Normally, the southwest corner of Merrittville Highway and Holland Road in Thorold cannot be confused with the North Pole.
Even in a whiteout, during a blizzard, no one would ever mistake Merrittville Speedway for Santa’s Workshop.
But Saturday was not your usual weekend day. The sight of a long line of children lining up behind the grandstand was not normal, nor was the absence of stock cars racing around the track or wrapped gifts stacked in boxes inside the Honker’s Turn 1 Bar.
Before this year’s Merrittville Gives Back program ended and many of these gifts were unwrapped, nearly 2,000 gifts were distributed to children ages 12 and under in the community.
“My wife and I have always tried to help families at Christmas,” said Don Spiece, owner of the freeway with his wife Lorraine. “This year we decided to make a Christmas toy giveaway.”
The initiative started “about three weeks ago”.
“I have ideas. Once I have an idea, I just follow it,” he said with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s crazy, but it worked.”
Thorold’s race teams, racing fans and track sponsors have contributed to the cause, either through toy donations or money.
Many helping hands were extended “behind the scenes”.
“No one even knows who helped, but everyone helped make it work,” Spiece said. “The racing teams helped.
“A lot of our sponsors have helped out.”
Numerous gifts, all under $20 in value and grouped by age and gender, were purchased by the dirt road owners. Spiece estimated that “about 65%” of the gifts came out of his pocket.
However, he refused to put a price on his contribution.
“No matter how much it costs, it’s about the kids,” he said. “It’s about seeing all those kids smile.”
For the speedway, giving back to the community during a pandemic was a much-needed “breath of fresh air.”
“Everyone around the world has had a really tough couple of years,” Spiece said. “If we can help the kids smile for a few hours from what we did today, it was worth it.”
Spiece’s eight-year-old daughter, Daniella, helped him choose the gifts.
“It worked very easily for me because she knows everything. She was my guide,” he said. “Even for the boys. She knows everything.
Merrittville Gives Back hopes to distribute over 4,000 giveaways.
“I think we’re halfway there. There is still a lot to do,” Spiece said on Saturday afternoon. “Hopefully we can give our all.
“Otherwise we will find another way to reach the families.”
Overall, the 3/8 mile dirt road did “really good” in 2021, while its new ice cream and pizza shops overlooking the Merrittville Freeway were “phenomenal.”
He suggested that the pandemic has boosted sales of ice cream and pizza and that, in turn, has contributed to attendance at the track.
“I think people are starting to understand where Merrittville is and they realize that because of the ice cream parlor and the pizzeria,” Spiece said. “I feel like ice cream and pizza opened the eyes of new people who had never been on the race track.
“We were getting a lot of new people, and that’s great for growth.
Merrittville averaged about 1,400 people by the end of the season. That’s a bit below the total capacity of 3,000, but up from previous years.
“It was very successful considering we only had half a season.”