Q&A: Year One Success for Che Smith and LRKC
LRKC extend lease with Lombardy Fairgrounds after great first season
It’s been just over one year since Che Smith of Nonstop Racing came to an agreement with the Lombardy Fairgrounds committee to manage the Lombardy Karting track and build the new Lombardy Raceway Karting Club. The positive news to start the year was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and instead of getting karts on track in late April, he had to wait until June to fire up some engines and begin a shortened club season.
Jumping a number of hurdles and pushing through the challenges he was faced with, the summer season was a success and racers were very happy to be competing again in Lombardy. The club had healthy numbers for each race and the Nonstop Racing team even made a few trips to compete in the Coupe de Montreal.
Looking to build off the success, and positive terms with the management of the fairgrounds, a three-year management extension was just announced between the club and the circuit, giving Smith an even bigger push to keep the ball rolling.
Over the winter, the track acquired a fleet of rental karts with intentions of drawing more interest to the sport and creating future club racers, but also to provide those without their own karts the chance to compete in high-performance products. A few NR drivers even got the chance to test them out with great weather in March allowing for an early launch of the fleet.
The LRKC is also part of the Briggs Weekly Series program, helping club members compete against Briggs 206 racers from across North America, with great prizes available at year-end for racers.
Chatting with CKN, Smith was full of optimism and positivity, even with Ontario facing its third stay-at-home order and lockdown, once again forcing him to keep the gates locked for the time being.
Che, one year into your new role at Lombardy Karting. Tell me about some of the experiences you endured in 2020.
First off, I’d just like to say ‘Thank You’ Cody for all you do for our sport. I know it’s been rough on us all during these times but the one thing we can rely on is CKN being there and getting the news and pictures to spectators that would normally be allowed at the tracks.
It was a tough go at the beginning being we just set up the club and signed the track lease before COVID shut everything down and we then went week by week throughout the season. The support and involvement from my team and the members were just humbling. People really stepped up and helped navigate the situation so we could all get on track the right way. I learned a lot about starting and running a club. We had to make decisions on sanctioning bodies and figure a lot out for ourselves with no ASN. I can say this, even though some of the tough stuff 2020 gave us there were lots of amazing days at the track. Some of the best experiences and emotions coming from just seeing all the racers and teams enjoy this track again.
With a full winter for you to work at it, how are things looking for the club for 2021?
Well as you know we are back in lockdown again so our plans might have to change a bit as we still navigate the Covid situation. We did, however, make a huge leap and for the first time at the Lombardy track, we introduced an Arrive and Drive program. We have a fleet of BirelART N-35 karts with 420cc 13hp engines. We really want to help bring more racers into the sport and give people a real racing experience before they invest fully in our sport. We also registered with the Briggs Weekly Racing Series. The chances to win Briggs prizes as well as see their name on the Briggs championship leaderboard is really cool for the members young and old. Series like these really do help support grassroots club racing. We are proud to be a part of it.
LRKC just signed a three-year extension to manage the track. What does it mean to you to renew the lease with the Lombardy Fairgrounds?
We have an amazing relationship with the Lombardy fairgrounds and this quickly formed after only one year. It’s this relationship that has allowed us to make plans for renovations at the track. The renovations are an investment into a property that we will never own so having a longer lease helps justify the investment to the support we have. It also means we have a more solid foundation to grow the sport in the local area. It lets all the local racers know we are here to stay. We hope that it convinces some of the racers that raced here in the past to come back knowing there are growth and long-term improvements.
You mentioned there may be some new changes to the track in the near future, what do you have planned for the circuit and when could we expect it?
Yes, we have some cool plans for track renovations which have been delayed due to COVID but some traction is starting to be made there. A new grid and two off-track pit lanes are the priority to get done this season. This allows us to safely use the track in both directions as we can only run clockwise safely at the moment. We hope that work can start shortly but we will be able to run races even with most of the renovations going on. Really excited to get this underway.
