Engines have fired up for real to kick off another Penticton Speedway season.
A new year was welcomed by good weather, good attendance and a strong car count, including the return of the late models.
“They had been away for a few years. We are starting them this year for a five-race season over four weekends,” says Penticton Speedway owner Johnny Aantjes. “We had a good start there. All the classes were good for a first race day.”
The 2018 season will be highlighted by 28 events, 17 races featured over 12 weekends. There will also be two bull riding events (May 27 and July 21) and eight drift races, the first on May 26 at 3 p.m. There are also five two-day weekends that attract several drivers from B.C., who enjoy more racing and taking in what Penticton has to offer. It is part of Penticton Speedway working with Penticton Tourism.
Strong momentum has been building over the last 15 years and everyone involved wants to keep it going. Drivers, a growing spectator base and corporate sponsorships play a key role.
“This is our 50th season. Next year is our 50-year anniversary,” says Aantjes, as the track first operated in 1969. “We’re planning for the Underwriters Gordy Mannes invitational weekend next year to be a spectacular show.”
The next race, sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts, hits the oval Sunday at 2 p.m. with Hornets, Street Stocks and Hit to Pass having the spotlight. Adding to the entertainment is a new announcer, known as Hippie Wes.
“He’s exciting, he’s energetic. He wants to participate with the crowd,” says Aantjes. “He has his own flair to add, which is going to be good.”
Aantjes prides himself on providing family entertainment at a good price. A family pass for two adults and two youth is $40. Do you get hungry while watching the action? No problem. The Speedway concession has you covered with quality food that includes fresh-cut fries, fresh all beef hamburgers and buns from Natures Oven as well as poutine, the real crowd favourite.
The Speedway has also worked hard in improving washrooms facilities despite the challenges of not having running water or septic service, but spectators have expressed their appreciation on those efforts.
This year, the Speedway has added more staff. Karen Davies is working with corporate clients to ensure the best possible experience and a new concession manager Nikki Boechler has been added, as well as eight people to the pit crew.
As for what people come to watch, Aantjes is confident in the lineup they field this season, especially having the late models back. Combine that with a hope for good weather and Aantjes knows they will have a great year.
Spectators have several great drivers to follow, especially young ones who will grow before their eyes. Among the talented experienced drivers are Tim Graham in the late models, and he will be joined by longtime racer Mark Berriau, also competing in street stocks. Berriau is considered as one of Penticton’s more prominent drivers.
Jordan Scherbiak will be one to watch, as well as Ellie Dunseith, the granddaughter of Andy Dunseith, who owned the track in the earlier years. Aantjes is excited to see how she performs. Others include Aantjes’ stepson Chase Clermont, 11, as well as his son Marty Aantjes, 15, who is moving into street stock.
Aantjes sees many stories surrounding the drivers to tell, especially about what they have achieved.
When talking about what will be highlighted leading up to the celebration, Aantjes says there are a lot of people who have been involved, including neighbouring communities and sponsors, that he wants to give attention to. Penticton has enjoyed really good racing over the years.
“We’re very fortunate in Penticton, even though we are a smaller community, we have some of the best racing in B.C., Western Canada if you want,” says Aantjes, who believes Penticton Speedway is likely in the top-three of 22 tracks in B.C. as far as participation and events.
Anyone interested in racing should contact Aantjes at email@example.com.