Even without turning a single lap, the Canadian Short Track Nationals are already the most prestigious stock car race in the country north of the border.
The genesis of this event was the result of a single question.
How can we have the most prestigious short track race in North America?
Jukasa Motor Speedway track owners Kenny Hill and Jerry Montour offered that question to track general manager Alex Nagy. Hill and Montour are the Native American tobacco czars who acquired the property back in 2016 after the track closed in 2009.
They own Grand River Enterprises — the entity that produces Sago, Putters, DK’s and Golden Leaf cigarettea. Hill and Montour have no racing background but bought the property and fell in love with short track racing.
So, they wanted to have the biggest short track race on the continent.
Initially proposed as a $25,000-to-win Pro Late Model race, Hill and Montour asked Nagy how they could get some the biggest names in short track racing to travel across the border. So, Nagy said they had to increase the purse.
So, $30,000? No. $40,000? No.
Hill and Montour said to make it a $50,000-to-win Pro Late Model race. The purse succeeded and drew the likes of Bubba Pollard, Johnny VanDoorn and Sterling Marlin to battle Canadian aces like Cayden Lapcevich, JR Fitzpatrick and Jason Hathaway.
“If your name is on this entry list and you aren’t excited for this deal – you need to check to make sure you have a pulse,” Hathaway said. “You hear guys in this sport constantly trying to tell you, one way or the other, that they think their team is the best around. Well – here’s the chance to prove it.
“This is gigantic for Canadian racing. Just listen to the buzz that’s been generated for this race. It’s putting Canadian racing back on the map in a way that we haven’t seen in a long, long time.”
Nagy says this race has become way bigger than he could have ever imagined when he first announced it at the Performance Racing Industry trade show last winter.
“This event has really taken on a life of its own over the course of the last year,” Nagy said. “The excitement is contagious. We’ve had interest from clear across Canada and the United States in ways that I just could never have imagined when putting pen to paper for this idea.”
And the race is only going to get better next year and beyond.
The overall purse for the inaugural Canadian Short Track Nationals on Sunday night is $174,000. Next year’s purse is $300,000 and in 2021, the purse will reach $1 million.
Cayden Lapcevich is the 18-year-old NASCAR Pinty’s Series champion from the 2016 season. He says Hill and Montour have done everything they were supposed to in order to galvanize the stock car racing fanbase in Canada.
“I think people overlooked this race at first,” Lapcevich said. “It was just $20,000-to-win and just another race. But when they raised the purse, there was no way we were going to miss that.
“Then they got Bubba, VanDoorn and Brian Campbell. These are some of the best short trackers in the United States. It’s a phenomenal facility and the stands are going to be packed.”
Pollard didn’t even realize he had that many Canadian fans until he showed up on Sunday and were greeted by so many black-and-yellow clad fans wearing No. 26 gear.
“We’ve been traveling a lot more this year,” Pollard said. “I guess we made a good impression. This is just a cool deal. We don’t get to race for money like this too often.
“I can’t wait to see what this race becomes in a few years. It takes time for races to become the Snowball Derby, Oxford 250 or the All-American 250 but they’re on the right track.”