With an early spring in the air, you got out to the track this past weekend with a few drivers and we heard they got to sample some new machinery. Tell me more.
I imported a used fleet of Arrive and Drive karts from Monza, Italy late last year so this was the first time to get a couple out, service them, and get some test laps in them. The 420cc Briggs and Stratton engines are beasts! They were lapping just 2.5 seconds slower than the LO206 Briggs Seniors! This was with our experienced Briggs racers from the NR team testing them but it did give us a real comparison in lap times. I jump in one for a lap or two, the karts were rocket ships on the straights. We will be looking to tone them down a little for the newcomers or at least dial them back to 80kph as I’m pretty sure I was clocking 100kph on the straights!
So far there’s a steady group of people signing up each week. Offering a Wednesday night league as well as a league on the regular club schedule we hope that we can grow our club and see these drivers progress into full competition karts each season. We will also be launching a women’s-only only league for the Arrive and Drive program. I’ve always been an advocate for women in motorsports and seen drivers like Megan Gilkes progress from her time in karts under the NR Tent into Formula 3 and Formula 1600. Obviously, we want the girls and boys to all race equally but years of the male-dominant sport needs a little helping hand to get the girls behind the wheel. We are happy to help make this happen in a step to promote more women in motorsports.
You seem really busy, how have you been able to manage your Nonstop Racing team as well?
I’ve been continuing with regular work this winter while the team chose to stay in Canada for the off-season. I think this will be the last construction project I do if all goes well this season and COVID makes travelling to the US easier and safer for the team. This winter Nonstop Racing sold more karts than it has ever sold in the winter months. The team has grown to 18 drivers with 6 of them in Rotax DD2, one in Shifter and the rest in the Briggs classes. We also grew on the team management side. Richard and Don Losier joined the team last season and have helped with logistics and team structure. Having them help out with some of the data collection and team organization is a huge step for Nonstop Racing. Some investment from them too will see a new trailer for the team this June. Nonstop Racing ‘Losier’ is our new team name to honour the passion and value these two guys bring to the team.
We are so busy that we hired our very own Brandon Stephens full-time! He started this weekend with some kart testing and servicing. Brandon has been with the team for about eight years now and I’m really excited to have him on board, working side by side with all that’s involved in running a team. Lots more cool things going on behind the scenes for the team which will be released shortly.
Where do you and your drivers intend to race this season, in addition to home club races of course.
We will be running in the Coupe de Montreal championship where the team continues to support this great series. We have been there from when there were just 2-3 Briggs Juniors on the grid and maybe 45 racers in total in its first year. Now with over 200 entries at each event, how could you not want to race there? We will also be attending both Canadian Open events this season too. These have proven to be amazing events over the years and a record of over 250 entries at last year’s event in Mont-Tremblant. Now if we can have that amount of racers at an event during Covid and not hear of one report of any cases from that, then I hope we can attend all the events we plan on attending this season.
Finally, when do you think you will be able to open the gates for racers to practice at Lombardy before the season officially begins?
Great question! I wish I had a one or two-sentence answer for this question but as with everything, COVID has us continually monitoring and adapting from week to week. We do have a set schedule we were hoping to stick to this season, instead of juggling it around like we had to this time last year. The problem is the Ontario COVID grey zone regulations are not exactly black and white. Seems there’s more grey area in the grey zone than just in the name. In fact, I feel it was more clear this time last year so we are actively looking at that at the moment because we have our protocols in place for that. This said we will only open if it’s safe for the local community and if we have the proper permission to do so. If I had it my way we would have opened this warm weekend just past. The best we can do is keep all updated via Facebook as that’s seems to be the quickest way to get the message out as we get answers and adapt to this fluid situation.
Thanks Che, hopefully CKN will be able to squeeze a visit to Lombardy this season.
Thank you for the Q&A session Cody. Always a pleasure to be a part of the CKN Nation!
To learn more about the Lombardy Raceway Karting Club, visit their website, https://lrkartingclub.com/.