Racing: ‘When it rains, we don’t know what to do...”
BY MEGGIN ROBERTS
Staff Spectators had to grab their seats and fasten their dust goggles early when the engines started revving Sunday at Cornwall Speedway for the Super DIRTcar Big-Block Series.
As the sun set and the smell of race fuel filled the night sky, the fullhouse crowd in the grandstands stood up and cheered as the drivers took to their starting positions and waited for the green flag to fly for one of the Speedway’s most beloved shows of the year.
With $7,500 on the line in the 100-lap feature event, Big-Block and 358Modified regulars went wheel-to-wheel, running the turns of the small track almost effortlessly, with only a few cautions in sight. This was a great relief for many, after worries of another rain-out threatened the track’s big night due to Sunday’s early morning showers.
The Big-Block Series featured 38 cars; 17 of which were mighty BigBlocks, boasting an impressive 870 HP engine with drivers hailing mainly from the United States. One Big-Block racer came all the way from Queensland, Australia; in car 21A: Peter Britten, more commonly known on the track as “Batman.” However, Britten wasn’t the only super hero to appear in the line-up: Big-Block favourite, in car 9S, Matt Sheppard, a.k.a. Superman, was also fighting for first place. The remainder of the 38 racers drove small-block engines, or 358-Modified regulars, which allow for only 570 HP.
Competitors included Alexandria’s Joey Ladouceur, whose family has been coming to the 50-year-old track almost as long as it’s been running.
“It’s a family thing,” Ladouceur tells “I was born in ’76 and my dad started racing in ’74 so I’ve been involved with racing my whole life.”
Cornwall Speedway first opened May 31, 1970. “I’ve been racing myself since 1997 and now my son races, my brother races, and his sons. We all live in Alexandria, my dad has his business in Alexandria (Mr. Radiator auto service) and we all work at the same shop.”
He adds with a laugh, “We’ve probably been here for about 45 of those 50 years. It’s our Sunday night ritual, we don’t know any different, when it rains we don’t know what to do with ourselves.” And the speedway has had to deal with a lot of rain this season. The small-block drivers knew they were in for a challenge. “We’re at a disadvantage,” Ladouceur points out. “We’re at a 200-HP disadvantage. You’ll never meet a racer that wants to go to the races with 200 HP less than the other guy.” By participating, the 358-Modified regulars received “show-up points.” While the big blocks take the lead, the small blocks are racing a race within itself, competing for best in class.
“That’s not to say a small block can’t win the race. It’s happened, but it’s a lot harder. We’re not supposed to win, but sometimes the track gets so dry, and slippery, where more horsepower is actually a disadvantage, and in that case, we can actually tippy-toe our way to the front. If we can get into the show, that’s the big thing. There’s 38 cars and only 30 spots, and 17 of them are big blocks, we’re fighting for about 15 spots.”
Another fan favourite is Alexandria’s Chris Raabe, who finds time to race when he is not working for South Glengarry Township’s Building Department.
“It works pretty well,” Raabe says. “We only race on weekends, so it doesn’t really interfere with work. It’s a perfect fit for my schedule.”
Weekends are busy. “We’ve been running Mohawk on Friday nights, Plattsburg, New York on Saturday nights, and here at Cornwall on Sundays.” And he has a lot of local help too. Sponsors ensure drivers can keep competing.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have a lot of people from the Alexandria area help us out, and I think that’s fun you know, when you can take a local business and bring it to larger scales. In terms of the racing world, it’s great exposure, so it’s really neat to have that support.”
In the 100-lap run that lasted little more than an hour, Matt Sheppard won easily.
Although many spectators came out to watch the Big-Block Series, many of them stayed for the Next Level Home Improvement Sportsman event, which featured a 25-lap race and one of the few female competitors, Brianna Ladouceur, of South Glengarry.
While Brianna Ladouceur didn’t compete in the Big-Block series Sunday, she did contend for points in the Sportsman series.
Racing against the boys never bothered Ladouceur, who is no relation to Joey Ladouceur’s crew.
As for the hazards, “If I start at the back, I’m a little nervous because you have to watch out for so many things. Starting in the back, you’re further so you have to pass more cars. Here it’s a smaller track, so it’s difficult to move around. Sometime’s there’s accidents you have to watch out.”
With five years under her belt, she knows the ropes. “If I start in the front, it’s so much pressure, but normally once I get out there I’m fine.”
Ladouceur is a rarity on the circuit. “There’s Jessica Power that I race against but she mostly races in the States.”
As the “only girl,” she has her own cheering section. “I’ll be walking in the stands, and they’ll be like ‘Kick the boy’s butts tonight!’ I had one girl tell me when I was at super dirt week, last week, that she started racing because she used to watch me, so now she races, so yeah, it feels good.”
But how does a woman break into the ranks of a mostly male dominated sport?
“My dad always helped Carey Terrance (who won the track championship title four times), then when I did the Enduro when I was 14, I did really good in it, so everyone started saying, ‘Buy her a race car!’ and Carey asked me to be a part of his team. So we started with one car, now we have five cars in this big stacker.” She pats the seat of the hauler and laughs. “But it was mostly my father who got me into it. He doesn’t race but he does all the work on my car. He’s my main man, my crew chief.” A family thing. A common theme at the Cornwall Speedway.
With another big event over at the Cornwall Speedway and the rest of the season to attend, more and more families, young and old, male or female, are finding that an evening out at the races to be a fun night out, both on the track and off. The Speedway runs until September 15.
SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE SPEEDWAY: Brianna Ladouceur, Joey Ladouceur (bottom left) and Chris Raabe and his crew are some of the many race enthusiasts who are on the track every weekend during the summer months.