By Terry Bridge, Times-Advocate Staff
CLINTON – Local harness racing fans will notice a few changes to Clinton Raceway this summer, including an addition to the grandstand.
Built in the late 1970s, the grandstand has undergone some renovations for the 2014 season, including new steel, paint and some additional bucket seats.
“We’ve made some grandstand changes. That’s pretty exciting if you’ve seen the state of our grandstand,” said Jessica Carnochan, marketing manager for Clinton Raceway. “It wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable spot to sit, but it does hold 1,500 people and there’s 300 seats now.
Last year Clinton Raceway Inc. – a non-profit organization – widened its track and flattened the grade towards the grandstand to enhance the safety of the facility, and moved the winner’s circle to the grandstand side of the track as opposed to its old location on the infield.
This year they made alterations with customers’ enjoyment in mind.
In addition to the seating for 1,500 there are picnic tables and plenty of room for lawn chairs at the raceway, located at 147 Beech St. in Clinton.
“It’s a big lawn chair place, people like to bring their own seating,” Carnochan said.
The season began May 18.
The harness races take place every Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to about 4 p.m., with the exception of June 8 because of the Clinton Spring Fair using part of the facility that weekend.
Last year Carnochan said they typically had between 300-500 spectators on a Sunday, and 800-1,000 on special days such as opening day or the charity driver’s challenge.
The crowd is a mix between local residents and harness racing enthusiasts from areas such as Stratford and London.
London’s Western Fair Raceway’s season annually ends right around the time Clinton’s starts up, and other facilities in Grand River and Hanover conduct races Friday and Saturday, so Sunday’s summertime slot is open to a wider audience.
“We get a lot from that area but there’s definitely a good mix of people. The local people like to support their hometown track,” Carnochan said.
Clinton Raceway always looks to team up with other local charities and community groups.
They joined forces with Clinton’s Central Huron Secondary School for opening day this season as part of CHSS’ Challenge Day, the sixth time they’ve collaborated to raise funds for the school’s annual event.
“We love to do fundraisers with other groups,” Carnochan said. “We have different packages that area available and we can customize anything that groups want to do. We’re more than happy to work with them and raise money for their cause.”
The final race of the season on Aug. 31 is the driver’s challenge, which will be in support of a charitable organization called Childcan that helps families cope with childhood cancer.
On the July 5-6 weekend, the raceway is teaming up with the local Optimists and Lions clubs, and the Kinsmen and Kinettes, with a $40,000 purse on the line that Sunday.
Admission and parking are free.
There are generally 10 races per card, and between races there are shows, games and fan interaction.
There’s also a nearby park and a pool with free Sunday swimming through the summer.
Slot machines are on site, but they’re run by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
The raceway does, however, run a café in the slot building, a 19-plus area.