Rocky Mountain Raceway Park, we never really knew you. In operation for only a few short years, it was one of the last racetracks in the Calgary area. Now there are none. Built from passion by two dedicated enthusiasts, it was shuttered not really due to a lack of business, but rather ugly politics, the local governing body seemingly hell bent to see it fail. Closed up, flood damaged, the land is up for sale and the buildings and track almost certainly doomed, the venue is but a fleeting memory for racing fans. Blip…and it was gone.
BIGDoer.com was given special permission to explore and document this fascinating operation before it’s gone. Please understand, the raceway is private property and there is no public access. There is security on site and trespassers be dealt with.
The raceway was opened in 2004 by Sharon and Brian McCaughan, a couple avid racing nuts. The land here, back in the mid to late-1990s, was used to host multi-day outdoor concerts. Woodstock anyone? Neighbours are few and include a cattle auction mart.
Not only did this ambitious couple commission the venue, they built it themselves (that they’re in the construction business didn’t hurt). From the beginning it was envisioned as a budget-priced family friendly track, modern and clean. Besides racing it was hoped it could be used for concerts and other events and even rented out for whatever – wedding parties for example. The owners, staff, sponsors, the volunteers, they all worked hard to make sure the Rocky Mountain Raceway was something special and a success.
The track is (was) a dirt oval, a 3/8 mile long “bull ring”, and hosted a variety of race classes. The king of them all were the sprint cars, obscenely over-powered winged go-cart looking things, the driver shoe-horned into a protective cage assuring their safety. Operating at such breakneck speeds, the race was often over almost before it started, each loop taking but a dozen seconds, sometimes less, to complete. Ten laps down, the general race minimum, they were done in a minute and a half or so. Assuming no one crashed.
These cars come in many sub-classes and are set up to run in one direction only, counter clockwise. All races no matter type or class, go that way. Sharon explains it “go fast, turn left!” So powerful these machines seem to spend most of the time drifting sideways, throwing up huge rooster tails of dirt as they go.
Then there were stock cars and stock trucks of various classes, street vehicles basically adapted to play in the dirt, and in similar vein but kicking it up a notch, the much more highly altered modifieds. Always popular was the demolition derby, where groups of old junkers probably destined to the scrap yard anyway get in a last hurrah by battling it out to the death. They even hosted racing dirt bikes (a motocross course was planned) and quads, with occasional visits by monster-type trucks brought in to crush things. There was extreme truck challenges (obstacle courses) and smoke show competitions. It was a high-octane wheeled circus!
Claiming, a level-the-playing-field type rule, added to the excitement in certain races. Sharon and Brian did their best explain this strange concept to us outsiders but gave up after the umpteenth “huh?” or “what?” from us. Hold it, you can take or “claim” (well buy) the winner’s engine (or even car in some classes) if you come in last? Insert puzzled look here…
Heck, just Google it (IMCA engine claiming rule).
No matter what was competing, the short, tight and narrow high banked track made sure the action was fast paced and edge-of-your-seat intense. We watched the highlight videos and it was WOW! They could have raced tricycles here and made it exhilarating. Plain and simple, the place was deigned to thrill. Cars, all classes, in a long standing tradition, would be gaudily painted up and adorned with the logos of firms sponsoring the team or driver.
The RMRP or “Rock”, as it was affectionately known, is described by these simple slogans: “The Race – The Excitement – The Party” and “The Greatest Show on Dirt!”, both spot on sentiments. Each race day it was two and a half hours of pure fun, comradery and death defying action. It was a wild ride for participants and fans. Low brow? Some might say. Unsophisticated? Most definitely. A red-neck, good ol’ boy fest? You say that like it’s a bad thing…this is ALBERTA you know! Raw, pure, honest? Absolutely! Cars and drivers battling it out, crashing into each other, 100% unadulterated fun!
