Saratoga Speedway’s new owner is no stranger to the racing biz.

After 40 years under the same ownership, the Black Creek racetrack was sold last month.

It changed hands from the Hargrave family, to Rob and Lee Leighton. 

Rob is the owner and operator of Leighton Contracting in Courtenay and knows Saratoga Speedway well. 

In 1999, he captured Saratoga’s Bomber Car Championship title, as well as the Stock Car title in 2005.

“I raced up there from ’98 til 2008,” the 42-year-old Leighton said. “(I) spent a good part of my life up there, for sure. We race sprint cars, now, so we travel around a little bit. But yeah, I raced bomber cars, sprint cars, late models and all that kind of good stuff.”

Leighton said he has great memories from those years. “(I) won a couple championships, and lots of races, and we had great times, actually, for sure.”

The facility had its first reopening as Saratoga Speedway in 1981, with 16 race teams in one division participating. 

In 2019, more than 300 race teams competed at the local track in 22 divisions. 

The purchase keeps racing alive on Central Vancouver Island.

“It’s no secret, Paul’s been wanting to sell it for a little while,” Leighton said. “I thought about it a little bit, and had some ideas, and then the timing wasn’t very good for us. We were doing a mini-storage business that we were expanding so we were tied up with that for a while.”

When Victoria’s Western Speedway came up for sale in the spring, Leighton said there was a potential of losing both tracks.

“Part of me wanted to be involved with keeping the speedway, and then the other half of me is investment and land development stuff,” Leighton said. 

“I looked at it from an investment perspective and thought, yeah, I think there’s definitely a good project, there, and it’s something I’m passionate about, so we decided to take the plunge and go for it.”

An integral part of the purchase, Leighton said, is building a campground on the site.

“We’re in discussions with the regional district, and I don’t want to go too much into those details,” he shared. “We’re looking to build a campground  and a park for the kids, and a new go-kart track, and all those kinds of fun things.”

Leighton said since the news broke about the purchase, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been incredible, actually. Hundreds and hundreds of messages, phone calls, private messages on Facebook, that kind of stuff. One negative email, and everything else is 100 per cent positive with people, wanting to keep the speedway alive and push it into the next generation kind of thing.”

The goal is to fully reopen the track in 2021.

Leighton said because it’s outside, it’s safe as far as physical distancing goes.

“We’re all pretty concerned about the COVID stuff, so we’re super cognizant of that. We’re aiming to get the doors open for Easter next year. April is our goal but we’re under the guidelines of the province so whatever happens, happens.”

For the here and now, plans are to do short term renovations to the infield and billboards, and clean up the grounds around the speedway.

“I’m hoping there is lots of momentum and people are wanting to show up, that’s for sure,” Leighton said. “Our game plan is to get that campground rolling. I think that’s part of the long-term success of the track. We’re hoping we’ll get some public support, and we can build a pretty cool facility, I think.”