Imagining life without Grand Bend Motorplex

Proposed ban on leaded fuels could shut down attraction after 2008 season

By Casey Lessard

The end is near for racing at Grand Bend Motorplex if fans and community members don’t take a stand against a proposed federal ban on leaded fuels, the track’s manager warns.
“If this happens, professional drag racing in Canada is over,” Motorplex manager Ron Biekx wrote in a message on the track’s website. “The Canadian government are legislating Canada’s largest racing facilities out of business.”
The ban on lead in fuel was first proposed in 1990, but concerns over economic impacts have led to extensions that were set to end this month. Instead, the government is giving racers one more year to end their use of leaded fuels.
“It has allowed us to exist in the drag racing arena with American tracks and racers, and most importantly, American customers,” Biekx told the Strip, noting the MOPAR nationals accounts for more than half of the track’s income for the year. Most of the cars at that event are American cars that use leaded fuel. “When they take that away from us on January 1, 2009, they take away our ability to work in those markets. That lucrative market that has put us on the international map is gone overnight.”
Pat Powers of Aunt Gussie’s understands the environmental concerns, but thinks the economic impact is also important.
“They’re taking away one industry that generates revenue. I’m curious as to what the government is going to do to bolster the businesses that this decision is going to affect.”
Besides the loss of jobs at the track (the Motorplex employs 80-100 in an average year), the ban could trigger a domino effect in Grand Bend; Biekx says the MOPAR nationals alone bring about $7.5 million into the local economy.
“That money is certainly not spent in the facility. They enjoy the show and they’re done with me. Grocery stores run out of food on our national event weekend. They now plan for it. Every motel room from Sarnia to London is booked.”
“That’s huge,” said Mary Jo Schottroff Snopko of Pine Dale Motor Inn. “They bring a lot of money for occupancy from room reservations. And they’re a nice bunch of people. It’s a guaranteed weekend, and I think there’s enough factors happening in the tourism field that we don’t need a lot more between border issues, the dollar and gas prices.”
“You figure, their national weekend brings in 50,000 to 60,000 people over that three day time frame,” says Mike Rahn of Mike & Terri’s No Frills, “so those weekends it would be a larger impact. It definitely would take business away from all of the businesses in town.”
Biekx praised the Ontario tourism ministry for its work to support the track, recognizing its impact on the local economy. At the federal level, however, Environment Canada says leaded fuels are harmful to spectators and the local environment. Racing accounts for 1.5 per cent of all leaded fuels used in Canada; the rest is used for aviation, including pleasure craft, under a permanent exemption.
Noting the U.S., Britain and Australia allow leaded fuel for racing at levels 10 to 100 times the Canadian level, Biekx says the move by Environment Canada is similar to the tail that wags the dog.
“I’ve done a lot of work with a Canadian supplier who supplies excellent unleaded fuel to our races. But changes in Canada on an economic scale are meaningless. It doesn’t make sense economically for Canada to stand up and tell the U.S. how it’s going to be. We’re just going to be a ‘Remember when?’ for the American competitor.”
Biekx hopes people who are passionate about the sport and those who want the Motorplex to stay open will act immediately to stop the ban. He’s asking you to call, write and email your representative in Ottawa, at Queen’s Park, and on municipal council before the comment period ends February 13.
“Make yourself heard,” he pleads. “Those people who have seen and recognize the financial impact of having this should step forward and say, ‘We don’t want this piece of our economic pie taken away so someone can get some political mileage for it.’”