After a year without a race followed by another with attendance limited by pandemic restrictions, the Welland County Motorcycle Club finally has the green flag to open the throttle wide.
And the all-volunteer club, which owns and operates Welland County Speedway, plans to make the most of it. Nine racing nights, compared to just five in 2021 and not counting a rainy date at the end of August, should take place this year, weather permitting.
“We are very happy this year. We’re going to have a full racing card,” former president Joe Montovani said. “We just have to see how it goes with the weather.
“That’s the only thing we have to compete with.”
Racing in the junior and flat track classes on the quarter-mile dirt oval will begin on Saturday May 28 with the season opener Clare’s Night of Thunder. The Jim Bodner Memorial, a week later, is also a highlight of the program, as is the Flat Track Canada National Championships on June 18.
“We’re getting runners from all over Ontario, as well as the United States for that one,” he said. “That should be really good.”
Montovani, who credited Sean Gillespie, his successor as president, with putting together an exciting “full card” of racing, also has high hopes for Autograph Night on July 16.
“We hope to bring all the runners together. Kids and the public can hit the runway and get their autographs,” he said.
Reunion Night/Vintage Night is also circled in red on the track schedule as a potential crowd pleaser.
“We hope to get some of the older drivers out and have them on the track – not racing, of course – but hopefully they’ll mingle with the crowd,” Montovani said with a chuckle. “Give them some advice and things like that.”
Only five programs, the first two without spectators, took place in 2021, but staying closed for a second consecutive year was not considered an option for an organization dedicated to promoting motorcycling, including motorcycle racing.
“It was one of those things you have to do. These guys have thousands of dollars worth of motorcycles in their garage,” Montovani said. “Instead of just looking at them, they just wanted something to do.
“We just wanted it to continue for the runners.”
In 2021, Welland County Speedway “had a very tough year” because everyone pulled together.
“It was not only tough for the club, but also for the riders,” said Montovani. “They had nowhere to go.”
The capacity of the track is 1,500 people, not including people in the pit area.
“Usually we get between 500 and a thousand people there.”
However, COVID-19 restrictions capped these numbers in 2021, resulting in a corresponding reduction in prize money awarded on any given night.
“When we were allowed to have 750, we increased the purse. When we were only allowed to have 500 spectators, we had a reduced purse,” Montovani said. ““But once we got to 750, which is about our break-even point, we got the stock market up to where it should be. “
Gillespie pointed out that unlike operators of other outdoor facilities, which were subject to similar restrictions, the club owns the track.
“We don’t have to worry about a mortgage,” he says.
The willingness of some racing teams to return their earnings to the club also helped the speedway in its first year after missing an entire season.
A volunteer workforce, which numbers 45 people, is another big plus point.
“It’s completely voluntary, that’s what keeps us going,” Gillespie. “They are not there to make money, they are there for the passion of the sport.”
Volunteers such as Sid Scott, who oversees track maintenance and keeps it race-ready, are among those working behind the scenes who are proud of their contributions to the fast lane.
“They always strive to have the best running surface possible,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie, Montovani and Scott were part of a “work crew” that spent Saturday preparing the grounds and track for a May 21 practice. In addition to mowing the grass, volunteers were busy maintaining the track.
Here is the 2022 motorcycle racing schedule at Welland County Speedway at 603 Netherby Rd., east of Highway 140 in Welland. All programs take place on Saturday evenings, weather permitting:
May 21 Practice
May 28 Clare’s Night of Thunder Season Opener
June 4 Jim Bodner Memorial Run
June 11 Race in all classes
June 18 Flat Track Canada National Championships
June 25 Race in all classes
July 2nd Race in all classes
July 16 autograph party
July 30 Meeting evening
20 August Rain date if necessary
September 10 fall classic