Delaware Speedway (Johnsonverse)

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220px-Delaware Speedway Logo.jpg
Location: Delaware, Ontario
Capacity: 6,000
Owner: Johnson Industries (2009-present)
Operator: Tim Johnson (2009-present)
Opened: 1952
Type: 0.5 mile oval
Surface: Asphalt


Delaware Speedway in 2017, before renovations began.

Delaware Speedway is a half-mile paved race track that is one of the oldest continuously operating tracks in Canada. It is located a few minutes west of London, Ontario, northeast of Delaware, Ontario. It hosts stock car racing every Friday night during the summer. The track opened in 1952 as a ¼-mile dirt track and was later expanded to the ½-mile paved oval of today. Johnson Industries (Johnsonverse) CEO Tim Johnson confirmed in a 2018 announcement that it would host a NASCAR Panasonic Cup Series and Busch Series event; this is due to Southwestern Ontario's large rural conservative population in proportion to the rest of Ontario. The track has recently earned the nickname "Upside Down Darlington" as turns 1 & 2 are shorter than turns 3 & 4 respectively. It will be the second points-paying Cup Series race on a track outside of the United States of America, after Brands Hatch in Kent, England, which debuted in 2019.

The first Cup race was to be held in 2020; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pushed back to 2021, before it was soon removed from the schedule due to continued lockdowns, though there are plans to include it once the pandemic is over.

History

Opening (1952)

The track was opened in 1952 by Hugh Brodie as a 1/4 mile dirt track.

Super Modifieds (1970s)

The 1/2 mile asphalt surface is said to have been specifically built to accommodate super modified racing. The "Supers" raced at the speedway from the 1970s through 1980s before being dropped from the racing card and replaced with Super Late models. Super Modified racing did not return to Delaware Speedway until 2006 when the International Supermodified Association (ISMA) touring series made a stop. The series continues to attend the track each season, currently running two-day race weekends.

CASCAR era (1981–2005)

The history of CASCAR and Delaware Speedway are very closely connected together. Delaware is widely recognized as the “Birthplace of CASCAR”. The promoter of CASCAR, Tony Novotny, was simultaneously promoter of both CASCAR Operations and Delaware Speedway before selling the track in 2001.

The track hosted CASCAR Super Series races from 1986 until 2005 when Delaware Speedway dropped CASCAR from its schedule in the same year the track left the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series after a two-year membership. The reason for the drop was delays in the delivery of the CASCAR schedule, prompting Delaware to fill the 2 annual CASCAR dates with its own events. Observers also cited strained relations between the track and CASCAR over the series' operations being controlled by its impending buyer Johnson Industries, which (successfully) sought to buy NASCAR. All of the CASCAR Super Series' races in 1986 were held at the track, Ken Johnston was the champion.

NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series (2004–2005)

Delaware Speedway became the first Canadian track to be member of the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series in the 2004 season. At the conclusion of the 2005 racing season the speedway cancelled its NASCAR sanctioning at the same time as it dropped its CASCAR Super Series events. During the period after a series of rainouts and under the NASCAR rules at the time, the speedway was forced to run a number of double feature nights to make the minimum number of races required under the NASCAR program. With double feature nights increasing the weekly payout and not increasing the number of fans, the speedway reconsidered its place within NASCAR.

Independent period (2006–2008)

Following the end of NASCAR sanctioning the speedway management set about a focus on building the profile of its weekly racing programs. The track worked with the Ontario-based inter-speedway organization Weekend Warrior Series (WWS) in an attempt to increase travel between Ontario-based speedways and also introduced new Late Model events such as the annual Canada Day PartSource 140 and giving the former CASCAR 300-lap Labour Day race to the division.

At the beginning of the 2007 racing season, the track General Manager and Operations Director resigned from the speedway. Jeff Wilcox was put in place as Operations Manager and the 2007 race season went ahead as scheduled. Wilcox would remain operations manager until the conclusion of his term at the end of the 2008 racing season.

New ownership and return to NASCAR (2009–present)

On January 21, 2009, the speedway formally announced that Johnson Industries had bought out the then-current track owners to become the sole owner of the speedway business. In the same release the track announced its return to NASCAR weekly sanctioning under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banner (Johnson Industries had bought the sport a few weeks earlier). The release also indicated that the speedway land lease was no longer a concern.

A new operations manager had been put in place before the new year, Sheldon Johnson, Jr., who was the retiring CEO of Johnson Industries, however his son Tim took over once Johnson became Governor of California. Jeff Wilcox continued his role as Race Director, and John Houghton continued as Public Relations manager. Joe Czernai would later be added as the track's general manager, partway through the season.

The speedway successfully executed its first NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event on Saturday, June 6, 2009 and repeated the event one year later on June 5, 2010. D.J. Kennington was the winner of both events. The 2009 season also featured numerous track renovations including repaving the majority of the front stretch, new corner lights, and electronic timing and scoring as well as a new ticketing system.

The 2010 Delaware Speedway season schedule was similar to that of 2009, with the addition of a special Summer Showdown featuring NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, David Reutimann, and Jason Leffler. The event was won by Kyle Busch and was his first win in Canada. The 2010 schedule reduced the Open Wheel Modified series to a smaller schedule as part of retooling efforts for the weekly program, while increasing the number of races for Late Models, Super Stocks, and Trucks.

In 2011, the track hosted a NASCAR Whelen Modified event in September. It also announced plans to expand seating capacity by 600 and replace a number of grandstands to accommodate larger events, but the installation of those grandstands was put on hold shortly after the announcement to make additional preparations. Ron Sheridan, champion in the track's Late Model class, took over as race director in December 2010.

In 2012, arrangements to extend seating capacity by 600 were secured, and by the end of that year, the seating capacity of the track was 6600 people.

As of 2018, after the announcement of the (aborted) 2020 Panasonic Cup and Busch Series debuts, construction began on new grandstands and facilities around the entirety of the speedway, allowing seating of up to 50,000 people. The renovations were completed in November 2019.

Speedway museum

In celebration of the track's 60th anniversary in 2011, a speedway museum was opened in the base of the track's broadcast tower. The exhibition included original programs from the opening of the speedway, original posters, as well as reproductions of photos and other items. The speedway museum will be featured prominently as the track makes its NASCAR Panasonic Cup and Busch Series debuts.