As a measure of timeline, Western Speedway’s reign over Island auto racing was just two years shorter than that of Queen Elizabeth’s over the U.K. and Commonwealth.
Tonight represents the end of an era and will be the last of more than 1,600 racing nights over 68 years. The venerable 4/10ths-mile Langford oval, known as Westshore Motorsports Park the past two years due to business and legal issues, was established in 1954 and is the oldest auto-race track in Western Canada.
The list of drivers who have competed on the track includes NASCAR legend Bobby Allison, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Roger Ward and Janet Guthrie, the first female to race the Indy 500. U.S. Pacific Northwest legends who raced at Western Speedway before advancing to the Indianapolis 500 have included Tom Sneva, Art Pollard and Jim Malloy. Island icons to come out of the track have included the late Billy Foster, the first Canadian to race the Indianapolis 500, and the late Roy Smith, a three-time driver in NASCAR’s Daytona 500.
“Drivers who have raced here have done it all,” said track general manager Daryl Crocker.
“This was known as the place to come to prove yourself.”
Jim Steen, who raced on opening night in 1954 when the Queen was only two years into her reign, will be given the honourary final lap tonight after racing is completed.
“The track was dirt in that first race here,” said Steen, who turns 85 next month, and has been racing the oval for all 68 years.
“The emotions will be running high [tonight] for the final race,” added Steen, whose son and grandsons also drove at Western Speedway.
That’s a common sentiment being echoed in the local racing community.
“The emotions are overwhelming this weekend,” said track-manager Crocker.
A lot of fans think so, too. A capacity crowd is guaranteed tonight for what is billed as the Grand Finale Weekend to see off the facility that has meant so much to so many people over nearly seven decades.
“There’s going to be a ton of people here paying their final respects,” said Crocker.
“It’s been an outpouring on social media as fans and drivers alike relate their memories, including many who met their significant others at the track and started families.”
His dad Glen is a long-serving crew member and Crocker himself was first brought to Western Speedway at just 11 days old “and I in turn brought my kids here when they were just days old, too.”
The final night of racing will feature a whopping 12 classes.
“We couldn’t do it any other way,” said Crocker.
“We told everyone they could come to race here one last time.”
The historic facility was sold in 2020, with the 81-acre site to be redeveloped into a housing neighbourhood and business park with a proposed film studio and hotel. There is an active effort underway to establish a new auto-racing facility at a site and costing formula to be determined. But that will take several years to complete.
“It is guaranteed that 2023 will be dark [for auto racing on the South Island],” said Crocker.
He said the hope is for a revival by 2024 at a new track.