Racetrack draws crowds

·4 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — Racing fans are packing the stands each week at the Thunder City Speedway, boding well for track operators, competitors motorsports fans and the community.

The speedway, which was built by brothers Norm and Louis Nadin, is based on a vision from the late racer Richard Shutte, and was opened in 2021. There are 107 local cars that compete weekly.

“We always knew that there was a big strong following (for dirt track racing),” said Rick Simpson, manager of the track.

“Richard got the groundwork started but the real construction part of the whole thing didn’t come till Norman and Louis Nadin got involved and actually built the facility. They’re the ones that built it to what it is now . . . and it would never be the way this facility is today without them.”

Simpson, who has been involved with racing his whole life, says when attending races in the U.S., he saw so many people in the stands from Thunder Bay.

He says Thunder Bay has a lot of veteran drivers around who have had to travel to Emo, Winnipeg, Kenora and south of the border to Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to race.

“Now they don’t have to travel as much anymore,” he said. “These guys are all staying here (building and racing) their cars in town and it’s just nice to have everyone back on a regular basis of racing every week.”

The local track also attracts racers from the U.S., Manitoba and the region, which builds the popularity of the sport and creates increased tourism for the community. Racers service, maintain and buy parts for their race cars locally unless they need a specialized part that has to be ordered.

“Obviously that’s going to impact Thunder Bay somehow through tourism,” Simpson said. “There’s no doubt about those drivers and crew members that are coming from out of town. They’re going to definitely be stopping at the grocery store or staying at a hotel, use the gas station. There’s got to be an impact here. They go to the movies one night waiting for the next day to race.”

Paul Pepe, manager of Tourism Thunder Bay, says the track is a new visitor attraction in the community that has the potential to draw fans and racers from other parts.

“Motorsports is a big driver in a lot of communities across North America and around the world and having this speedway here is a major asset to our city and regional tourism economy,” he said. “In the past year we provided some tourism development funding for one of their spring grand opening, invitational events, and certainly, it has the potential to be another thing for visitors to see and do while they’re visiting. But also it tends to attract out-of-town racers, their fans and their families as well. So it’s always good to see new visitor experiences opening up in the city, like this high quality, high calibre facility that has aggressive plans to progress.”

Pepe added that the speedway is a good fit for Thunder Bay and has a good following for many reasons.

“This is a motorsports community and it’s good to see that investment in that infrastructure,” he said. “Also being an outdoor venue and outdoor place, I think it’s the kind of place where people feel a lot safer and a lot more comfortable gathering.”

The beginning of this year started off slow because of weather, but despite a couple of rain date postponements, Simpson says each week it is growing.

“It’s been building momentum moving forward,” he said. “Last week, we had 2,700 people in the grandstands.”

Growing spectator numbers are reflected in the weekly 50-50 draws, which have grown from a take-home purse of $1,800 to a whopping $6,400.

“Every week, it just keeps growing,” Simpson added.

Fifty per-cent of the money is given to Our Kids Count and Thunder Bay Therapeutic Riding. The track is run by volunteers and money collected from the spectator entry fees and racer fees are used to maintain the track.

“The money is used for maintenance and high-risk insurance, porta-potties, and St. John ambulance services,” Simpson said. “There’s also a purse that every driver gets paid and at the end of the night there’s a big purse that goes out.”

Simpson says they have applied for both provincial and federal funding programs for racing facilities and are still waiting to hear if they will be successful.

Simpson’s vision for the track is to become a Wissota-sanctioned track that will align with other tracks in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Emo, Kenora and Winnipeg.

“They’re all part of the same Wissota-sanctioned body and we’re going to be an established racetrack with our Wednesday night racing and a couple of big invitationals every year,” he said. “One at the beginning of the year and one at the end of the year. We have a great fan base, great car count, and great sponsors to keep it going.”

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal