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Glenn Styres lives his dream
Glenn Styres' Ohsweken Speedway was a long and difficult time in the making.
Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away
Glenn Styres is driving in patient circles on the practice track at Ohsweken Speedway.
“I like it in here, no one can get at me,” he says as he helps a small fleet of vehicles pack down the dirt track where kids learn to drive sprint cars.
In his Cadillac Escalade, air blowing full blast, Styres looks out at the toy-sized cars and must see himself in those little kids with the biggest of dreams.
He owns Ohsweken Speedway, on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. Next week — July 30 and 31, in fact — NASCAR megastar Tony Stewart will race there. Styres has his own race team, won a major race in Florida earlier this year, and has a garage full of fast cars: a Shelby Cobra, Dodge Challenger and Camaro SS.
It’s sweet vindication for all the times he heard he would fail.
Watch a video of Glenn Styres driving a sprint car with the Star’s Serena Willoughby below:
“I was a grease monkey, a mechanic. I tinted windows for a living. People laughed when I said I wanted to build a track,” he says.
It’s Thursday night. Families are gathered in the pits for the junior race program. We leave the practice track and drive over to the 3/8-mile clay oval that Styres built in 1994. There he talks with reverence about the Six Nations clay that he says makes it one of the best ovals to race on. “You want to be up high, or down low when you’re racing; the middle is like ice.”
Styres’ story has as many twists and turns as the nearby Grand River. As a kid growing up on the Six Nations Reserve, there were lean times.
His dad died before he was born, his mother worked picking tobacco to support five kids, but still had to borrow milk and sugar when money was scarce. At age 7, he saw his first Daytona 500 on TV, a fuzzy picture that left a very sharp memory.
“I was hooked, and luckily my Uncle Frankie Turkey loved cars and racing, so he took me to races all over Ontario,” Styres says.
Merrittville Speedway, Sunset Speedway, Sauble Speedway — the memories of hot summer nights at the track still fill Styres with wonder.
“I bought my first car and trailer from a guy who was getting married and needed the money.”
Styres was 25 or maybe 30 — he can’t remember.
“I didn’t know how to start the car, how to back up.”
He was at Flamboro Speedway, green as grass in some kind of patched-together stock car. The questions were flying.
“Where are your tools and tires?”
“Can’t somebody help him? He’s gonna get hurt.”
Styres bumbled through his first race, and finished third in his next one, but only because there was an 18-car pileup.
“There’s no manual for it,” he says, looking back on those rookie years.
Styres competed on asphalt for a time, finding the single-file racing stupefying. Then, “I was down in Florida and I heard this buzz, and I stumbled on dirt-track racing.”
He found his calling.
After looking at dozens of tracks, he hatched a plan to build an oval on the reserve — a small one, maybe a quarter mile. His older brother, Curt Styres gave him some advice, “Go big or stay home.”
Curt Styres knows about the big play. He’s a founding member of Grand River Enterprises, a multi-million-dollar cigarette manufacturer located on the Six Nations.
Little brother Glenn listened. He got loans, maxed out his credit cards and cobbled together money to start building the track on land in the family. Eventually he sold his shares in GRE to get the track on solid footing, and now it’s run as a family business.
“Me, my mom Vera and my brother Curt own the speedway (and a variety store/gas station that’s also on the property). We built everything together from day one. They really helped build my dream!”
It’s Friday night at Ohsweken Speedway and the Summer Nationals are on. “Wait till you see the feature race, the cars will be five wide,” Styres says as he folds his big frame into a flea-sized sprint car, like he’s squeezing into a tuxedo from a long-ago wedding.
Sprint cars are improbable contraptions. Wacky wings, crude chassis and thundering power quivering inside a shell that looks like leftover bits of ductwork. It’s about power to weight — 600-plus horsepower in a featherweight body. The ratio is comparable to a Formula One car.
The pits are frantic with activity, cars getting towed, cars getting hammered and poked, tires put on, yanked off, the squawk of power tools making one last adjustment. As the sun sets and the lights glow through a curtain of dust, pit lane looks like a back alley bazaar.
Sprint car racing is ballet for maniacs. They seem to race on the edge of annihilation, drifting, scraping, chattering and rocketing like they’ve been stung by a cattle prod.
In the second heat, Styres does a crazy loop-de-loop to avoid another car.
He sees all four points of the compass before his car stops spinning, and then he carries on like it’s no big deal.
“It takes 10 years to learn to drive these cars. It’s like learning a musical instrument,” he says as he takes a breather between heats.
Styres is in the stands on the pit side of the track. Other drivers and pit crew mingle with fans in the bleachers.
There are race nuts, farmers, families here, all drawn together for moments of wild excitement and pools of calm.
Before the race, Styres was driving a tractor, helping to prepare the track, “If it’s too dusty, it’s like driving 160 in a snowstorm.” As we talk, he listens to the PA to make sure it’s clear. He asks how the washrooms were, if the food was good and the service fast.
Ten thousand people are expected at Ohsweken for Tony Stewart and the World of Outlaws’ return. Styres has known Stewart for 10 years. It took him that long, he says, to move from being a stalker to a buddy. Stewart was Styres’ NASCAR idol.
“I was always bugging him, I was like a groupie, I would find out where he was racing and go there. He would see Ohsweken Speedway labels everywhere.”
Styres was pursuing the right guy. Stewart raced on dirt tracks early in his career, and was yearning to win a World of Outlaws Sprint Car race. When he won at Ohsweken last summer, he labelled the victory “awesome” and credited it for turning his big-league season around. Prior to his victory there, he hadn’t won; after Ohsweken, he went on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
In the hurly-burly of a sprint car race, Styres finds his way — he says — by using aggressive patience. It resembles the path he’s taken in life.
The lessons he’s learned, he thinks, have primed him to be a role model for kids on the reserve, including his two young daughters.
What would he say to them?
“Chase your dreams.”