Local drag racing will be on solid financial ground as it goes full-throttle into the future.
Prince George businessman Brent Marshall has purchased the city's quarter-mile drag strip from previous owner Shane Lodjn. The Chief Lake Road track sits on 138 acres and the entire parcel was appraised at $550,000.
Lodjn, who owned the drag strip for two years, had been seeking a buyer and contacted Marshall to see if he was interested. The deal was finalized last month.
Marshall owns Northland Dodge Auto Group and has changed the name of the facility from Prince George Motorsports Park to Northland Dodge Motorsports Park.
Marshall is a drag racing enthusiast and had been interested in buying the property when Lodjn made his successful bid for it. Marshall is happy Lodjn decided that keeping the track operational and in local hands was important.
"When he needed to sell, he approached me, as opposed to selling it and having it subdivided or pieced out or shut down," Marshall said. "He was great in working with me to make it work so I could buy it and keep it for the people of the north.
"These days, a lot of these tracks are being shut down, just for the fact that the land is worth more money," Marshall added. "And then the problem is, you'll never get one back again. To build a facility like that would be 1.5 to 2 million dollars so you just wouldn't see it again if it shut down. I wanted to make sure it stayed alive."
Lodjn could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Northland Dodge Auto Group is the track's major sponsor and Marshall is seeking others. Inland Kenworth and Centennial Meats have already come on board.
Marshall said he'll be donating all proceeds to local charities. The charity at the top of the list is the Northern BC Helicopter and Emergency Rescue Operation Society (HEROS), an organization which he chairs. HEROS is trying to bring a helicopter rescue service to the region.
The drag strip has already started its Friday Night Street Legal racing and will hold International Hot Rod Association-sanctioned events throughout the season (see www.northlandmotorsportspark.com for the full schedule).
Marshall said bike drags are planned, as well as winter and summer snowmobile drags and mud bog competitions.
"On Friday nights, people will have a place to go," he said. "You can watch people race quarter-mile cars or you can race your own car. Anyone can race out there, as long as their car passes a quick safety inspection and they have a valid license."
Future plans include the construction of a BMX track and a motocross track.
"There has been interest from the Canadian Motocross Association in holding a major event in Prince George, so there's lots on the go," said Marshall, who has already spent about $30,000 on upgrades at the strip. "In the month that we've had it, there's been incredible interest from the community in how to make this a better facility."
The drag strip, originally known as North Central Motorsport Park, opened in 1978 under the ownership of Gordon Schade and Ernie Schultz. Ron Cowie of Richmond bought the facility after Schade died in 1994, and the following year brought the track up to National Hot Rod Association standards, which made Prince George the NHRA's northernmost drag strip.
Operated by Pat and Nancy Wilkinson and a small group of volunteers, the track offered sanctioned meets that qualified local drivers for NHRA division finals. It also brought jet car racing to Prince George and provided a regular stop on the Canadian Motorcycle Drag Racing Association circuit. But, after years of low car counts and few spectators, the NHRA meets were dropped and the affiliation ended following the 2006 season.
Cowie first put the track up for sale in 2002. And, when the Wilkinsons stepped down in 2007 after 29 seasons of operating it, local drag racing appeared dead. However, street legal racing continued during the summer months and then Lodjn bought the track from Cowie in 2010.