If you have never been to Oxford Plains Speedway, you have probably heard of it. The former NASCAR track, located in Ontario, was a stop on the NASCAR circuit back in the 1950s (hence the iconic orange track banners). The track is now owned by Speedway Motorsports, Inc., and is most commonly known for its huge grandstands and unique landscaping. It certainly doesn’t hurt that NHRA race cars once raced there either.
Since the track’s closure in 1992, the land it sits on has been developed into a single-family suburb called Oxford Plains, bringing with it shops, restaurants, and a marina. Oxford Plains is home to around 4,500 residents and is a thriving community that supports the local economy. Interestingly, much of the development that took place post-NASCAR race week was designed to support the needs of drivers and teams (such as garages, crewmembers’ dwellings, and lounge/entertainment areas). Therefore, you won’t find any chain stores or large supermarkets.
The History Of Oxford Plains Speedway
Oxford Plains Speedway first opened its gates on June 26, 1950, with the purpose of hosting NASCAR races. Construction on the track began in 1949 and it originally consisted of a 1.5-mile oval (hence the reason for its nickname, the 1.5). The track was designed by NASCAR founder Bill France and the inaugural race was won by Bill Elliott (then considered one of the top 100 drivers in all of motorsport).
Due to its association with NASCAR, the track was initially well-attended, drawing crowds of up to 75,000 people per day. It was also one of the first American tracks to host a race outside of the United States, holding an event in Montreal, Canada in 1955. In the years following its opening, the track welcomed many legendary names throughout its history, including several Indianapolis 500 champions: Mel Hartman, Bob Sweedler, Lee Petty, and more. Several drivers even recorded victories at the track, including Jim Clark, who won the very first IndyCar race there in 1968.
In 1968, the track was expanded to a three-quarter mile dirt oval, which brought with it a domed ceiling, allowing for more cars, more racing, and more exciting competition. When the domes were first installed, they were covered in plastic to keep the dust from affecting car performances (hence why the track is often referred to as a dust bowl). The current configuration of the track (as of October 2019) is a 1.25-mile paved oval with 21 degree banking in the turns. It also has a three quarter-mile clay oval (with 18 degrees of banking) on the back straightaway, which was added in 2014.
The Grandstands And Seating Arrangement
Aesthetically, the grandstands at Oxford Plains Speedway were designed by George Hardie, an arena and stadium architect who also worked on the Sydney Opera House and Olympic Park. The wood, metal, and cement stands rise above the trees and reach a height of around 63 feet. While grandstands at other NASCAR tracks had several rows of wooden benches for fans (known as the ‘halls’), the grandstands at Oxford Plains consist of single or double wooden bench seating, which are around 40 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide. This provides for plenty of room for spectators, while still keeping the stands intimate enough that drivers, crews, and families can get along too.
Where Does The Name Come From?
As mentioned, the track was initially called the ‘1.5′ and it was later changed to the ‘1.5/3 Mile’ to reflect the increased length of its oval. The name ‘Oxford’ comes from the owner of the land on which the track sits, William J. (Bill) Richey, who was a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto in the 1940s. Richey was an avid biker and founder of the Lake Ontario Road Cycling Association, which organized cycling tours of the region. One of the routes he established ran along the shore of Lake Ontario and along what is now the northern part of Mill Street, leading to the stadium and grandstands.
The Track’s Landscaping
In addition to the grandstands, the track at Oxford Plains is also graced by a large, wooden podium, which is adorned with statues of famous race cars and drivers. The names of the featured cars and drivers are engraved on the front of the podium, while the back of it has the following engraved: “1955-2019.” The statues were sculpted by Michael Snow, a Canadian artist who also did the detail work on the Peace Monument (which is located in the center of the track’s oval) and the George Hardie Stand (named after the track’s architect).
The track is also home to a 10-foot bronze statue of a racing driver, which was dedicated in 1992. The statue was designed by Mario Anselmi, a Canadian artist who also designed the Olympic Torch and Bronze Bear for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The statue depicts a young man in a racing suit with goggles, gloves, and a helmet, riding a sleek, white motorcycle.
Sadly, not much else remains of the track from its heyday. Since its closure in 1992, the infield area has been redeveloped into a Soccer/Football pitch, while the 3-4-mile portion of the track was removed due to safety concerns regarding the high speeds it attracted. Luckily, the grandstands were saved and now provide a unique look at one of Canada’s most historic sports venues.