The Stettler Magnetos Car Club hosted its annual Side-by-Side Shootout drag races on July 15 and 16.
According to Norm Johnston, the current Magnetos president, the annual event brought in around 40 vehicles for each day of racing, a sharp decline from years past.
“Drag racing has turned into a very expensive sport,” said Johnston, noting that the current state of the economy could be a big reason that people didn’t come out.
With fuel prices being what they are, Johnston says that a barrel of racing fuel which some of these vehicles use could go for as much as $1,500, which might last the season. Then there is the vehicle wear and tear and maintenance, all of which add to the costs of racing.
Johnston also noted that racers have more options than there used to be when compared to 2009 when the Stettler Drag Races started. Johnston notes that the Hanna Cruisers event in Hanna started the airport drag racing scene in the early to mid-2000s, with Three Hills and Stettler following soon after.
In the years since, more of the events have popped up around the province as well as the addition of two permanent central Alberta tracks, the Central Alberta Raceways in Rimbey and Area 53 in Forestburg, both about an hour away from Stettler.
Previously, the Stettler event had managed to draw as many as 90 competitors from around the province.
Still, Johnston says that the weekend continues to be a draw with around 200 spectators coming out for day one and around 120 on day two.
With the Stettler Airport being scheduled for re-paving in 2024, the Stettler Magnetos have been told not to plan races in 2024 by the town due to potential work warranty issues.
While the hope is to bring the races back in 2025, Johnston notes that there are a number of factors which could affect whether that happens, though he admits “If we’re shut down for three years, we’re probably done” due to the dwindling volunteer base in the club.
Currently, the Stettler Magnetos have a membership of around 35-40 members, with around 25 who actively helped out with the event.
According to Johnston, the event would not be possible without support from the community; kids from Heartland Youth Centre help out during the races and kids from Stettler’s Minor Hockey program help with setup and tear down with each group earning some cash for their efforts.
The loss of the races would be felt in the community as the car club donates on average $8-10,000 back to the various charities in town. Recipients include the Stettler Food Bank, Heartland Youth Centre, Superfluity, and others.
Johnston did say that the club does have a “slush fund” so that donations made to the groups on their list can continue for a year or two.
In the meantime, the Stettler Magnetos will be back in 2024 with their annual Show-and-Shine, another, smaller, fundraiser for the group.