The Beginnings of Miramichi Stock Car Racing - the Mid 1960's
When it comes to race tracks, few have had as wild of a history as Speedway Miramichi. For over 50 years, the McKinon Road oval has been a tradition for many in the province of New Brunswick.
The Miramichi region got a little louder in the 1960's. After River Glade Speedway opened in 1964 and was paved in 1965 - introducing stock car oval racing to New Brunswick - the sport began to trend towards Northern New Brunswick. In 1966, the Miramichi region hosted stock car races at three dirt track facilities - Lion's Speedway in Douglasfield, the Chatham Exhibition facility on the half mile horse track, and also at Hillcrest Speedway - which sat just a couple hundred feet down the road from our current Speedway. This growth was followed by the opening of Danny's Speedbowl in Bathurst the following year.
Building and Opening of Miramichi Speedway
With the rise of motorposrts in New Brunswick, a group of businessman elected to begin construction of a modern new facility in the Miramichi region. Before long, construction began near the corner of McKinnon Rd. and Williston Dr. on the $400 000 facility. Power lines had to be installed back the length of the Williston Dr., as there had been no developments in the area to that point. The track was built by M.F. Esson and Sons Ltd. based out of Millerton, and paved by North Shore Construction out of Newcastle. The track would be very unique compared to other faciltiies, with two different banked turns, a wider surface to race on, and the only Figure 8 course in Eastern Canada!
Heading into 1968, Miramichi Speedway Limited was formed to oversee operations of the facility. Hugh Black, John Dupuis, Jack Esson, and James (Jim) Quinn were the officers of the new company and launched the beginning of asphalt racing in Miramichi!
On June 2nd, 1968, the grand opening of Miramichi Speedway was held. Over 3000 fans packed the facility to watch Stock (modern day Sportsman) and Hobby racing. Frank Williston (Stock) and Winston Churchill (Hobby) would be the inagural feature winners at the new Speedway.
The first year saw a full season of racing contested through September. Brent Jay was the inaugural track champion in the Stock class. The next 2 years would see Lindsay Tozer winning back to back championships. The early days were initially successful, with names such as Tozer, Jay, Les Lamb, Sandy O'Brien, "Wild" Bill Matchett, Roy Donovan, Winston Churchill, Leslie Hallihan, Lloyd Wormell, Danny Kay, and Charlie Hachey were among the top drivers to compete in the early years.
In 1970, in attempt to grow attendance, Modified (this Modified class would evolve into essentially modern Pro Stocks) racing was brought to the facility in an increased capacity. But before long, racing action would essentially shut down, and the track would sit mostly dormant for a few years.
The Ernie McLean Era - 1973 and 1974
In 1973, River Glade Speedway promoter Ernie McLean stepped up to host an "International" race in conjunction with the prestigous River Glade International. Legenday driver Junior Hanley would capture the victory. The event was a success and would result in McLean leasing the track for a full schedule for the 1974 season. Some of the best drivers of that time battled, but Jim MacPherson dominated and became the 1974 champion.
In June of 1974, the super modifieds as part of the NESMRA (New England Super Modified Racing Association) would make the trip to Douglastown to compete at Miramichi Speedway. These cars set the track record (which still stands to this day) at a whopping 13.56 seconds set by Ed West of Dunsdale, Massachussets.
Grand Re-opening Under Pierre Allain and Years of Change (1983 to 1987)
After 1974, the Speedway sat mostly dormant for 9 years, but an aggressive young businessman and racing enthusiast by the name of Pierre Allain re-opened the track on a lease in 1983 with great fan-fare - kicking off the most well-renowned era in the tracks history. Opening day for the new Douglastown Speedway was June 5th, 1983 and saw a sell-out crowd of over 3000 fans pack the stands to watch the best racing in the province. In fact, there was so many people show up for the re-opening that many had to be turned away. Keith Tucker went to victory lane in the Hobby class that day. Hobby racing was the primary division at the time, with the inaugural Alpine sponsored the points championship going to opening-day winner Keith Tucker. Outside of Hobby racing, a few other events would be held including a Dukes of Hazard racing and a pair of Demolition derbies.
The 1984 season saw more changes to the track management. Part way through the 1984 season, Allain sold his lease to Sportsman driver Frank Williston. Williston would ultimatley buy the facility and the track would become known as Williston Speedway. Vernon Gray won the 1984 championship after a wild final day. One of the most memorable moments in track history occurred on Sunday August 12th when Lee Hallihan's car flipped near the finish line and barrell rolled into turn 1. The same day, Sportsman cars came up from River Glade for a race and to introduce the class to Miramichi..
