Long-awaited Alberta race track opens near Carstairs

Drivers have a new $35-million race track near Carstairs, north of Calgary, where they can push the upper limits of their speedometers.

The 3.5-kilometre track has been in the works since 2012.

Dominic Young, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Motorsports, said it’s a big relief to finally welcome people to the facility after years of construction. It was designed by a German company and all 16 turns and 36 meters of elevation. Drivers zoom by at speeds nearing 200 km/h.

“You see members coming off the track, they all have big grins on their face,” said Young. “It’s a thrill ride.”

The last race track in Calgary, Race City Speedway, closed in 2011, but Young said race car enthusiasts in the region haven’t disappeared.

“I think this is a vastly improved track,” he said.

Construction involved moving nearly two million tons of dirt to block as much noise as possible from reaching nearby residents.

Young said some neighbors are concerned about noise, so testing will take place over the next couple weeks to make sure the banks, reaching 15 meters above the pavement in sections, and wooden fencing are doing their job.

Track time split between members, public

For motorcycle rider and downtown Calgary resident Paul Horton, the opening of Rocky Mountain Motorsports means fewer long trips to race tracks in the Pacific Northwest. Now instead of a days-long commitment, working on his riding is a much more accessible pastime.

“This, you know, it could be a Tuesday afternoon and you can decide that you’re going to take the day off work and hop up here for a couple hours and then be home for dinner,” said Horton.

“It’s a ton of fun. I’m so excited to have a facility at this level in our backyard.”

Fifty per cent of the track time is reserved for members, which number about 150 so far, Young said. The other 50 per cent of the time is available to the public, through group rentals or performance driving schools.

“I think there are a lot of people out there that can’t afford our memberships and we want to have an opportunity to support grassroots racing in Alberta,” said Young. “It’s not intended to be so exclusive that the public can’t access it.”

At the lowest level, memberships cost $45,000. The organization also offers two driving courses for race track beginners and intermediates.

“You have a lot of very technical corners that require a lot of concentration as you’re going through them,” says Maxx Ebenal, the chief instructor at Rocky Mountain Motorsports.

“You don’t have a lot of relaxing time. You’re constantly adjusting the driving style for each specific corner and the nuances of the way the track is.”

Maxx Ebenal is the chief instructor at Rocky Mountain Motorsports. (James Young/CBC)

He said on a demanding track like this one, it’s not about immediately driving as fast as you possibly can. As with any skill, there’s a learning curve.

“We teach people to start quite slowly and then we’re working up the pace little bit by little bit,” said Ebenal. “The progression throughout the day is slow but they always come out being a better, safer driver.”

Young says that in the coming years, there are plans to add more facilities, including a clubhouse and car condos.

“For the first season, we’re just delighted that it is open.”

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