St.Catharines’ Friesen Family Sells Ransomville Speedway.
It’s not only the end of an era in Niagara/Western New York dirt track racing, it ends one of the most unique track ownerships in the sport.
The Friesen Family of St. Catharines has sold Ransomville Speedway after a run of 43 years operating the fast 5/8th’s mile clay oval just outside the town of the same name, just east of Lewiston NY, to Parm Atwal of Buffalo.
The sale of “The Big R” also curtails a very rare situation, where a race track situated in The United States, is owned and operated by Canadians.
Stan Friesen, the family patriarch, purchased Ransomville Speedway with partner Kurt Uhl of St. Catharines in 1972 and operated the facility simultaneously with Merrittville Speedway in Thorold for 13 seasons.
Managing the two tracks required a full-scale double-family effort. Stan’s wife Diane and Kurt’s wife Deanna ran the office, with Stan and Di’s sons Joel, Jamie and Alex, and Kurt and Deanna’s daughter Janice learning the business growing up at the tracks.
Uhl eventually sold his interests, and the Friesen’s moved forward with Ransomville. Operation then fell to Stan, Joel and Jamie when youngest brother Alex was killed in a snowmobiling accident in 1996.
Stan, Diane, Jamie, Joel and wife Trish, and Ransomville native Tana Robinson have kept the speedway vital since then, with Stan passing away in 2012.
Why the decision to sell?
Joel tells Tomas Tales/Bullet News Niagara he and brother Jamie are now in their 50’s, and all but 12 of their 50 years has been dedicated to the operation of the speedway, so it was time to let it go and let a new owner take the track to the next level of progression.
“This move allows Ransomville to move forward. We’re very proud and satisfied with the thumb print we left on it. It didn’t come without a lot of dedicated and committed employees, friends and family.”
Joel is quick to dispel rumours the track would close. He confirms the new owners want to keep the Speedway property as a racing operation.
“The new owners are in love with short track racing in the Niagara area and want to continue the operation as it has been. But as with any new owner, like a new coach of a hockey team, they’ll tweak a few things and put their thumb print on it, so we’re looking at a very bright future for Ransomville Speedway.”
Friesen says several key personnel will remain in place in the new regime.
“People like Marketing Manager Tana Robinson and Race Director Jeff Anstett are planning to stay to continue to make sure it thrives!”
Jamie and Joel will still be associated with Ransomville as consultants.
I asked Joel what he might do with his Friday nights now that he’s not helping run the place.
“ I might just instinctively wander over to the track Friday nights after work, get to the gate, set up a lawn chair, sit down and talk with everybody and complain about the way the races are run!” , he joked with a hearty laugh.
“But seriously, we know the fans also take great pride in the operation. If it wasn’t for the fans, Ransomville Speedway wouldn’t be at the level it’s attained and maintained!”
Season tickets are now on sale, with a drivers meeting scheduled for January after the traditional New Years Day “Hangover 150”. The regular season launches Friday May 6th, 2016 to kick off the new era.
Joel can’t say enough about what his family and staff have accomplished at “The Big R” over 43 years of unfailing dedication.
And the Friesen’s have every right to be proud.
Owning and operating a race track is arduous, often back-breaking, never-ending toil that’s occasionally unfairly criticized by fans and competitors.
If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. It takes very special people to succeed in this sport at this level especially.
The Friesen’s have been firm, fair and friendly over those 43 years and I have personally had the pleasure of working closely with them over many of those same years as track announcer, and broadcast promoter of their events with Raceline Radio.
For my wife Janice and our daughter Katelyn, they have been much more than friends and colleagues, they’ve been family.
Enjoy the relaxation you guys. You’ve earned it.
Tale Pipes: More Friesen Family news! Halmar International Racing has added Niagara-on –the-Lake’s Stewart Friesen to their racing stable in a partnership with Stewart’s current owner Jeff Daley. The plan is a full-time assault on the 2016 Super Dirt Series championship along with weekly runs at Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown NY. Stewart, the 4-time Super DIRT Week Syracuse big block modified champion made history this past summer, becoming the first Canadian driver to win a World of Outlaws Sprint Car A-Main, and the first driver to do it on Canadian soil at Ohsweken Speedway… four “Best-Of” Raceline Radio shows over Christmas and New Years will usher in 2016, Raceline’s 24th consecutive season on the air as Canada’s national radio motorsport authority!
Photo: another packed house at “The Big R” Courtesy of Alex and Helen Bruce.