of her 1981 Chevrolet Monte Carlo next year. Her family are drivers, including her brother, Kayden, who won a championship in Merritt last summer, as well as her parents and grandfather. She said it just runs in the family.

When they heard about the speedway, they were ecstatic.

“All three of us, me and my dad and Kayden, were just flipping out and we were getting text and sponsors left and right. It’s super exciting.”

But, a person doesn’t have to be teenaged to begin the sport. Calder’s daughter is 23 and his in her first year.

Jake Mills is 77 years old and he started when he was just 49.

Mills started racing on Vancouver Island when he lived on the coast. Eventually, he moved to Merritt, and continued his racing career at the Merritt Speedway and is now the vice president of the MSCA.

Currently, the Merritt Speedway is closed due to COVID-19. Many are happy that there will soon be another track close by, said Mills.

“It should be a good venue once it gets happening again,” he said. “The guy who owns the place is just a prince of a guy. He stepped up and we couldn’t believe it.”

Clearwater has many drivers who currently travel to Merritt or Alberta to get in their races. There is also a dirt track in Pemberton and one is about three-quarters finished in Kamloops. Once the Clearwater Speedway is established, Calder said it isn’t out of the question to imagine a circuit created.

The track will also run under the same rules and regulations as the Merritt Speedway.

“It’s a huge venture and we are so excited to be involved,” said Calder. “As an association, we’ve been running for 30 years and we have a wonderful group of people, a board of directors, and very active members who are all as excited as can be to have another track close by.”

The racing community is strong in Clearwater, with many of its youth in their second, third or fourth year, haven’t even hit their 20’s. Racers, like Clark, know there are many more, and the opening of the local track will give those who want to race the opportunity to get out and race.

Clark can race on the dirt tracks, but doesn’t have her license, and the logistics of getting to the track can be a bit tough for anyone, she said.

“There are a lot of kids here that are wanting to race but maybe don’t have the time and availability to go all the way down to Merritt like we did,” said Clark. “For this to open up, it’s going to open up kid’s eyes a lot more and realize how much an activity it is, and (is) just like doing regular sports like soccer and hockey.”

Those looking for more information or wanting to volunteer can contact the Merritt Stock Car Association or reach out to the Clearwater Speedway Facebook page.

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Stock car drivers take a trip around the dirt track in Merritt during the 2019 season. Many of the drivers were local to Clearwater. (Submitted photo)

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