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Kenora track speeds into seventh season

The Lake of the Woods Speedway starts off its 2024 campaign on Sunday.

KENORA – Having grown up next to the Emo Speedway, it was only natural that Anthony Leek got involved in dirt track racing.

After serving as the president and promotor at the track for over a decade, Leek ventured up to Kenora and began the process of opening a racing facility in his new home.”

“When I made the move, I said ‘I can’t live in a town without a racetrack,’” Leek said. “Where the track is located (off of Jones Road) is actually the first place that I had looked at on Google Maps.

“For me, it was kind of a natural transition more than anything. I wanted to bring the same passion and community spirit at Emo to here in Kenora.”

Following a practice session in Oct. 2017, the 1/3-mile Lake of the Woods Speedway held its first races in 2018 and has been in operation ever since during the summer months, with the 2024 season getting underway on the afternoon of Sunday, June 9.

The track is the first dirt oval in the area since the Northwestern Speedway ran in the late 1960s, though ice racing was prominent until the early 1990s.

Leek – who is the president, promoter and organizer of Kenora Motorsports Entertainment Limited, which operates the facility – said that the biggest thing that he and everyone else at the track focused on early on was building a base in the local area.

“If we have people that are two-to-three hours away and the weather is a little iffy, there’s a good chance that they aren’t going to make the drive here for the show,” Leek said. “So when we started, we thought about how we can make our entry-level classes (4-Cylinders and Pure Stocks) affordable so that we can have good car counts.

“When we were getting started, there might not have been a car in town, but now we have 15-18 drivers that are local, which is a huge benefit.”

The track – which also runs Midwest Modifieds – has a capacity for 700 fans, with their biggest crowds coming during the two-day Dinner Jacket Classic over the Civic Holiday long weekend in August.

While most of the fans are coming out to see the action on a regular basis, Leek said there are about 35 to 50 spectators who are getting their first taste of the sport on any given night.

“One of our drivers came out for the first time last summer as a fan and now they are running in the 4-Cylinder division,” Leek added.

“I think that increase in interest bodes well not just here, but for tracks throughout Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba. We have Morden (Man.) returning after a few years away, and of course you everything that’s going on in Thunder Bay.”

There’s a pretty large pool of drivers that come out to Lake of the Woods Speedway during the course of the season.

In addition to competitors from Northwestern Ontario, the track has welcomed racers from Manitoba and the United States since opening the gates.

“What I’ve found is that the track is adding to the diversity for what exists here with the tourism industry,” Leek said. “There’s a group of people that have never considered coming to Kenora, but now they are coming to race and they stay and camp here for a week.

“People are finding out about the lakes and the walking trails that might not have known about all of that before their first trip to the track.”

The 2024 season officially starts Sunday at 4:30 p.m.

The new addition to the calendar is the Ashley Neniska Memorial Races on June 16, which is held in honour of Leek’s fiancée who passed away earlier this year.

“That’s an important night for us as Ashley did a lot in the whole community and not just with racing here in Kenora,” Leek said. “We’re going to honour her memory the best we can.”

As he looks towards the future, Leek has a lot of ideas for Lake of the Woods Speedway, including hosting more events in the winter and some non-racing events.

However, he doesn’t want to burn himself and the track’s volunteers out.

“It’s important for us to do everything as right as possible,” Leek said. “There’s a lot of fresh people here that are still learning things and we don’t want to overextend ourselves.”

More information on Lake of the Woods Speedway can be found on the track’s website and Facebook page.