Deciding to sign on the dotted line and take over ownership of Belleville-area Shannonville Motorsport Park took John Bondar a full five years.
It sounds completely implausible. Even the most besotted blushing brides-in-waiting might give up after five years with no proposal. And throughout the entire time the 40-plus-year-old track was on the market, rumours swirled about the big names in Canadian motorsport who were thinking about taking it over.
Could Bondar – who, along with his wife Dominique, already had his hands full running the Canadian Touring Car Championship – really have been waiting in the wings that entire time?
Bondar insists that he was – and he has a leather-bound journal full of hand-scrawled notes to prove it.
“I tracked every meeting and phone call,” Bondar – whose companies have a display at this year’s Canadian International AutoShow – said in an interview. “It took some time just to get our heads around the business model, what’s working and what needs improvement.
“We started to get into negotiations with the former owner, and that took two years. We sort of wore each other out, and we finally came to a deal.”
Bondar and his business partner, Steve Gidman, a Toronto-based business owner who is himself an avid racing enthusiast, took possession last October. Now, Dominique is overseeing the racing operations – the touring cars plus the regional motorcycle, drag and drift racing series acquired in the transaction – and John is running Shannonville’s day-to-day operations.
The track, which was built in 1974, has needed attention for a number of years. Bondar is starting small, but he has grand plans long-term.
“We’re going to be looking at improvements over the next five years,” he said. “When there’s heavy rain, we typically have some pretty bad flooding on the track, so I’ve had contractors in already to work on alleviating that. I need to repair a spot on the track, which we hope to have done by the spring.
“A lot of the paddock here is gravel and dirt, so we’re going to enhance the paddock to make it more usable. We’re getting all-new fencing put across the front because the property, as you approach, looks like a farmer’s field.
“It’s going to be more presentable, and that’s going to allow me to approach corporate Canada to get more engaged.”
Work will also begin on an event centre this summer that will give high-end clients a permanent facility for hosting guests. But one thing Bondar doesn’t plan to mess with is Shannonville’s much-loved modular layout. Incremental builds over several years have resulted in a total of four track layouts, plus a drag strip and an 8,500-metre skid pad.
“That has a rich history, so that doesn’t make any sense to change it,” he said.
Business is already on the upswing. Shannonville’s richest history is motorbike racing, and the Canadian Superbike Championship has a pair of season-bookend stops scheduled here on its 2020 calendar, the opener on May 22-24 and the finale on Sept. 19-20.
“We have groups that usually take one weekend and they’ve been taking two,” Bondar said. “This year, we’re going to host seven motorcycle events, five drag racing events, five drifting events, and three car racing events.
“I only have one weekend left this year, so that’s significant.”
As long as it took the Bondars to decide to take the Shannonville track on, John said their confidence was sealed by a six-degrees-of-separation moment during their move from downtown Toronto to Belleville.
“We found ourselves a nice little bungalow, a new build,” he said. “When we went in to sign our lives away to buy it, the sales guy goes, ‘Hey, you’re in racing, right? There’s a guy here who’s in racing.’ He brings this guy in to introduce him, and it’s the general manager of this builder. He introduces himself as Steve Nelson.”
Steve Nelson turned out to be the son of John Nelson, the original owner and builder of Shannonville Motorsport Park. The facility’s Nelson circuit is named in his father’s honour.
“We figured that was good karma and we knew that the deal would happen,” Bondar said.
Those who might want to book that last open weekend, or learn more about Shannonville Motorsport Park and the Canadian Touring Car Championship, can stop by the CTCC/Shannonville booth located on the 100 Level of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s North Building.
“We’ve got a new website, new branding, so we’re out there in the public telling everyone our story,” Bondar said. “We’re a diamond in the rough.”
By Stephanie Wallcraft / Special to wheels.ca