Western Speedway hopes to rescue season, but without fans

Western Speedway, over 66 years, has produced the likes of Billy Foster, the first Canadian to race the Indianapolis 500, and three-time Daytona 500 driver Roy Smith. Legends from Tom Sneva to Janet Guthrie have graced the Langford oval as racing has continued unabated since 1954.

But the oldest track in Western Canada faces the first dark spring and summer in its history due to COVID-19.

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“This has been very, very difficult on us,” said Western Speedway manager Daryl Crocker.

The 2020 racing season is on hold. “We brought back our employees in February [before the pandemic]. We’ve had a huge outlay in start-up and not a penny come in,” Crocker said.

There are still hopes of salvaging a portion of the season by racing without fans in the stands, following the lead of big leagues such as NASCAR.

“We are an outdoor sport. And there are procedures to follow from other tracks regarding issues such as six-foot distancing in the pit areas,” Crocker said.

“We have done some preparation and it’s do-able. We’ve not completely lost faith on having a season. But we have to be realistic. It would be a racer-focused season. Everyone at least wants to get out and practice. As for fans, we have to wait until Stage 4 of the provincial reopening [when there is a vaccine, treatment or herd immunity].”

Until then, fans can watch the drivers online in the virtual Horsepower for Hunger races each Sunday through June 7 to raise $20,000 for the Goldstream Food Bank.

“We’re creating a virtual Western Speedway,” said David Smith, whose company, Shockwave Motorsports, is the sponsor, along with Jason Frost of The Keg.

“People won’t be able to tell the difference between the cars that race at the Speedway and the cars they are racing in Horsepower for Hunger.”

Similar online racing has drawn large viewership during the pandemic for simulated NASCAR and IndyCar racing.

“All our top Western Speedway late models, with their paint schemes, are represented and it looks just like the real thing,” Crocker said. “Instead of paying for a ticket to the track, fans can instead pay for an online ticket with proceeds going to the food bank.”

It is an admirable initiative, but everybody knows there is no substitute for the real thing.

The Island sports sector has been hit hard by the pandemic.

The Victoria Shamrocks and Nanaimo Timbermen lacrosse seasons and Victoria HarbourCats baseball season have been cancelled.

The start of the Pacific FC pro soccer season is postponed.

The Victoria Royals had their WHL playoffs cancelled. Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo were preparing for the Island Division final when the BCHL playoffs were cancelled. The Canada West conference has announced a curtailed season, which will affect UVic Vikes teams.

Canada’s two scheduled soccer games at Westhills Stadium in March against Trinidad and Tobago, considered key for 2022 World Cup qualifying, were cancelled. The Canadian women’s rugby team was to have hosted the postponed Canada Sevens this month at Westhills Stadium as part of its Olympic preparations. The Winter Olympians of Stars on Ice were put on ice this month and did not visit the Memorial Centre. The cancellation of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, caused the scrubbing of the Canadian Little League championship scheduled for August at Layritz Park.

The TC 10K and GoodLife Fitness Marathon are cancelled. The PGA Tour Canada DCBank Open, slotted for June 4-7 at Uplands, is postponed. The Tokyo Olympic basketball qualifying tournament, slated for June 23-28 at the Memorial Centre, has been rescheduled to June 29-July 4, 2021, to coincide with the new Olympic starting date of July 23, 2021.


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