As close as
can be determined all these years later, Stock Car racing in the
Ottawa area began in 1949, on a flat track cut out of a farmers
field near the hamlet of Carsonby, approximately 30 miles south
of the capital. Public interest then was light however, so this
track was abandoned after only one season. A second attempt to bring
this increasingly popular sport to eastern Ontario was undertaken
a year or two later, in another field just west of the village of
Bells Corners. It was also a dirt track, constructed this
time with banked corners, and operated as Meadow Park Speedway.
But it too did not garner sufficient support to stay in operation.
It became obvious
that for Stock Car racing to be truly accepted by, fans, drivers,
and sponsors, a more central, easy-to-get-to location , with large-capacity
bleachers, floodlights, a PA system, and convenient public parking
Pullen (#30) is stuck on the railroad ties and Bob Coates
(#22) spins in turn 3 - May 1956. Photo taken by Ted Grant.
Copy provided by the Ottawa City Archives.
So, on June
1st 1955, after much negotiation, the first evening of stock car
racing was held at Ottawas Lansdowne Park stadium, around
the outside of the CFL Ottawa Rough Riders football field.
This venue, which is also the site of the Central Canada Exhibition
(CCEA), provided all the required facilities, and stock car racing
in Ottawa finally took off. More than 5000 people came
out that first night to watch this exciting form of entertainment,
around the ¼-mile dirt oval (former horse-racing) track.
By 1956, there
were more than 40 local cars and drivers registered with the Lansdowne
Park Stock Car Racing Club, and local businesses, mostly from the
local automotive trade, eagerly sought to sponsor a car, so that
their name would gain the prominent exposure offered at Lansdownes
weekly races, every Wednesday evening.
After two very
successful seasons, race promoter, Gerry Bisson, in cooperation
with the CCEA, initiated some major improvements to Lansdowne Speedway,
as it was then being called. They lengthened the track to 1/3 of
a mile, widened it to 40 ft, increased the banking on the corners,
paved it over, and added a highway-style guard-rail to surround
the tracks perimeter. A new, more extensive set of safety
rules was approved, and Lansdowne Parks Speedway opened the
1957 season in a very professional manner. Late-model events, Sprint
races, occasional powder-puff races, and a demolition derby were
included now as special attractions.
For three more
summers. Lansdowne Speedway continued to be one of Eastern Ontarios
top Stock car racing venues.. And, as the popularity of stock car
racing increased, additional races were scheduled for Fridays and/or
Saturdays, drawing competitors from as far away as Montreal, and
from upper New York State as well. Their mounts were mostly well-used
1930s coupes and coaches whose next owner would be a local wrecker.
But the entertainment value provided by the drivers in their rather
simple cars was undeniable. And, the local stock-car promotion business
James in the Hollister Ford, May 1957. A 17 or 18-year old
car, with a brand-new OHV, V-8 engine. Photo by Ted Grant,
courtesy of the City of Ottawa Archives.
enterprise faced one major problem, however. Lansdowne Park was,
and still is, surrounded by residential neighbourhoods whose residents
eventually became irritated by the noisy activities each race night
from May through to the end of September. Public pressure was mounting
to end the races at this location. In addition, the Rough Riders
and the CCEA were developing plans for the construction of south-side
bleachers, and for the replacement of the ageing grandstand, with
what was to become the Ottawa Civic Centre. A race track for cars
would no longer be accommodated, despite the regular, weekly income
generated for the CCEA by track revenues.
hosted its last evening of racing on August 17th, 1960.
Mr Bisson then
undertook the construction a new, state-of-the-art racetrack, on
Hwy 7, near the town of Stittsville, west of Ottawa. Back in a rural
area again, but with the Capital areas interest in stock car
racing now firmly established, Capital City Speedway opened for
business, in 1961, where the Ottawa Valleys stock car tradition
continues to this day. It continues to operate as the Ottodrome
International Speedway, which now also includes a drag-strip, in
addition to the familiar oval.
The Ottawa Civic
Centre was eventually completed in 1967, with Lansdowne Park continuing
as the home of the Rough Riders until 1995. For several years, the
stadium sat vacant most of the time, until the CFLs new Ottawa
Renegades appeared .
few people remember, that for six years, this site was also one
of Ontarios most popular, and prosperous, stock-car race tracks,
known as Lansdowne Speedway!