It was always a dream for Jacques Villeneuve to design a race track.
He got his chance when long-time friend Bill Drossos called. Villeneuve chatted to media about his conversation with Drossos, who came up with the idea, which he jokingly called crazy.
“Are you dreaming, what are you on?” said Villeneuve. “I was wanting to believe what Bill was saying. Every time I came, it was more and more real. It was amazing to see a dream coming to reality, which doesn’t happen often.”
That dream is Area27, which held its grand opening on June 3 with 600 in attendance at the Manuel’s Flats location just east of Oliver.
Related: Area27 a piece of heaven for members
When Villeneuve saw the land, he said it was perfect. The location provides what he said is probably the best weather in Canada, which is useful for a race track. Villeneuve also realized how many people were actually interested in driving cars around the race track.
“There was no outlet. You can’t do that on the road, so you needed an outlet,” said Villeneuve.
The former Formula 1 driver said designing the track was easy.
“We still needed someone to make it come alive,” said Villeneuve, adding that is when Trevor Seibert entered the mix.
Villeneuve said Seibert shared the same passion.
“I drove it for the first time yesterday (Friday),” said Villeneuve. “It’s even better than I expected. I’m very, very happy about that. From what I hear from people driving it, they are having fun. That was the goal. The goal was to get a track where you actually do a few laps and you have fun. You just have fun.”
Vernon’s Vincent Schmolke is among the 250 members Area27 has and said it has been a life-long dream for him to be a part of. He grew up playing racing video games as there wasn’t anything like this in the Okanagan. Area27 is first class to Schmolke.
“Everything is amazing. The layout is perfect. Its a lot of fun,” said Schmolke. “The scenery is beautiful. The people running it are amazing.”
Schmolke takes his Honda S2000 out on the track and said Academy 27, the driving school, is incredible.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s safe, it’s not that fast,” he said of his car. “I can’t get into trouble. It doesn’t matter what car you have, it’s pretty exhilirating.”
Villeneuve, Drossos and former NASCAR driver Trevor Seibert of Lake Excavating, built the largest circuit west of Ontario and the only private motorsport club in the west with a circuit of its size.
Oliver mayor Ron Hovanes called Area27 “game changing” for the South Okanagan.
“It’s unbelievable to have this in our backyard,” said Hovanes, who congratulated OIB chief Clarence Louis and his band for their work on this.
Louie called Saturday a good day, while he thanked countless people, including those that made Area27 a reality. He also thanked Seibert for putting money in band member pockets by employing them during construction. With an emphasis on local opportunity during the build, the crew was 70 per cent OIB members.
“It’s like Jack Nicklaus designing your golf course,” he said to the crowd. “Small town Oliver, we don’t get to have people like Jacques in our back yards.”
“This is a big deal. This is a very big deal for our region.”
Racing has always been a part of Oliver’s history and the OIB brought a piece of that to the ceremony. Band members Richard Baptiste and Paul Louis George were drag racres in the 1970s. The pair brought a framed light blue jacket with pictures from their racing days. The frame will hang in the OIB office.
“They were our racers back in the early 70s. They set records and they participated in races in southern B.C.and northern Washington State,” said Louie. “It’s so neat how Indian magic works sometimes. The colours they had are the same colours as Area27.”
In the 70s, the OIB allowed drag racing on Black Sage Road.
There are 50 memberships left as Area27 expects to reach their cap of 300 by the end of October. Membership costs $45,000 with yearly dues of $3,000 (Phase 1) to $4,000 (Phase 2). There is no non-member fee as the club is membership only (and their guests). Members can bring up to 15 guests per month based on membership level (charter, regular, or corporate membership) and conditions apply (guests must have certified performance driving instruction from a recognized driving academy). The members’ guest daily use fee is $100 per day per guest.
Academy 27, the driving school, is open to the public and registration is $2,600 plus GST for non-members (members pay $2,100 plus GST).
Seibert has launched Avion Motorsports and they offer track experiences including “grassroots” track days (conditions apply). David King is the other co-founder, while founding members include Penticton’s Daryl Carter and Gord Lindsay. Other Okanagan founding members are Kelowna’s Robert Sinneave and Paul Neider.