The track only operated for a few years – the season lasting spring to fall – closing by 2010. It wasn’t a lack of fans, enough of them came, it wasn’t the participants, there was no shortage of racers, it was the local government, For reasons only known to them, they had it out for the place making sure there was nothing but an endless series of near impossible obstacles for the venue to overcome. And permits, permits, permits, the endless permits. They didn’t stop! Lay down the rules and then abruptly change them. Bully, threaten, rinse and repeat ad nauseam.. BIGDoer has seen the documents and the Municipal District (MD of Foothills) was not playing nice! No need to editorialize here, the facts confirm it.
Still Sharon and Brian tried to keep it together, doing what they could, answering the issues, complying with the conditions, keeping it civil (nice people both) and shrugging it all off with a smile and a big “whatcha gonna do”. This author called the MD and was met with a general indifference. I’m being nice here. It was claimed that was noise and that alone was the only issue. Were the cows complaining? Okay, so sound deadening curtains were put up and hours scaled back. And surprise, it wasn’t enough.
Ever since closing the venue has sat empty. It was partly underwater for a bit, during those nasty 2013 floods. Outside some erosion damage to the track (which is below grade and so became a catch basin, a pool of sorts, during that nasty event), a collapsed safety fence as a direct result of the swirling waters and some thick cakes of accumulated dried mud here and there, the place fared pretty well.
Rocky Mountain Raceway Park was the last track established in a long line of racing venues that once existed in the Calgary area. It seemed to fly under the radar from what we’ve seen and was not as well known as it should have been, not for a lacking of trying. Too bad, it deserved more. With the loss of it, that left only of Race City (paved track) to soldier on for another year, before it too closed (not so much for a lack of business but due to the city encroaching on the land). The region has no more speedways of any kind. Want some motorsports action today? You’ll have to travel far.
We wander about the grounds, the silence and stillness almost overwhelming. We can easily imagine cars zooming round and round and round till we’re fall-down dizzy. The crowd, we can see them, goes wild, but never too wild. They’re fans, not troublemakers. The pits are beehive of activity, teams working on cars, swapping parts, preparing for races, the drivers chatting with fans and posing for the obligatory photos. Burgers are on the grill, a cold one in hand.
Pick your seat, outside benches, THAT CLOSE to the action but behind a safety fence (WILL IT HOLD?!) or choose a premium indoor or outdoor box seating higher up, or simply watch the action from the lounge. There are no bad views and if needed the place could accommodate up to couple thousand people comfortably. Via strategically placed speakers, an announcer will keep you up to speed (get it) and even toss out the occasional joke. “It looks like Deerfoot out there folks!” Calgarians will get it.
Between races the track is groomed and watered to keep dust down. Medical and safety crews are on standby although it’s hoped they are never needed. A tow truck keeps busy pulling mangled cars off the track.
Little kids gets to race now and then, their pint-sized “micro-sprint” cars mimicking the big ones. I’m told they hold nothing back and race just like the adults, as though the world itself depended on them winning. Contests are held, for the kids and some for adults, games are played. It’s fun all around. A lucky fan gets to ride in a special two person sprint car. Brian, not just one of the owners here but also an accomplished racer himself, holds nothing back, giving the person a heart pounding, grey-hair inducing ride of a lifetime.
Nobody really races for the money. Trophies, big, tall, shiny, golden trophies, a pat on the back, a cheer from the crowd and congrats from fellow road warriors (many who are actually friends), are the real rewards. Still they came. They compete out of passion.
With the loss of this track, I imagine there are a lot of unhappy drivers. They came from all over the province and sometimes even further, but many were local enthusiasts. With nowhere left to race, what do they do now? And of course, fans of the sport are left wanting. Either travel long distances or simply accept the fact that the fun has ended. The party is over.
We hate to admit, we never patronized this venue. In all honesty, we never even knew about until after it closed. I guess we should pay better attention. We like a little crash filled excitement now and then and regret we never knew the place in its prime. Seeing it in the state it’s in today, all forgotten, unloved, a likely date with a wrecking ball in its future, naturally it leaves us a little saddened. The racetrack of lost dreams.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2016.
Location: South of Calgary AB.
Article references: Sharon and Brian McCaughan, Rick Reid. Help and thanks: the crew at Lost Speedways and Dan and Emily Overes from DanOCan.
There is no public access to this site. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.