Nestled in the rolling hills near Oliver, B.C., is a brand-new racetrack called Area 27. The name, says co-founder Bill Drossos, is in homage to two very different things. First, Nevada’s infamous and mysterious Area 51, and second, the digits that appeared on Canadian racing legend Gilles Villeneuve’s Formula 1 car, number 27.
Of Area 27, former racecar driver Dirk Hohmann of Calgary says, “The track is one of the most challenging I’ve ever driven.
“[Race driving instructor Richard] Spenard taught us it should take 15 to 20 laps to figure out the lines and learn the limits of a car on an unfamiliar track. Area 27 is going to take many more laps than that to learn.”
Area 27 is the brainchild of Bill Drossos. From a young age, the Okanagan resident dreamt of building a track in B.C. He began making connections for the venture in 1986 when he and his friend Jerry Jagger drove a borrowed motorhome east to Ontario to attend the Spenard-David Racing School.
Drossos returned to the school in 1987, and that’s when he met and became friends with Gilles’ son, Jacques Villeneuve. Over the next several years, Drossos, Villeneuve and other friends including Hohmann and Trevor Seibert chased their motorsport dreams with varying degrees of success.
In 2008, Drossos returned home to Penticton. In the winter, he was a ski coach, and in the summer, he worked on cars – including restoring two Player’s series GM Camaros.
Still dreaming of building a motorsport facility, in 2012, Drossos came across the ideal location on land owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band. He met Chief Clarence Louie, and Louie showed Drossos an even better site on Band land.
Excited by the prospects, Drossos turned to Villeneuve to design the track, and more friends came on board. Drossos also had a unique concept he thought would make the facility a reality.
“There aren’t many sponsors out there who’d support a new racing facility, so how do you build a track in this day and age, and operate it?” Drossos asks. “We started looking at country club-style tracks in the U.S. to see how their business model [based on memberships] worked.
“Jacques and I visited many of these tracks, but thought the circuits were sterile. We wanted something like a full-size, old-world Grand Prix circuit.” And Villeneuve delivered by designing a 4.83-kilometre-long track featuring 16 turns that take advantage of a variety of elevation changes.
“With the right team in place, we never took a backward step,” Drossos says of Area 27. “It’s one of those things, a lot of people thought they’d never see the day, but everything fell into place.”
One of those key team members is co-founder Trevor Seibert. A professional racer, he is also the president of Lake Excavating, an earthworks and heavy equipment contracting company. Seibert’s insight into earthmoving helped take Villeneuve’s track design from the screen to the land, and the track was completed in near record time.
“Hats off to Trevor and his crew,” Drossos says. “In less than seven months they took this from untouched land to a track you can drive on [the first hot laps were driven by Seibert in late August this year]. It took 20 pieces of equipment working 10 hours a day, with 10 days on and four days off.
“When the asphalt went down, there were some 24-hour shifts done to produce the aggregates and the amount of asphalt needed so there would be no seams on the track.” And, as Hohmann noted earlier, it’s a track like no other.
“You feel like you’re travelling on a country road with no other traffic, and it feels like you’re driving to a destination rather than simply lapping a circuit,” says Drossos. “You follow the terrain, and there are plenty of challenges. But, there are breaks in between the challenges where you can compose yourself to face the next one.”
With the track and pit areas completed, phase one of the project is finished. Phase two will see construction of an operations office and driver training room, while phase three includes a clubhouse plus the potential for residential, ending with phase four: infrastructure to host larger racing events.
“It’s a destination area that’s family friendly,” Hohmann says of Area 27’s Okanagan location.
“We all thought it was about the track, but after spending time there, it’s all about the people who are passionate about driving. Some of the members are wealthy, and others have just enough money to scrape together to buy a car like a Camaro to hit the track.”