These first two years of operation would see several former drivers from the late 60's return to the top - including Lindsay Tozer, Frank Williston, Frank Somers, Frank McKenzie and Jerry Greene. In addition, a number of young stars would make their mark on the track such as Kim Hallihan, Ralph "Rat" Regan, Wayne Clancy, and Mark Kammermans, in addition to champions Keith Tucker and Vernon Gray.
Under Williston's guidance, the track expanded in 1985. The Hobby class would evolve into the Sportsman division this season, while the "Dukes of Hazard" class would become a permenant second division. Terry Russell won the first Dukes championship, and former owner Pierre Allain dominated the Sportsman class en route to the championship.
Former track champion Lindsay Tozer purchased the track for 1986, and renamed it Miramichi Raceway. Tozer's run as owner was short lived, as he soon sold it back to 1986 Sportsman Champion Frank Williston for the 1987 season. An exciting points battle would be contested in 1987, with Terry Russell coming from behind on the final night to pass Williston and Kim Hallihan to claim the championship. This trio of drivers would be among the most dominant of the late 80's, with Rat Regan and Frank McKenzie continuing to be strong. These years in the mid 1980s saw rising stars such as Raymond McCray and Rick Buckley breaking out and scoring wins.
The McKay's Speedway Era - 1988 to 1994
The lack of stability and constant changes in ownership began to hurt the crowds at the track to a degree. The result was the track being sold again in 1988, this time to Wilfred McKay and Sportsman driver Clarence Patles. The track would be renamed McKay's Speedway. The new ownership team worked tirelessly to rebuild attendance and bring the facility back to glory - and they were certainly succesful.
With strong car counts in all classes, the track continued to grow under the new ownership team. In 1989, the Dukes class would transform into the Bomber division. Over these years, changes would be made to make cars closer to the rest of the province as well as scheduling changes to allow drivers to compete at both River Glade and Miramichi - with Miramichi racing on Saturday nights and River Glade on Sundays.
In 1990, announcer Cyril Hall created the Brunswick 100 - a major 100-lap Sportsman race. The inagural Brunswick 100 was the richest race in tracks history, with an $8500 purse and a potential entry list that exceeded 60 cars! Kirk Jardine was the winner of the first Brunswick 100, after winning the Firecracker 50 earlier in the year. Over these years, the MASCAR tour competed at the track some during the late 80's and early 90's, before taking a leave of absence following the 1991 race.
During the McKay's Speedway era, a number of drivers made a local claim to fame with their successes. The Sportsman class was dominated by champions such as Rick Buckley, who became the first back-to-back champion in the Sportsman division in 1989 and 1990, along with 1991 champion Ray McCray, 1994 champion Brad Mann, 1987, 1992, and 1995 champion Terry Russell, and Moncton drivers Paul Lewis and 1993 champion Tim Rodgers - who would win three Brunswick 100's and become the only driver not from Northern New Brunswick to win a championship over these years with his title in 1993. Other top drivers would include Garth Creamer, Paul Dunn, Kirk Jardine, Bill Sommerville, Bill McLean and Kim Hallihan. In the Bomber / Street Stock class, John Underhill, Johnny Goodwin, Todd Mullin, Rick Hetherington, Chris Sickles, George Lloyd, Jackie Gillespie Frank Dick, Lyndon Lyons and Dave Clark were among the best.
Through the early 90's, more Demolitions would be held at the track, with two drivers being tough to beat. Those would be Zoel Breau and Ricky Hubbard, who combined to win nearly every Demolition of this time.
The Beginning of the Miramichi City Speedway Era - 1995 to 2003
In early 1994, Wilfred McKay sold his share of the track to Sportsman driver Brad Mann, and in the fall of that year Clarence Patles sold his share to businessman Reg Tozer. With the City of Miramichi being formed in 1995 through amalgamation, the track became known as Miramichi City Speedway in 1995. The new owners began making some improvements to the facility immediately. Sportsman racing was still strong, the Bomber division evolved into the Street Stock class, while Demolition Derbies remained popular and had increased to 4 events per year. Around this time, Demolition Derby started being held on select race nights at the track. In 1995, attempts were made to create the New Brunswick Pro Stock Tour, which was to have 3 dates in Miramichi. The tour ultimately was unsuccessful and didn't return to the track after this year.
In 1996, MASCAR returned to the track for the first time since 1991, with the legendary Scott Fraser dominating to win. That summer would also be the final running of the Brunswick 100 as a Sportsman race, with Brad Tozer claiming the victory. At the end of the 1996 season, a very controversial event occurred where contact between drivers Kirk Jardine and Brad Tozer resulted in a black flag for Jardine. With Tozer being the son of the tracks owners, it was a very controversial call which would trigger a dispute between drivers and management - which resulted in all but 3 cars refusing to start the feature event.
