Sunrise at Sunset

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Mark Dilley is no mathematician. In truth, he likens math to a bowl of cereal with sour milk.

But faced with an overnight deadline to prove to construction engineers that his plan to rebuild Sunset Speedway's short track oval would work, Dilley discovered that necessity is, in fact, the mother of invention.

"I was explaining as best I could how I imagined the track would look with progressive banking on each of the four turns," he said. "And they kept telling me that it couldn't be done."

What the engineers wanted was a schematic detailing; the grading and all of the other measurements necessary to make Dilley's plan work.

"I couldn't get them to understand how I wanted the track to be constructed in such a way that it could have three lanes of racing," he said.

So with just over 12 hours to get his vision on paper, Dilley sat down at his kitchen table with art supplies from his children, an old blueprint of what the track looked like in its original form and his imagination.

"The engineers were used to working in percentages and all I knew was that I wanted banking and to me that meant degrees -- as in 13 degree banking," he said. "But when you tried to translate that into percentages, it just didn't work for them.

"So using my kids' crayons, a dinner plate and a tea cup, I drew my vision of the track on a piece of paper."

Dilley then called a friend who knew of a computer program that could transform his rudimentary design into something the engineers could understand.

"We worked on it all night and the next day I took it to (the construction company's) office," he said. "When they saw it, it was like a light went off. 'Oh, yeah, that will work.'"

The whole thing got started more than a year ago when Dilley heard that the 1/3-mile short track, 20 km southeast of Barrie, was about to be taken over. Sunset was a special place for Dilley. After all, he and more than a few other veterans of the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series had cut their racing teeth at the little track.

In the mid-1980s the likes of Dilley, Kerry Micks, Dave Whitlock and Peter Gibbons were regulars at Sunset's Saturday night races.

Dilley moved onto the CASCAR series where he won the national stock car championship in 1994 and then he headed south to the U.S. where he raced at a number of well-known short track havens. He even had a shot at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series through his then sponsorship deal with NTN Bearings.

But Canada was home and for Dilley that gave him the stability to move forward in the business and as well as the driving side of motorsports.

It was with this mindset that Dilley called Linda Jones, his business partner at Wide Open Solutions, a company that finds and connects corporate sponsors with top Canadian racing talent.

"How would you like to run a race track?"

Jones answered yes and the result will be there for all to see on Saturday with the grand re-opening of Sunset with a full night of stock car racing.

It wasn't all lollipops and roses to get there, however. "I remember going to the track for the first time after we agreed to the deal," Dilley said. "I walked in, looked around, and immediately thought that I must have been nuts to even think about making this project work."

What Dilley saw was a dilapidated property that had been left to rot by years of neglect.

"In an instant my ideas went from a dream to a nightmare," he said.

But pushed on by Jones' inestimable sense of optimism, Dilley took on the task and the end result -- after about $2 milion worth of renovation -- is the prettiest and most competitive short track in Ontario.

Dilley admits he stole designs from the best of the hundreds of short tracks he has visited in his career.

There is a little bit of Richmond International Raceway's wide racing surface, a little bit of Karwartha Speedway's progressively banked corners and the feel of Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton, Fla.

It, indeed, is magnificent. It rivals the best of the best in short track racing and to think it all started with crayons and a tea cup.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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