Location: St-Pie, QC
Sanair International Raceway: 1/3-mile oval
Sanair Super Speedway: 0.826-mile (1.3 km) triangle
Opened: 1971 (oval), 1983 (triangle)
# of ACT Races Held: 40
ACT Pro Stock Tour/NASCAR North – 32 (8 oval, 24 triangle)
ACT Late Model Tour – 8 (triangle)
ACT Pro Stock Tour/NASCAR North – Junior Hanley, 7
ACT Late Model Tour – Brian Hoar, 2
A Brief History of Sanair
The first racing at Sanair didn’t involve left turns – or right turns, for that matter. What would become a sprawling motorsports complex nestled between Montreal, Granby, and St-Hyacinthe began with a drag strip. The ¼-mile strip that opened in 1970 was the first step in owner Jaques Guertin’s magnum opus. A year later in 1971, the NHRA its first trip to Sanair for Le Grandnationals Molson, which would become an annual stop on North America’s top drag racing circuit for more than two decades. The same year, a 1/3-mile paved oval with short straightaways and flat, sweeping turns sprang up next to the dragway; this track would become known as Sanair International Raceway and became a regular stop for the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman National Championship.
Development continued in 1972 as Guertin completed the first road course on the property. Incorporating parts of both the drag strip and the oval into a 1.25-mile course, the circuit opened in May of that year with a regional Formula Ford event. While not the largest circuit, the track benefitted from financial and political troubles that were plaguing Circuit Mont-Tremblant at the time. As such, they were able to attract the Trans Am Series for events in 1972 and 1973. There were also four appearances by the SCCA Formula B/Formula Atlantic series. A dirt track was eventually constructed, too, and other road courses continued to spring up – at one point, at least five Sanair road courses dotted the complex.
The growth of Sanair had stalled by the early 1980s. But this changed in 1983 when Sanair Super Speedway opened to the south of the drag strip. The modern 1.3-km “triangular oval” debuted on August 7 with a NASCAR North Series event (more on this later), and a year later, CART made its first trip for the Molson Indy Montreal. Three Indy Car events would be held between 1984 and 1986, attracting the top open-wheel drivers in the world. However, the two most noteworthy occurrences were 1) A career-affecting crash by Rick Mears during practice in 1984, and 2) a controversial finish in 1985 where the field was under caution on the final lap only for the race to apparently be restarted in the final corner. (You can view the finish here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAzs8ahIjvY&t=15s)
Following the 1986 season, CART did not return to Sanair, as Molson had decided to switch their IndyCar support to a street course event in Toronto. In retrospect, this was part of a one-two punch that marked the beginning of the end for Sanair’s heyday as a North American racing epicenter. The NHRA was then effectively forced out following their 1992 event by new Canadian fuel regulations that limited the amount of lead in racing fuel, which made the NHRA cars illegal for competition. With these major series gone, the facility gradually fell into disrepair. A brief surge of development occurred in the late 2000s when management constructed a go-kart oval/road course, a motocross/ATV course, two RC car tracks, and an ice road circuit. But this did little to revive the tracks on which Sanair had made its name. Currently, racing at Sanair largely consists of Friday night drag racing events in the summer, kart events, and spectator events such as hot lapping and “track days”.
Random Track Fact: Sanair was the shortest circuit that the CART/Champ Car World Series ever raced on. CART later merged with the Verizon IndyCar Series, which itself has only competed on one track that’s shorter: the ¾-mile Richmond Raceway.
ACT at Sanair
The Late Model Sportsman cars already had a presence at Sanair International Raceway when NASCAR North was founded in 1979; in fact, the track was part of the previous Northern NASCAR Circuit in the early 1970s. So it’s no surprise that the 1/3-mile was part of the inaugural Tour schedule. Beaver Dragon won the first NASCAR North event at Sanair on May 20, 1979; two events a year would be held at the track from 1979 to 1982 in distances ranging from 150 to 300 laps. When Sanair Super Speedway opened in 1983, NASCAR North moved its races to the bigger track. They kicked off racing at the triangle on August with a 225-lap event – and fittingly, Beaver Dragon won this event, too. The following season, the 2-stops-a-year trek resumed, and continued after ACT was formed in 1986.
In 1987, Sanair was made the first stop on the Stock Car Connection (SCC), an alliance between ACT, the Midwest-based American Speed Association (ASA), and the Southern-based All-Pro Series. Despite a huge build-up, the Molson 300 ended up being the second part of the one-two punch mentioned earlier. The event – which was won by short-track legend Butch Miller – was expected to draw more than 20,000 fans, but less than 9,000 actually showed up on race day. This led to the All-Pro Series pulling the plug on its Birmingham, AL event and eventually to the SCC lasting just two seasons – and when the SCC died, so did Sanair’s last chance of remaining an internationally-recognized venue.
Nevertheless, ACT continued to make multiple annual trips to the track, with Junior Hanley emerging as the man to beat at the track (all of his 7 wins came between 1988 and 1993). Beginning in 1988, the Thunder Road Flying Tigers started joining ACT on the card. When the Late Model Sportsmen were created in 1992, Sanair in turn became an ACT Late Model Tour stop. In fact, the 25-lap event on April 26, 1992 was the first stop ever for the Tour (then known as the ACT Late Model Sportsmen International Series). The Late Models would make two stops each in 1992 and 1993, again in conjunction with the Pro Stock Tour. But after a single visit in 1994 by just the Pro Stock Tour, Sanair fell off the ACT schedule – and the Pro Stock Tour itself was shut down following the 1995 season.
Since then, ACT’s presence at Sanair has been sporadic. Single visits were made in 1998 and 2006 (with a Flying Tiger Tour event helping to fill out the program). After a hiatus, ACT returned in both 2012 and 2013 with combined events for the U.S. Late Model Tour and Serié ACT. While both events were well-attended by teams – especially on the Canadian side – the once-iconic track again fell off the schedule following the 2013 season, and ACT has not been back since.
Random ACT Fact #1: Claude “The Ironman” Leclerc was the only Quebec-born driver ever to win a major stock car event at Sanair. He captured the Molson 300 on August 5, 1984.
Random ACT Fact #2: Northfield, VT’s Norm Andrews won the first ACT Late Model Tour event at Sanair in 1992. It would end up being his only ACT Tour win.
ACT’s Future at Sanair
With it now being six years since ACT made the trip to Sanair, and given the current state of the facility, it seems unlikely that the Tour will return in the near future – especially with Serié ACT being shut down in early 2018. However, ACT has gone long periods before without visiting the track only to make its return. So never say never when it comes to ACT and Sanair!