By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Smolders family is headed in the right direction.
All four members are gearing up for a second season of competitive go-kart racing at the Merlin-area track they built from scratch.
It looks like the family will be able to plan ahead too following Chatham-Kent council’s approval of a three-year zoning bylaw amendment request from Dan and Brenda Smolders to allow Route 1 Raceway to operate.
According to Spencer Smolders, who shares the track’s responsibilities with his parents, and brother Alex, the facility will be open for business as soon as Ontario takes the next step in reopening the province.
“As soon as Doug Ford moves Ontario into stage one, we’ll be going ahead,” Spencer told The Voice in a recent interview.
Route 1 Raceway is looking at hosting races every two weeks throughout the season and have tentatively scheduled 14 events.
Last year the facility hosted eight competitive races, with the majority of them taking place on Friday nights.
Route 1 Raceway is a silver lining that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closure of the U.S. border prompted the long-time go-kart family to come up with a homegrown solution, as they were no longer able to travel south of the border to pursue the pastime.
“We had nowhere to race that was open to the public,” Spencer said.
So they decided to go for it and build their own.
They rented a backhoe for a week – even though none of them had any experience with heavy equipment – and got it done creating a 1/10th of a mile blue clay track that features 125-foot long straightaways and 100-foot corners.
The Smolders also dug a pond to collect water to use if needed.
It’s still not clear how many spectators will be allowed to attend races at Route 1 this year. In 2020, 100 racers and fans were permitted provided they followed public health guidelines.
Route 1 averages about 65 go-karts a show, Spencer said, which includes eight different classes, with racers ranging from five years old to 60.
Brenda Smolders said go-kart racers are part of a close-knit community as everyone gets in on the action.
“Everyone is out here with one goal in mind,” she said. “It’s one big family.”