Starter keeps Langley Speedway memories alive

Sunday, Sept. 7 is a day when motorsports enthusiasts can take a drive down memory lane in South Langley.

Larry Olson, the Langley Speedway Historical Society’s events coordinator, is bringing rare memorabilia to the society’s eighth annual reunion and car show at the former Langley Speedway site on the southernmost tip of 208th Street.

The reunion runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will include some of the speedway’s former drivers, pit crew, track staff, fans, and visitors.

Olson, who served as the speedway’s official starter from 1969-77 – over which time he flagged more than 9,000 races at the 3/8ths of a mile oval track – will have on display an artifact never seen before at a LSHS event: the original poster promoting the NASCAR races that came to Langley Speedway on July 2, 1971.

He’s also bringing along the speedway’s official starting flags from 1971 and 1972 (“They were both flown to end the race at NASCAR,” Olson said), as well as a 1964 B Modified V6 race car once owned by popular driver “Black” Jack Cross.

The car, which the LSHS puts on display at parades and other local events and car shows, changed hands a few times before being donated to the society by the Victoria museum.

All told, 12 displays filled with pictures, posters, and memorabilia will be shown at the reunion, which is free and open to the public.

“If they [visitors] want to learn about the [former speedway’s] history, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Langley Speedway opened in 1963 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, including an electric vehicle test for BCIT students.

Storied history

Olson and the former speedway are intertwined.

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.

Back on track

For a photo opportunity in 2006, Olson set foot on the former speedway soil for the first time since 1977.

The memories flooded back.

“I remember walking down those stairs and I was reliving [the speedway’s heyday],” Olson said. “That feeling was like going back to high school. It was so emotional, so overwhelming. That really hit home.”

Since then, he’s been a huge advocate of keeping the former speedway memories alive.

When BCIT hosted electric car races on the track, Olson was on hand to flag the event.

“Some of those electric cars timed in faster than what our early lates did, back in the day,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

And while it was a fun event for Olson to take part in, Olson missed some sensory elements that only race cars can bring.

“I wanted the smell, and I missed that vibration, I always remember the vibration, and I didn’t have that this time because they were electric cars,” he said. “All I had was the ‘swish, swish.’”

A campaign to re-open the track stalled last year.

The Metro Environment and Parks Committee at first gave an answer of “maybe” to the plan and took a couple of months to consider the idea.

In July, 2013, however, the board voted to reject the notion, with Langley Township representative Bob Long siding with the majority.

“The people voted and… turned it down,” Olson said. “That’s fine, we accept that. I’m just glad there’s other ventures going on – there’s car shows, there’s horse events, there’s all other activities, so the track is still being used.”

Through a donation to the Langley Centennial Museum of 11 CDs full of photos, Olson is ensuring future generations will know the speedway existed.

“They [the photos] have all been identified, with the year, the date, and the driver, and who the winner was, not only black and white but the coloured ones, as well,” Olson said, adding that, “a picture means nothing if you don’t know who it is.”

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