The beer is flowing, the burgers are grilling, and “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss is blaring over the speakers. It’s hot, it’s dusty and the good times are rolling—just another race weekend at the Pemberton Speedway.
Sitting inside the stripped out 2004 Honda civic, ready to take a couple laps after all of the day’s races have finished, it’s hard to believe this thing can make it around the track once, let alone 15 to 30 times during a race, but I’m ready to go either way.
As I pull out on to the track, my thoughts race: “don’t kill yourself, don’t crash this dude’s car and most importantly don’t embarrass yourself in front of the nearly 300 people who are in attendance”—the biggest crowd Colin Scott, president of the Pemberton Stockcar Association, has ever seen at the track.
First lap: nice and easy. Feeling out the track, realizing just how rough and bumpy it can get after a day of intense racing. Second lap: I start to pick up the pace and do my best to stay in control of the car when it starts to drift around the corners. Third lap: Let’s see how fast I can get going. Bad idea as I spun out on the second corner and almost hit the wall. Fourth lap: should I slow down a bit after nearly crashing? Nope, but maybe I’ll take it a little easier on the corners. Fifth lap: how much longer am I supposed to keep driving? Nobody told me when to stop. Sixth lap: I see the flagman giving me signals. The flag is still green meaning I am cleared to keep going. Seventh lap: I see the white flag, indicating the last lap. Eighth lap: the checkered flag comes out as I cross the finish line and I pull back into the pit, ending my first stockcar driving experience.
And to think all of this almost wasn’t possible after an incredibly difficult 2020 for the association. The combination of losing an entire season of racing, along with the unfortunate timing of having to get both an environmental impact and land survey done in order to renew its lease, pretty much drained any savings the stockcar club had.
“[The pandemic] just about destroyed us,” said Scott. “So, we really need a big season this year to keep the track going.”
But after a great turnout on Day 1 of the first race weekend of the season on Saturday, July 24, Scott’s optimism is high for the rest of the season.
“I think we had some good racing today. Our car count was a little low but we’re expecting that to go up considerably for the next race,” he said.
“The spectators have been absolutely fabulous; we’ve never seen the stands so full. So lots of good food, lots of good people and lots of good times.”
The day’s races consisted of about eight cars competing in the Hornet Class, and three in the Hobby Class. Hornet is the cheapest way of getting into stockcar racing and consists of any four-cylinder car that hasn’t been modified in any way.
Meanwhile, Hobby Class is where you see the experienced racers. And while on the outside the cars may look beat up and about to fall apart, the engines in this class can often cost upwards of $10,000 and put out over 400 horsepower with a total weight of around 1,100 kilograms (2,500 pounds).
To put that in perspective, an off-the-lot 2007 Honda Civic sedan weighs approximately 1,360 kgs (3,000 lbs) with a total output of approximately 158 to 180 horsepower.
The races kicked off with the Hornet Class, which featured a mix of experienced drivers and some rookie drivers like Katie Hall-Leah, and her Volkswagen Beetle, driving in her first-ever stockcar race. And even though her race day didn’t last long, with a crash on lap three of the first five-lap race, and despite her describing the experience as “nerve-wracking,” the smile on her face while getting out of her car said all you needed to know about how much fun it is getting behind the wheel.
“[I was] sitting in the lead because I have the slowest time [in the pre-race time trials], so that means I lead the pack [to start the race], which is terrifying,” Hall-Leah explained. “And I know they’re all behind me, which is even scarier. So my heart’s racing and I just drive and hope for the best.
“When there are people behind you … you can feel the pressure. I feel like you drive a little bit looser, you make more mistakes, you drive more aggressively and you have to respond to things that you didn’t expect.”
On the other side of the spectrum, you have the Hobby Class racers, like Scott’s son Devon, who started racing cars 10 years ago at just 14 years old.
Devon, who was one of just three Hobby drivers competing on Saturday, was excited to be back racing in front of a crowd again, even if the track wasn’t in perfect shape.
“The crowd being back definitely makes a huge difference,” he said. “[Pushing] your car to the limit just to have it blow up in front of nobody is no fun.
“But from the track sitting for so long, it’s definitely way looser than previous years. That’s why the cars [are] all over the place, but it’ll come together with the cars driving around and packing the track down. It’s all fun and games then.”
According to Devon, when the track is loose and dry it adds another element to the mental side of the race that drivers have to stay on top of.
“You can’t always choose the line that you want. Every line is different. So there is always the fastest line, but the fastest line might not be the fastest because there is a huge pothole in that line, so it definitely jogs the race a little bit,” he said.
“[When you are in a race,] you’ve got to be looking at the flag tower, the lights, every corner you come around and then the dust is just insane. You can’t really choose where you are, or what you are doing because you can’t see. And you’re eating dirt the whole time.”
Whether you have never seen stockcar racing before or are interested in getting involved and racing yourself, Scott encourages everyone to get in touch or stop by at the next race weekend, scheduled for Aug. 21 and 22.
“Just come out to the track,” said Scott. “There are guys there that will help you get involved and point you in the right direction. There are actually quite a few Hornet cars for sale in the corridor and lots in the Lower Mainland area,” he said before explaining what new fans can expect from the races.
“A lot of the racing you’ll see on TV is on pavement. We’re a dirt track, so everyone has their preferences, but I find it much more exciting. The cars are drifting, they’re sliding around out there so it’s really exciting. Obviously, we’re not a demolition derby but spectators love to see crashes, and they happen.”
Moving forward with the season, the goal is simple for the Pemberton Stockcar Association: to continue the success of the first weekend across its August races and into the final race days on Sept. 11 and 12, and 25 and 26.
“[The goal is] to fill the seats, to see lots of spectators there,” said Scott. “People have waited a long time to get out and do things in groups and be outside, and now that the government has made that available for us, we’re hoping that people take advantage of it and come out and enjoy a good time.”
More information, including race times, prices and ticket sales, can be found at pembertonstockcars.com.