OWOSSO SPEEDWAY CO-OWNER KEN WILLIAMS is shown standing on a ramp to the stands he just replaced. He said upkeep at the 83-year-old track is a constant.
The first test and tune for the season was planned for Saturday, April 23, but rain and weather caused a cancellation. Another test and tune is set for Saturday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 4. The 2022 season calendar will include all of the fan favorites at the “Big O,” along with some additional community activities that Ken is working on.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
Ken Williams, sharing ownership of the Owosso Speedway with his brother, Gerry, stated he is excited for the 2022 track season and several upcoming events during a discussion on Friday, April 22. Ken and Gerry have owned the track since 2019, though the start of that venture dates back to the Nationals in September 2018.
Ken, who lives in Laingsburg, explained his brother, always a track and car lover, had invited him to the Nationals that year and he attended. It was at this time his brother introduced him to then track owner, Dave Bigos, who mentioned he was interested in selling. According to Ken, Gerry quickly wanted to purchase. The men started talking and the end result was that the brothers became the owners of Owosso Speedway.
As many area people know, Owosso Speedway has a lengthy history. It dates back to August 1939 and has offered consecutive racing for all but two of those years: 1944 and 1945. The track temporarily closed for those two years and became a WWII Prisoner of War Camp. In 1946, racing resumed. The track has been dirt. The track has been paved. The track has seen a number of various changes and/or alterations throughout the decades, but as a testament of time and auto racing, it remains a community fixture. The brothers plan to continue that legacy.
In discussing the new season, Ken shared, “We are held hostage by Mother Nature and there is really nothing we can do.” The track had been set to open Saturday, April 16, but Michigan had other ideas and brought in too much rain and cold. He explained that even to open the kitchen for inspection he needs to be able to turn the water on and needs the weather to stay above freezing for the pipes. Organizationally, things at the track need to line up just right and then as he offered, “We do everything at 100 miles per hour.”
Regarding employees, Owosso Speedway generally averages 22 employees on a race night – and for the most part – the jobs are sought after, so hiring is not usually a problem. Ken did say that some of the “more skilled positions” are a bit more difficult to fill.
With his brother being the major track and car person, Ken offered he has found a different path of interest in the people. “We have really become attached to the people, to the fans,” he shared. He explained how he and his wife look forward to Marie Smith Bike Night in August every year, where a large number of bikes are gifted to children 14 and under. He also enjoys hearing the crowd cheering and enjoying the track.
“We’re actually giving a really good time to a lot of people when it’s been really hard to give people a good time the last couple of years,” he said. “It kind of hits you. It’s like we’re really doing something for the community.” He admits he really does like cars, but believes his “passion is more the people.”
Referencing some additional events, particularly planned for the summer holidays, Ken stated, “We’re going to grow with the community how the community wants us to grow. That’s what I’m trying to do.” Since 2003, the track was limited by a county ordinance to a two-days-per-week race event use from April 15 through September. Ken believes the ordinance is directly reflective of then owners not necessarily being “good stewards of the community,” regarding dust issues and a motor-cross track previously located in the back.
“The wife and I have had businesses in Oakland County, Genesee County and Shiawassee County and I will say that Shiawassee County is the easiest county to do business,” he said. “The [county/planning] commissioners have bent over backwards to keep us in business during COVID. They were phenomenal to work with when they saw we were trying to take the track in a different direction than just that Saturday night racetrack.”
Going forward, the 2003 restriction has been removed and the property is now rezoned as B2 business. Ken emphasized the core attraction will always be racing, highlighting ongoing plans to include a drive in/car show feature and maybe even fireworks on July 4th for the community and beyond. He and his brother want to be good business owners, good neighbors and good community stewards – first and foremost.
Owosso Speedway is located on 7204 W. M-21, Ovid. For more information, visit owossospeedway.com or follow on Facebook.