Langley Speedway history makes pit stop at Fort museum

The Langley Speedway old-timers once knew is a distant memory.

Gone are the cars that zipped around the 3/8ths of a mile oval circuit every weekend in south Langley; so to are the roars and rumbles emanating from souped-up engines.

The stands that rise above the track, once filled with racing enthusiasts, are barren.

But for a speedway that hasn’t held a formal race weekend for 31 years, it’s held up well with age, thanks to volunteers from the Langley Speedway Historical Society (LSHS), who lovingly restored the track to a close resemblance of its former self.

It’s the LSHS, and in particular the society’s events coordinator Larry Olson, who are keeping the memories alive by bringing artifacts to show and shines and other car-related events.

And starting May 6, Olson and others are introducing the speedway to a whole new audience at the Langley Centennial Museum.

The exhibit Can’t Catch Me, A Look Back at the Langley Speedway will be on display until Aug. 9 at the museum at 9135 King Street in Fort Langley.

Olson said the artifacts should be “available for everybody to see, not just certain people. This will be open to young kids, older people… people who have never been to the speedway will now have the opportunity to come and see [the memorabilia].”

The opening reception for the exhibit is this Saturday, May 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the museum.

During the reception, two cars that were raced at Langley Speedway – a 1964 B Modified V6 race car once owned by popular driver “Black” Jack Cross and now in Olson’s possession, as well as a Modified Sportsman – will be parked in front of the museum.

After sitting for roughly three decades with blackberry bushes growing overtop of it on Tom Fells’ property, the Sportsman is being restored for display purposes.

“It was basically parked back in the ’80s, shut off, and that was the end of it,” Olson said. “The car was raced many years at Langley Speedway.”

This display is also helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the speedway’s opening on June 13, 1965.

Curator Kobi Christian said the museum staff is very excited to celebrate the anniversary of the track and “learning more about it in the process.”

For some, the speedway is woven into the fabric of Langley’s history. It’s also a big part of Olson’s life.

He was the speedway’s official starter from 1969 to ’77, over which time he flagged more than 9,000 races at the  track.

Olson is the proud owner of some coveted memorabilia from the track including the original poster promoting the NASCAR races that came to Langley Speedway on July 2, 1971, and the speedway’s official starting flags from 1971 and 1972, among many other things.

Now, this memorabilia has a home, albeit temporarily.

In his home in Langley City, Olson housed what he called “the Langley Speedway room” because it was filled with speedway history.

“I know the history behind most of this stuff and I can appreciate the significance of the value of it in history,” Olson said. “To me, I was losing that because no one seemed to want it. There was no caretaker for it. We could put a concrete and steel building down at the speedway and I guarantee you somebody would break into it and destroy the artifacts that are in there. That’s what I was most concerned about, is that we have a home for it.”

Colourful history

Langley Speedway officially opened in 1965 and operated into 1984 (as Action Raceway, which it was named from 1980-84), several years after the land had been bought for use as Campbell Valley Regional Park.

After it closed, the track was left to quietly decay, the asphalt covered with leaves and the old stands and stairs covered with blackberry bushes and shrubs.

Volunteers from the Speedway Society began clearing away much of the invasive vegetation several years ago, and the track has played host to a number of minor car-related events in recent years.

In 2006, Olson visited the speedway for a photo op, the first time he set foot on the its soil since 1977. Even so, Olson’s connection to the speedway dates back decades.

Along with his longtime service as the track’s starter, Olson was a former pit crew member and driver at Langley Speedway, winning Rookie of the Year honours in 1968. He was also the B.C. Track Racing Association (BCTRA) news writer for the Langley Speedway program, penning a column titled, “Bits and Pieces.” In 2011 Olson was inducted into the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneers Society.

Today, he champions the cause of the speedway’s history, and is a big reason why the artifacts will be on display at the museum during the spring and much of the summer.

Olson delivered to the museum 11 CDs full of photos from the speedway’s bygone days including rare colour pictures from the 1960s.

He also worked with Township cultural services manager Peter Tulumello and museum curator Kobi Christian to make the display happen.

“In February Peter said to me that maybe it would be a good time to celebrate the occasion [of the 50th anniversary of the speedway’s opening],” Olson said.

Olson has turned over his artifacts and is providing historical information for the museum.

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