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Racetrack closer to reality

A new racetrack received official designation as a motorsport country club last week, bringing the project one step closer to reality. 

The designation for Area27 was granted by the Osoyoos Indian Band on Jan. 9 and is good for 110 years, said Bill Drossos, president of the South Okanagan Motorsports Corporation.

"Everything we wanted to do is in the designation," he said. "If in the future we wanted to have residential or commercial buildings around the track, all those have been pre-approved. It's a fairly significant step."

With the final approvals in the works, Drossos hopes to break ground in the spring and be open for the first events in October.

Racing legend Jacques Villeneuve designed the track to "capture the essence of the Classic Grand Prix track and to instantly be recognized as a 'Driver's Track,'" according to the Area27 website.

"The modern sports car is so much faster than it was 10 or 20 years ago," Drossos said. "Speed limits haven't changed and attitudes are probably worse; no one is really into driving, they let electronics take over. Having a nice sports car is like having a nice set of powder skis on the bunny hill - you don't get to use the full potential."

And the idea is taking off. SOMC now has more than 120 members that have bikes, cars, race cars or exotic cars that they would race or drive on the track if they could. 

"You can start with a modified Mustang or Camaro. You don't need to spend a huge amount of money on the car to have a lot of fun. But it goes all the way up to the super exotics," Drossos said.

However, membership fees are quite steep. 

To become a regular member there is a one-time initiation fee of $35,000 to $45,000 with yearly membership dues between $3,000 and $4,000. 

Membership includes: 

  • 15 or more track days per month, with at least two weekends per month
  • Immediate family including members between the ages 16 to 25
  • Karting membership available for all family members age 8 and up
  • After a period of five years, membership becomes transferable subject to SOMC management approval and a $1,000 administration fee
  • Regular members can bring up to 15 guests per month, 3 guests per Regular Membership may drive 1 time per year, providing all driver eligibility requirements are met.
  • Guests who will be driving on the track will pay a daily use fee of $100

All members must have gone through an approved driving school or take the SOMC course which will likely include a "three day fundamentals of driving course, with two days of lapping to reinforce those skills," according to Drossos.

Although 90 per cent of the track use will be for members doing laps, Drossos also envisions corporate uses for the track, such as manufacturer press events or team building exercises.

Drossos also envisions kart racing, where for a nominal fee, anyone and their friends can get a helmet, jump in a kart and hit 100 kph on a professional race track.

"Safety will always be at the absolute maximum," he said.

The genesis for the track began way back in 1978 when Drossos was an 11-year-old boy watching Gilles Villeneuve win the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.

"From that moment on, I was pretty much hooked on motorsports and Formula One," he said. 

Years later, he decided to take his university tuition money and spend it on Richard Spenard's racing school in  Shannonville, Ontario.  

It was there that he met Jacques Villeneuve; Both of them teenagers and both of them racing Formula 2000 cars. At the same time he met real estate developer David King, also from Penticton, who is now the chairman of Area27. 

In a full-circle turn of events, Spenard is bringing his world class school to the new track and will be heading up the driving school there once it is built.

"I'm at this track in Shannonville working everyday on these F2000 cars. It's a field in Ontario, 100 miles east of Toronto - pretty much in the middle of nowhere - But people came in from all over the world to this place, because of the reputation of the school. 

"I always thought, this is not a place anyone would just want to go for a vacation, and I said to my buddy, 'wouldn't it be really something if you had a track in a place that people wanted to go." 

Fast forward through a few decades of racing and Drossos is in Penticton doing automotive restoration and coaching kids' ski racing on the winter weekends. 

"I was coaching at Baldy for a race and saw this huge parcel of land up on the bench and thought 'thats the spot, the perfect spot for a track," he said. 

After doing some research and getting in touch with the Osoyoos Indian Band, OIB chief Clarence Louie showed him another site which became the current location for the proposed racetrack. 

"There's no sound issues, because theres no neighbours. The land had already been altered and disturbed, so  there were fewer environmental concerns or species at risk there," Drossos said.

Now, they are in the final laps. 

"It just ended up being pure luck and a lot of perseverance."

 

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