Who Bought 81 Speedway? [Expert Review!]

Well, it was supposed to be a secret. But then, when the 81 Speedway in Langley, British Columbia saw the writing on the wall and needed to make a decision about the future of racing in Canada, it had to be one of the major turning points in Canadian motorsport history. For decades, the track had been a source of pride for the town, the province, and the country. It was one of the jewels in the crown of the now-defunct CAMS (Canadian Automobile Motorsport Society) and had been a training ground for countless future Canadian and international racing champions. In other words, it had been a very special place.

So when the last ride of the night was completed and the checkered flag waved for the year, the only person who knew what happened was the man who pulled the strings behind the curtain, John Menard. For the rest of us, it was a case of life goes on, and we all moved on with our own individual lives – some raced on, some stopped, some changed their careers, and some even changed the course of history by laying the groundwork for a different international sport that was eventually to take the world by storm.

The Fall of an Icon

The last race at the 81 Speedway was always special. It was the night of the Grand Prix and the final curtain was about to close on an incredible period of racing in the country. Over the course of the week, we had witnessed a number of classic races, including the Canadian Grand Prix, the B.C. Grand Slam, the Macau Grand Prix, and the A Main. It was the culmination of months of hard work, training, and sacrifice, and many felt it was one of the best weeks of their lives. Unfortunately, it would also be one of the most tragic, with a whole town that was gripped by grief as they remembered and honoured their fallen idol.

At 6:00 PM on September 6th, 1968, with the 81 Speedway Grand Prix just completed, the last vehicle departed on the final lap. After waving goodbye to the checkered flag, driver Vic Elford pulled into the pits and shut off his engine. With the checkered flag in the air, the fans and competitors waited in anticipation of the announcement from the organizer. After a few minutes, John Menard, who had been observing the race from the sidelines, stood and raised his hands in the air, signalling the end of the night’s racing. Tears were shed by many in the crowd who had come to say goodbye to one of the greatest racing venues of all time. It was the end of an era and the start of a new one, as the CAMS merged with the International Motorcycle Racing Association (IMRA) to form the Canadian Motorsport Association (CMA). Though the 81 Speedway would close its doors for good, it would not be forgotten. Several years later, it would become the home of the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix, and in 2018, it was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame as part of the Historic Grand Prix Collection. The speedway would later be named after legendary driver Joe Boyer, who had died earlier that year at the age of 77.

A New Dawn for Canadian Motorsport

Joe Boyer was not the only racing legend that passed away in 2018. Three other motorsport stars were also laid to rest in a glorious week of races at the Cambrian Park E.P. in Coaching Bay, British Columbia. The week started with three-time Formula 1 world champion Graham Hill passing away a day after the Grand Prix. On the first lap of the final race, former F1 champion John Surtees also passed away. And then, arguably the biggest news of the week came on the final day, when NASCAR legend Richard Petty died at the age of 77. The three-day event in BC was in fact, the perfect way to say goodbye to three of Canada’s greatest ever racers and all-around motorsport personalities. It was a fitting end to a remarkable week of racing that will be remembered for generations to come.

It was the end of an era for sure, as the town of 81 and its iconic Speedway had been a source of pride and joy for Canadians for decades. It was also, one of the greatest sporting events the country had ever seen, with hundreds of thousands of people coming together to celebrate Canadian motorsport.

There would be no more Canadian Grands Prix at the 81 Speedway after 1968, with the final race held a year later. (Though there have been sporadic attempts to stage a Grand Prix in recent years, they have never materialized into anything more than a rumour or a concept.) It would also be the end of an era for the town of 81 as well, with the legendary track soon to be demolished in favour of housing developments. Though a handful of businesses and houses in the town survive to this day, the neighbourhood once known as “Racing Heights” is now a quiet, secluded community, cut off from the bustle of modern life. The neighbourhood’s only claim to fame now is that it was the springboard for multiple racing stars, with the local highschool named after former driver Gilles Villeneuve.

The End Of An Era?

It’s funny how time flies when you’re having fun. Despite its sad ending, the year 2018 was arguably one of the most exciting times in the history of the 81 Speedway. For decades after its closing, it had lain dormant, under the radar of most Canadians. But in 2018, the town of 81 began to see its past come to light once again, with multiple articles and tributes paying homage to Gilles Villeneuve, Joe Boyer, and Richard Petty. And what better way to honour Canada’s motorsport heroes than by putting on a glorious week of races in their hometown? And wouldn’t it be nice to have a whole community come together to celebrate the lives and achievements of the three men?

Though the three-day event in BC may have been bittersweet for some in attendance, for others, it was a chance to right a wrong from 1968. In that year, only three Canadian drivers entered the 81 Speedway Grand Prix; all three finished among the top ten. But that was not enough to prevent the cancellation of the entire race due to bad weather. It was a small but significant gesture that the three drivers agreed to return in 2018 and put on one final hurrah for their town, their province, and their country.

Though it was an emotional week for many in attendance, it was also a chance to right a wrong from over 50 years prior. Many had felt that Canada had been cheated out of an incredible motorsport legacy in the person of Gilles Villeneuve, who had been denied the opportunity to race at his beloved track in favour of someone else. So in the end, it was a very happy moment for many in attendance, and for a town that had longed for a return of the GRAND PRIX for decades. It would also, eventually, become one of the greatest displays of community spirit in Canadian history.

Though the era of ground-based racing may be over, the passion for motorsport in Canada is alive and well. There are currently two racecourses in Ontario with a third in the offing. The Canadian Motorsport Association (CMA) was officially founded in 2018 and currently has 27 motorsport clubs across the country. The sport is growing by leaps and bounds and will be represented at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The future of Canadian motorsport looks extremely promising.

It’s interesting how a week can change your outlook on life. On the surface, it appears quite chaotic and crazy, with numerous articles and tweets hailing the end of an era. But in actual fact, it was a glorious week all-around, with each day filled with excitement and entertainment. And who knows – maybe next year, we’ll all be coming together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 81 Speedway, though the town has likely changed beyond all recognition.

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