Don Spiece, the new owner of Merrittville, is a former racer. He’s not the first racer to own a race track. He bought Merrittville from one who still races. The results for racers who own tracks is mixed. Tony Stewart seems seems to make it work. Ken Schrader has owned tracks for years. Others have found that they can’t separate the racing part from the business part and that they are two separate entities.
Spiece has the luxury of being a business man, and he didn’t go into track ownership blindly. On his career, he allowed, , “The Pro Stock days were my best, and I did some Sportsman. I did everything, Modified, Late Model. Pro Stocks were the best. You could afford it and we won races. I’m done racing, for now.”
While noting that his biggest challenge as the new owner of Merrittville Speedway, Don Spiece, is maintaining the lofty stature established by previous owners Pete Bicknell and Randy Williamson, he is also looking forward to putting his mark on the facility. He shared some of this thoughts during his first business night at the facility.
On the concept of new ownership, he offered, “I think always when somebody buys something from somebody whose been in it a long time, there is a sense that everybody likes change. It seems to be pretty positive. I hope I can keep it that way.”
On his impressions of the first night, he declared, “The car count is amazing, and for how cold it is, the stands are pretty full. These people are putting up with it and they’re still here. It’s pretty amazing”
Referring to his desire for a seamless transition which he had mentioned in an earlier interview, he said, “It’s been very close. Behind the scenes I’m going a little crazy trying to make it seamless.”
There weren’t a lot of staffing changes, but there were some key ones. On that he declared, “Actually, it worked out pretty well.” One of the changes he did make that maybe raised some eyebrows, was to hire Tom Beales, the race director at Humberstone and Louie Caetano, the pit steward at Humberstone to the same posts at Merrittville. (They’ll still be at Humberstone, as well, on Sunday nights) “It was all my idea,” he noted, “It was a great idea. It worked out well. I think Tommy is going to get great respect from the drivers. I replaced the previous race director because there were too many voices saying they’d had enough (read “tension and unease). I didn’t even know him. I had nothing against him. Change is good.”
When I asked how much he leans on the former management, he said, “I’m still leaning on Erica. I call her every five minutes. I depend on her a lot. She’s pretty amazing. She’s done an amazing job here behind the scenes. People don’t appreciate it, and they should have because I’ve never seen anybody do it better.”
On spending time at the race track, “There’s a lot of hours here, and I should actually be spending more hours, but you just have to take a break once in a while.”
Regarding the future, Spiece suggested, “I’m going to keep it pretty much the same. It works. It draws a great crowd, and I’m here to stay. I’m going to build a house here. I live in (nearby) Welland now, but by Christmas I should have a new house built here. I’m here to stay.”
Sponsors have stayed intact, a key element in the racing business. On that, he avowed, “It’s a respect thing, the way I’ve done my whole life. The way I’ve built it is on respect. When I leaned on some of the people that I know, they respect me and joined on. So far, everybody’s happy. This is the first night. We’ll see,” he laughed.
Anything negative? He noted, “Everybody’s happy. The only thing negative, even on Facebook, is about the smoking. There’s really nothing I can do about it. ” Like many tracks, Merrittville had a smoking section, but new Ontario laws prohibit even that. He observed. “It was actually supposed to be in place last year, but it’s in now and there are no options.”
On changes at the facility, he suggested, “We’re just going to beef it up and make it a little nicer in spots. Probably in the next month, the bar will be revamped. We’ll just slowly do one project at a time.”.
For the on-track future, Spiece does have a goal. He shared, “I’ve got to get through the first year first. I’m anticipating, but I’d love to have the Super Late Models, maybe the World of Outlaws Late Models. That’s my plan. We’ll see. Right now, we just plan on getting through this year and having a good season.” He concluded, “I’m excited. I’m excited that the fans have come out in this cold. It’s good. I’m excited.”