It is difficult as a casual sports fan to find results from any of the recent events from Castrol Raceway without going to their specific web pages. You will not see the results on a “ticker” at the bottom of a sports station and I cannot ever recall hearing about the winners and losers watching the nightly news. This is what happens when you are pigeonholed as being a “niche sport” such as car racing.
The time is now to learn about a new sport but with so many different events at Castrol, the decision had to be made to pick one and go full throttle with it. The focus will be on Ginga Ninja Dirt Promotions. I spoke with Ron MacDonell, the Ginga Ninja himself.
“One day my brother Al approached me to co-own a stock car and race it out at the old Calmar Speedway. In 1989, I became Calmar Raceway Club President. The rest is history.” For a full bio on Ron, click here.
Ginga Ninja…explain the name?
“In my younger days I had a full head of red hair. One night I walked past my 10-year-old son’s room just to say goodnight. I overheard the television and he was watching South Park making fun of “gingers”. I asked what’s a ginger was and my son replied, “you”. I asked him what it meant and he said it meant red hair.
When I went to register a name I had three options in mind – Gold Medal Promotions, Dirt Track Promotions and Ginga Ninja Dirt Promotions. Every hand in the place raised with a giggle and Ginga Ninja was selected.”
Please inform me where I can find information like small write-ups about the races? Whether leading into an event or a recap of what happened?
“Back in the day oval tracking racing was streamed on this new thing called “the internet”. With John Short as the voice of the broadcast through a radio stream as well as a colour commentator on “Shaw 10” with Gord Craig. John was always good about doing the occasional story for us. He interviewed my son Sean MacDonell a time or two.
Currently I have e-mails for all media outlets throughout Alberta which I send a weekly “what’s happening on the dirt oval”. Without mentioning a name, I was told as a small potatoes niche sport if we ran raced on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday the coverage would then be afforded to us.
How do you grow the Ginga Ninja Brand?
“Back in the 60’s Speedway Park use to draw 3000+ every night for their oval track races. What has stalled the growth of racing is there is no true succession in the sport. That means when your son or daughter enjoy their night at the track there is no venue for them to go develop their skills on the oval track.
The Ginga Ninja Junior Fan Club, which cannot be run under current pandemic restrictions, is a hit. In normal times All Junior Fan Club Members would receive two tickets to an event with a chance to win four VIP Skybox tickets, their picture in the Fan Guide Program, an interview with the Track Announcer, a guided Pit Tour to meet their favourite driver and some race track swag. The interview with the track announcer was always a crowd favourite as these young kids talked about their night.
Prior to this season we would go to schools. We would put every kid in a car and take their picture and explain all the in’s and out’s of the car. After the races we allow the kids into the pits and see their eyes grow wide with excitement. That is the cool thing about racing, you can get up close and personal with the racers.
During this pandemic we are limited to our website for sales. The true struggle is how do you only sell 100 tickets? Some racers suggested only friends and family should be allowed but you cannot turn your back on the diehards that have been in the stands every week for 22 years. That’s why we are selling tickets through e-mail on a first come first serve basis to our two July events. The July 4th event is long sold out and tickets for the July 18th event go on sale on July 8th.”
Describe a night at the dirt oval?
“Dirt oval 3/8 mile. The difference between dirt and asphalt is on the dirt tracks racers go ‘broad sliding or drifting’ through the corners. The conditions of the dirt change more rapidly than asphalt conditions and there are more variables. With dirt you have to worry about ruts because, obviously, you do not want to be sent flying. You also need to watch for grooves and stay in yours.
For our July events we will be running 5 classes of cars:
North American Speed Association (NSA) 360 Sprint Car
Each class will have 10-lap heat races – if we had 20 cars we’d run two sets of 10 using their finish to determine their starting position in their respective features. Each feature event will consist of anywhere from 15-30 laps.
We live in ‘heads down society’, I’ve seen people sitting next to each other texting one another. We have to adapt our business to cater to short attention spans and in our 3 hour events it is constant action.”
It still feels like racing is stuck in a stigma where only “a certain type” go instead of the general sports fan. Please react.
“It’s not a ‘hillbilly heaven’ out at the track. We have various types of professionals who race the cars. For example, my son Sean is a racer and a chartered professional accountant.
We are a family event. Sure we have a beer garden but it is segregated away from the stands. During non-pandemic times we have a kids playground. We are non-stop action, we will entertain all walks of life in attendance.”
Due to the pandemic you are running these events with no VIP Skyboxes, no season passes, no signage and no sponsorship. Collectively all these are examples of your keys to success. So then why even bother to run a couple races?
“Fulfilling the need for speed. Giving fans an option as they begin leaving their houses. Getting the drivers and pit crews back together and focused on racing. Summed up in one word, fun.
The drivers, understanding the situation, are doing the events for a trophy instead of a purse. We all care about racing, we will all follow the rules set out by AHS Guidelines so that hopefully in August we can have more fans in the stands.”
Thank you “Ginga Ninja” for your time. Here’s looking forward to attending my first event and hoping this article helps a few more folks to try coming out to the races for their first time.