Aerial photo of Westwood Raceway, Canada's Pioneer

Westwood Racing Circuit holds a special place in the annals of Canadian motor racing history, as it was the country's first permanent, purpose-built road racing facility.

For 32 seasons it was one of the favourite tracks among drivers in North America, playing host to at least one F1 World Champion (Keke Rosberg), two Indiapolis 500 winners (Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan), a number of drivers who went on to drive in F1 and CART, and, of course, the great Gilles Villeneuve.

Map of Westwood Racing Circuit

The classic layout of the Westwood Racing Circuit.

Westwood was the brainchild of the Sports Car Club of British Columbia. Founded as a non-profit society in 1951, members first raced at Abbotsford Airport and other facilities such as Cassidy Airport, Bellingham Airport and Grey Field from 1952 to 1958.

But with all of these offering only a temporary home, something more permanent - and challenging - was soon required.

By 1957 the club had decided it would have to raise the funds to build a permanent circuit and located a potential site at Coquitlam. Debentures - at $50 each - were sold in 1958 enabling Westwood to be built on Crown land leased from the Provincial Government. Many of the debenture holders eventually forgave the debt but the Sports Car Club of BC paid the rest off.

Swooping

So, in 1959 Canada had its first ever purpose-built motor racing circuit - and what a circuit! Swooping through the forests and hillsides, the 1.8-mile circuit featured challenging turns, banked corners and tight hairpins - in short, a little of everything.

1958 aerial of Westwood Racing Circuit

Loggers were well advanced with clearing the area for Turn One in this 1958 aerial photograph.


First race programme cover

First race programme.

From the start line, the circuit curved left through a fast bend that somehow never acquired a name, passing under the wooden bridge that allowed spectator access to the infield. Although not a corner as such, any drivers getting it badly wrong would find a swamp-like pond awaiting them to the right...

Turn 1, also known as the Carousel, was a steeply banked (15 degrees) and fast corner and could be treacherous in the wet (not uncommon at Westwood). It also served as a launching ramp for a few unfortunate souls who landed in the trees some considerable distance from the track.

The course then fell away slightly down to the Clubhouse Corner at Turn 2, and then arrived at the Turn 3A/3B complex, known as Valley Corner Curve.

'Scary as hell'

"In my motor sport career, I drove for 12 years and ran a racing team for nearly 30 years, in all doing about 400 races at dozens of tracks across North America," remembers Tom Johnston.

"I must say that I never did find another corner quite like (Turn) 3. It was scary as hell, downhill, and felt slightly off camber, although I don't think it actually was, it only felt that way because of the downward slope.

"It was the critical corner to achieving good lap times as it was followed by a long straight."

That 'long straight' was not quite the breather for the drivers that might first be imagined. Roughly half way along, the track rose to a slight kink on a crest known as Deer's Leap - aptly named, for cars could often fly off the circuit and land in the gully that ran alongside.

Hairpin

Assuming you made it over Deer's Leap unscathed, the track then fell towards the sharp 180-degree Marshall's Hairpin, which would test brakes to the limit, before embarking on the steep climb through The Esses (Turn 5) and back to the start/finish.

Skidmarks point the way to a mishap at Deer's Leap

Deer's Leap claims another victim, fortunately without injury, in this 1975 shot. The hapless driver (left) tries to explain what happened, with the tyre marks giving a few clues.


A crashed racecar by the side of the track

The car ended upside down in the bushes by the side of the track. A little work might have been needed to straighten the car out!

Westwood's pit facilities were fairly basic, although they did boast a Le Mans-style grid opposite, which was famously one of the last in regular used anywhere in North America (up to 1975). Many classic Formula Atlantic races held in the '70s and '80s used a rolling start, but earlier pro races for sports cars kept the traditional grid-based standing start.

At the lower section of the pits, beside the technical shack, was a large sheet of plywood which was used for posting whatever messages needed to be seen by the drivers. Gilles Villeneuve famously signed the board with a big swooping signature, but sadly that priceless autograph is now gone forever, as is he.

The original name for the circuit was Westwood Racing Circuit or Westwood Circuit with a few other variations occasionally. It was renamed Westwood Motorsport Park around 1980. The marketing term 'Westwood Mountain High Racing' came into use about 1975, which made for an interesting bumper sticker but little else.

Big crowds

Whatever the name used, Westwood gained recognition throughout North America, and was popular among spectators. Attendance at the circuit seems to have peaked on opening day July 26, 1959 at 20,000, although no one knows for sure what the figure may have been. Later pro Atlantic races drew big crowds (often more than 10,000 spectators), as did Trans-Am and NASCAR at their relatively few appearances.

But it couldn't last and the pressures of the Vancouver suburban housing sprawl edging closer and closer proved too much. In 1990 Westwood closed for good to make way for the Westwood Plateau housing development.

A Formula Atlantic field enters The Carousel in a 1978 encounter.

A Formula Atlantic field enters The Carousel in a 1978 encounter.

Nothing now remains of the circuit, with the vast majority ploughed under and developed on. However, the faint outline of the stretch from Turn 3 to Deer's Leap still remains tantalisingly through the trees, and there are a few reminders in the names of some of the streets on the housing development: Deer's Leap Place, Carousel Crescent, Paddock Drive, and Firestone Place, as well as Goodyear Park.

Today, the Sports Car Club of BC still runs races at its new facility at Mission Raceway Park. But somehow, it just isn't quite the same.

All photographs courtesy Tom Johnston. Many thanks to Tom, who along with Darryl Clarke, Mike Currie and members of the Canadian Motor Sport History Group, who provided additional material for this article.


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