With an appreciation for the history of Shannonville Motorsport Park, John Bondar was also excited for its future back in the fall of 2019.
That’s when it was announced Bondar and Steve Gidman had purchased the racing venue east of Belleville. Bondar’s fascination with motorsports dates back more than 45 years.
“It started as a hobby – I had a passion for it when I was younger and then I progressed through a number of steps or phases. In the beginning I was waving flags and putting out fires as a trackside marshal,” Bondar said. “I started to race small cars and I did that for a number of years and then I got into the administration of the sport. I was president of amateur motorsports in Ontario. That led me to build a network of motorsport contacts across the country and North America.”
He also started a professional racing series – the Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) – that ran strong for 14 years.
Bondar was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in May, which he considers “quite an honour after over 45 years in the sport.”
“The list of inductees is a who’s who of motorsports in Canada,” he added.
In 2014, Bondar was informed by the previous Shannonville owner that the track was up for sale.
“For me and for us it was just the next evolution of motorsports,” Bondar said. “The race track is now our next project.”
It certainly hasn’t been easy given the timeline of the past two years and Bondar, the president of Shannonville Motorsport Park, certainly couldn’t have envisioned what was on the horizon in the coming months with the emergence of COVID-19. In fact there’s been mixed feelings, or more like a “contradiction of feelings” as Bondar put it, starting in the spring of 2020.
“We were certainly frustrated that we couldn’t open our doors at the beginning of the season, which for us means April,” he recalled. “Uncertainty, frustration and then when we opened the doors, we were busy. It was a case of it was summer and many people wanted to get out just to breathe some air so we found our motorcycle lapping days were very busy and also our car lapping days were very busy. It meant for a crazy year to try and stay on top of it. So it was scary, nerve-wracking and then it got to be very busy.”
A year later, the situation was similar, perhaps worse as Shannonville’s opening was delayed even further due to provincial restrictions.
“We thought we had gotten through year one and we were optimistic for year two, then we ran into more barriers and it was almost the same thing and then it did get busy again and it stayed busy right until the end of October,” Bondar said. “We made it through, is the short answer. Now, it’s a new year.”
A new year, indeed.
Shannonville Motorsport Park had a more traditional opening in April for its 2022 season. Staff returned to get it open and had some rentals for the venue before hosting the Shannonville Racing Academy for members of the public who want to get into car racing.
There was even a public car-lapping day early in the season.
Bondar hopes to continue the tradition of Shannonville and add to the long history of the motorsport park.
“A long, long time ago I went to a racing school here to get my licence so I was introduced to the track and as an amateur racer I raced here a number of times,” he said. “I’m well aware of the history – this is known as the birth-place of champions and it’s true. There have been so many Canadian racers that got there start here at Shannonville and have gone on to bigger things. Probably our most famous student and employee was Jacques Villeneuve. He used to work at the racing school here. It was with a third party, but this was the home for that school and he worked here as a mechanic and of course went on to win the Formula 1 World Championship.”
While appreciating the past, Bondar is all about looking to the future, starting with a full lineup of events and activities for the 2022 season.
“What will be very busy for us is actually motorcycles,” he said. “We have our own motorcycle racing series called the Super Series and we have five event weekends scheduled this year which will encompass a Friday testing day and then two full days of racing.”
Some of Canada’s finest amateur and pro riders, with a growing interest in grassroots motorcycle racing in this country, will take on three different layouts at Shannonville during the five scheduled weekends.
The first two rounds of the motorcycle Super Series were held in May (Long track) and June (Pro track) with the remaining events scheduled for July 9-10 (Nelson track), Aug. 20-21 (Long track) and Sept. 10-11 (Pro track).
Shannonville Motorsport Park is also introducing a new car racing program through the Pirelli Supercar Challenge, a response to high demand from their customers.
Open exclusively to Shannonville Racing Club members, the Challenge is focused on performance driving and motorsport enthusiasts who want to test their skills in a controlled and respectful environment on Wednesday evenings once a month.
After launching in May, the two divisions – Super Street and Super GT – continue June 15, July 13 and August 17.
“It provides an entry level for people that want to go car racing,” Bondar said. “We’ll have real race cars, as I call them, with all the safety equipment, but what will be fun is we have a category for street cars. It will give people the chance to experience a race, but in a controlled environment so we will only allow passing in certain areas. I think that’s going to be very popular because it’s all those people who think they’re great drivers and great racers on the street. We hope to draw them away from the street and get them on the track.”
Shannonville, sitting on 146 acres with a 4.03-kilometre multi-configurable racetrack, is one of the few multi-purpose motorsport facilities in Canada.
“The best thing is we have grandstands here that see most of the track,” Bondar said.
No doubt about it, Shannonville provides a perfect venue to watch, compete or learn. There’s race schools for cars and motorcycles, lapping days and even a new drag racing program launched this year in partnership with RaceWindsor, which is taking on the organization of the event.
With event weekends in June, July, August and September, the goal is to include the classes of Pro, Super Pro, Street, Bike, Sled and Nostalgia with the possibility of Junior Dragster as well. You can check out a separate website (www.shannonvilledrags.ca) to keep up to date on the action.
“We’ve got a new team managing it and we’re expecting great things from them,” Bondar.
It’s shaping up to be the kind of season Bondar envisioned when investing in Shannonville Motorsport Park.
Be sure to check out www.shannonville.com.