Sprint car racing fast, dirty and fun
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
was supposed to make my skin soft and supple - purify
Instead, the spa mud mask I had worn on my face and
body had only worn a hole in my wallet. There must be a
better way to enjoy mud?
I found it, tucked away in the countryside, about an
hour and half from Toronto. Only this was the kind of
mud you find on a dirt-track oval.
Ohsweken Speedway, which comes alive on Friday
nights, gave me my first chance to see what all the fuss
and noise was about.
Sprint cars, in my eyes, always had a dangerous look
to them. The large wings on top looked so
disproportional that I pictured them toppling at the
I just had to try this out.
I convinced young racer Daryl Turford from Mitchell
to let me try. He gave me his opinion of what it feels
like to drive a Sprint car: "Insane." My confidence
fizzled like a leaky balloon.
The tiny cars are strapped to powerful motors - a lot
to handle, I had heard.
But he tried to reassure me that horsepower was not
as important in Sprint cars - it's driving the best line
that gets you to the checker.
I gazed up at the sky hoping a thunderstorm or
tornado may save me from this experiment.
No such luck. The track was muddy but ready for my
Turford was also a bit nervous. He funds the team out
of his own pocket. He's 22 years old and has only been
racing for two.
The starting procedure mirrors the complexity of a
space shuttle's: Lock it in gear, start rolling, watch
for oil pressure to build, then flick the electrical
switch and open the fuel.
this point, the engine is alive. Oh, is it ever alive!
The roar is intimidating.
At 550 to 650 hp and with a weight of 1,300 to 1,500
pounds, (depending on fuel and driver), you have
yourself quite a handful.
I suddenly remember I have to turn the corner.
Once oriented, I discover the dirt rut in the track.
It provides me with an extremely bumpy ride to awaken my
senses and shock my body.
Besides the large wing on top, the three different
sizes of tires on the car aid in giving it a quirky
look. It's the best setup for a car that races by
It's best described as taking a glass tumbler with a
larger diameter on top and rolling it on a table - its
path runs in a circle.
On the sprint car, you have the large wheels in the
back, but the right rear is a few inches larger at 17 to
18 inches diameter, the other is a 14 to 15 inches.
It took all my concentration to focus on where I was
to go. Steering in this roaring mechanical bull is best
accomplished with the throttle not the steering wheel.
Some pressure on the gas pedal and the car naturally
wants to snap sideways - any more foot power and I have
visions of getting up close and personal to a wall.
Alone on the track is one thing but the previous
night, 22 cars had an incredibly choreographed start and
an electrifying finish - the winner rolling the car
after attempting a celebratory 360-degree spin. The
video was played over and over again in the morning,
instilling yet more trepidation into my soul.
Slipping through the field of roaring Sprint cars
must be a cross between incredible talent and pure luck
- this race car is hard to tame.
Glen Styres, owner of the 3/8-mile, semi-banked clay
oval, still remembers the first time he drove a Sprint
"It turned my legs to jelly. Sprint cars are one of
the most extreme race cars - a very vicious car to
So why bother trying, I ask?
"Driving one was never in my plans," he says. "I've
watched them for years and told everyone, `You'll never
catch me driving a sprint car.' I thought you had to be
crazy to drive one."
But as the winner of last night's event and the man
now known for his spins, Styres is eager to let others
know the entertainment value.
"Watching sprint cars still amazes me because the
speeds they carry though the corner are staggering."
(The track record of 222 km/h is held by female racer
The Southern Ontario Sprints series (http://www.southernontariosprints.com)
has about 40 competitors and average 18 cars per race.
They are held at three tracks in Ontario: nine times
per season at Ohsweken, five times at Brighton and one
at South Buxton near Chatham.
While I'm not ready for the SOS series yet, I have
new respect for the sport.
I brought Turford's car back safe and sound - much to
his appreciation. Although I failed to impress the crowd
with sideways slides like the experts, I did impress
myself with a few good corners, good saves and good
The adrenalin rush is addictive.
And my grin proves I now have a face only a mudder
Photos courtesy of respected motorsport
photographer Mark Jackson of
www.markjackson.ca For more information or to
purchase photographs of such events as Montreal Grand
Prix - please check the website.