While drag racers looked for a way to continue using the airport on occasion, Sechelt Mayor John Henderson steered them towards making “something bigger for Sechelt and for all of us.”
Henderson and Sechelt Coun. Doug Hockley addressed a crowd of about 45 drag racers during the Sunshine Coast Drag Racing Association’s (SCDRA) regular meeting on June 3.
“We wanted you to come down and clear up what’s actually happening, not what was said in the paper,” SCDRA president Tony Petula told Henderson, referring to the comment made by Coun. Chris Moore that “the drag racing group is kind of on notice” that when the airport expansion is funded “in all probability their days are numbered up at that airport.”
Henderson would not give a tentative timeline for racers, but said the planned airport expansion would necessitate becoming Transport Canada certified, which would likely nix the drag racing use.
“It’s not so much about when is this going to happen, but what can we do to plan so that we can all get out and race,” Henderson said.
Hockley then took the floor to introduce his idea for a multi-use drag racing facility like the one he toured in Spokane.
“They have a multi-facility where they drag race, they have a sports car circuit, they have a carting circuit, all incorporated into one area and they did that as a result of being kicked off an airport,” Hockley said.
He gave two examples of sites that might work on the Coast, including one across from the landfill in Sechelt and one up past the airport in Wilson Creek.
SCDRA members were concerned the effort would cost millions.
“The point is we’ve got to broaden this and we have to go after a bigger market than is just us, and there’s lots of support when we do that. When we find a way to capture the attention of others, there’s lots of money out there,” Henderson said.
Most weren’t convinced.
“You think that this club here could develop a drag strip on its own?” founding SCDRA member and past president Wayne Taylor asked. “Drag racing in this venue cannot support its own facility. It just can’t. There’s not enough money there.”
Hockley said sponsorship is the key.
Some suggested the airport stay as it is and not become Transport Canada certified so that drag racing can continue on site, with Taylor noting the facility “wouldn’t even be an airport without the work we did there.”
He said the club put in $130,000 of work to the airport in 1999, clearing and levelling the land and putting in 5,000 feet of drainage, all so that the airport wouldn’t be shut down.
“About 22 per cent of the budget for that airport came from this drag race club. So a lot of the animosity that you’re taking the brunt of right now is because of all that has happened over the years and what we did. The airport didn’t do it, the town of Sechelt didn’t do it, the drag racers did it,” Taylor said.
Taylor also noted members from the SCDRA used to be on the airport advisory committee but when the new council took over they were not allowed to sit on the committee anymore.
“We had two members put in applications and they were both denied,” Taylor said.
Henderson didn’t explain why the applications were denied, but noted the airport development advisory committee is “about developing the airport as an airport.”
One SCDRA member said the club didn’t want to get into the big business of owning their own drag strip, just to race a few times a year.
Another said it was difficult to discuss the plans pitched by Henderson and Hockley because “we have politicians who are pirates.”
“I look forward to you running for election,” Henderson said in response. “Until then, shut up.”
He later apologized for the outburst and said the concept of expanding the airport had to do with bringing new people to the Coast because “I’m worried, personally, about who’s going to be able to buy my home. That’s my issue.”
After almost an hour’s discussion, Henderson and the SCDRA agreed to work together going forward.
“At the end of the day here folks, we want to keep drag racing on the Sechelt peninsula. We don’t have the money to go out and build a motor sport track. We want to work with the airport and the village of Sechelt so that we continue to be a multi-use airport rather than a single-use, single-vision airport,” Petula said. “We’re all going to work together and hopefully you can take that message back to the rest of the committee there and make sure that we become a part of it.”
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