The 1997 brought more changes to the track after the fallout of the controversy at the end of the 1996 season. In attempt to create more growth, the new Hobby Stock class was introduced. Unfortunately, Sportsman car counts decreased dramatically that summer, all while Demolitions soared in popularity. By 1999, the schedule was reduced to 8 events, 5 of which included Demos. On September 12th, 1999, a record Demolition car count of an estimated 98 cars was featured. 1999 would also be the final stop ever for the MASCAR tour, with John Flemming scoring the victory.
Ray McCray and Rick Buckley continued to dominate the Sportsman class in the late 90's, winning championships in 1998 (Buckley) and 2000 (McCray). Brian Ashton and Yves McCray emerged as top drivers as well, winning titles in 1997 and 1999 respectively. Blaine Moses, RIck Heatherington, Jason Silliker, Doug Jagoe, Keith Daley and Troy Branch would be among the top Street Stock drivers, with Lyndon Lyons, Tony Lovelace, Stephane Savoie, and JP Richard being dominant in the Hobby Stock division. Stephane Savoie, Eddie Hay, and Robert Legere were tough to beat in Demolition competition.
Racing saw a bit of a resurgence during the early 2000's. While Demo's were very popular - with in excess of 50 cars sometimes, and the ever popular figure 8 race, Sportsman racing returned to race almost every week of the summer. In 2001 the Street Stock and Hobby Stock class was merged into one division. Unfortunately, car counts never returned to the strong levels of the 80's and 90's.
Demolition Events Take Center Stage at Miramichi City Speedway - 2004 to 2011
Racing through the early 2000's would be decent, but not to the level saw in decades past. Demolitions would be crowd favorites, but several new classes would begin to debut in 2003, with the introduction of the 4 Cylinder class, and the debut of the Atlantic Open Wheel Tour in Miramichi.
A challenging year arose in 2004, with Blue Mountain Speedway opening up near Bathurst and a number of drivers competing at that venue. This would lead to the fall of Sportsman and Street Stock racing, with no Sportsman champion being crowned in 2004 and Street Stock's competing one final race to wrap up 2004. The future became even more in doubt for Miramichi City Speedway due in part to Miramichi's economy on the downfall, and track owner Reg Tozer's health declining - in fact, the 2005 season was not expected to happen. A season was held fortunatley with only a limited number of events with Demolition and 4 Cylinder races.
The final years of Sportsman racing would see Yves McCray be dominant, with other longtime drivers having some of their best seasons including Gary Clark, Wayne Wormell, Zean Dutcher, Kim Hallihan, Keith Daley, Jason MacCallum and Blaine Moses. In Street Stock racing, Derek Goodwin would be the top driver, becoming the first Street Stock driver to win consecutive championships in 2002 and 2003, with Denis Mallet, Robert Legere, Stephane Savoie, and Tim Ward being among the top drivers. In Demolition action, Eddie Hay, Stephane Savoie, and Robert Legere continued to cement their status as greats, but a number of new faces including Kevin Tucker, Brad MacLean, Brian MacDonald and Bruce Hache emerged as top contenders.
In 2006, Miramichi City Speedway got a boost, with the re-introduction of the Dukes class. This late 2000's would mark a new era for the track - the first without some form of Sportsman or Late Model racing. While this helped the track some, the future still was uncetain due to ongoing health issues for the owner. In 2008, champions were crowned for the final time, ending a 26 year run of crowning champions. Only 3 events were held in 2009, and only a single event in each of 2010 and 2011.
Over this era, Brad MacLean, Joel Clancy and Nathan Dean would make names for themselves in the Dukes division. Meanwhile, MacLean and Kevin Tucker would be dominant in Demolition competition along with Robert Legere and Eddie Hay, with Trenton Silliker and Adam Plourde finding success too. In the 4 Cylinder division, Bob Hallihan, Tommy Hallihan, Sylvain Boudreau, Jean-Guy Chaisson, Gary Clark and Darcy O'Neill would all entertain fans battling for wins and championships.
Speedway Miramichi Era Begins Under New Management - 2012 to 2015
In 2012, the ambitious Jason Carnahan teamed up with David Nielsen to purchase and restore the track. A massive renovation projected was completed, and the new Speedway Miramichi reopened to a packed crowd of over 2200 in June 2012. In July, the first Sportsman race in nearly a decade was held, with Ken MacKenzie grabbing the win. Carnahan would host 5-6 events per year consiting of Demolition, Mini Stock, and Street Stock racing, along with hosting the Atlantic Modified Tour and Eastern Super Mini Cup Series.
Carnahan and team hosted around 5 events per season with Demolitions and stock car racing, along with one special event stock car race. Most events were relatively well attended. In 2013, Demolition events were shaken up with different formats including Enduros and a Smash to Pass event. A Sportsman 125 was run on September 28th and was won by Dave O'Blenis.
2014 would mark a major year in the tracks revival. Track champions were crowned for the first time since 2008, and that September, Pro Stock returned for a 125 laps race, which was won by PEI's Jonathan Hicken. The 125 lap race ran entirely caution free! That year also brought the return of points champions to the track with Brad Daley (Mini Stock) and Jean-Francois Basque (Demolition) claiming championships.
Speedway Miramichi Under New Management - 2015 to 2019
With a full plate of managing multiple businesses, Carnahan listed the track for sale in Winter of 2015. In July 2015 the track was sold to Barry Richard, who hosted his first race as owner on July 25th, 2015. That day featured a Demolition which was won by Robert Legere, plus an Atlantic Modified Tour feature won by Brandon Skidmore and a Mini Stock feature won by JR Lawson.
An ambitious event listing was scheduled for 2016, with hopes of re-introducing the Dukes division and splitting Demolition and Stock Car events up into separate events. Unfortunatley, the experiment was not successful and resulted in Demolition and Stock car events being merged back into one event.
Under Richard's management, with the help of John O'Shea, the track saw the biggest race since the 90's, with the 2017 Chi City Showdown being the scene for 25 Street Stock cars to compete for 100 laps. This event has since become an annual staple and the marquee event on the track schedule. This race is well remembered for Brad MacLean accepting a pole challenge to start at the back, only to drive through the field to win! Future Pro Stock star from Miramichi Ashton Tucker also made his mark this day by winning the Atlantic Modified Tour race. The race was very refreshing after what had been a disappointing 2017 season.
In 2018, the track celebrated it's 50th anniversay, marking 50 years since the track opened in 1968. The year kicked off with a Family Day Stunt Show, which hosted over 2000 fans! The year would see some ups and downs, but would overall be a success as a number of drivers returned to the drivers seat and car counts grew all season! For the first time ever, a Modified track champion was crowned in Miramichi with Doug Matchett being declared the winner after a miscalculation originally awarded the title to Joe Hoyt. Over the off-season, the first ever Snowmobile Drag races were held in the back pit area!
The momentum built up in 2018 did not carry into 2019, with weather issues and altercations plaguing the season. As a result, attendance suffered as the ownership team dealth with a number of challenges throughout the year.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Era - 2020 and 2021
A dismal 2019 led to uncertainty for the tracks future yet again. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic which began in March resulted in a number of restrictions on gathering limits and put the future of the track in even greater jeopardy. Given the restrictions they were faced with, track management devised a plan to race without fans in the stands in order to operate. This would make Speedway Miramichi the first track in all of Atlantic Canada to re-open for racing in the midst of the pandemic. The plan featured a maximum of 50 people on the property at a time - one driver plus one crew member per team, with no fans. However, New Brunswick changed the rules the day before the planned race allowing fans to attend. While it was last minute, a few fans did show up and Speedway Miramichi became the first track to race during the pandemic.
After a positive opening day and loosened pandemic restrictions, management decided to push forward with the season and make the next event even bigger. The COVID Crash for Cash was scheduled for July 25th, and would see the biggest driver and fan turnout in years! The crowd was a sell-out, albeit capacity was reduced for restrictions. Fans would be lined up for miles down the McKinnon Road, and an estimated 1000 people had to be turned away after the track hit the reduced COVID-19 capacity. The momentum kept building and the 2020 season would be one of the best despite pandemic restrictions. On August 8th, racing was live streamed for the first time ever through Tims Corner TV. The Back to School Smash event on September 12th saw a modern era record 67 Demolition cars in attendance in front of packed grandstands. The Very Best Fall Shootout was held on October 3rd with Logan Power scoring the Street Stock 100 win - then a late season race was added to make up for an early event lost due to restrictions. The Halloween Spooktacular wrapped up the season with Riley Harris's Demo car infamously burning to the ground.
Plans are underway to make 2021 even bigger with even more growth expected! At the end of 2021, Richard will have the second longest tenure of ownership and management in the tracks history.
While it hasn't always been good times, the track, much like the city its named after, has survived all the tough times and continued to be resilient. The people of Miramichi never give up, and they especially never give up on their track - one rich with over 50 years of history!