Hundreds of adults and children play on Merle Logan Field at Beban Park each week.
Many of them likely have no idea that the land they’re playing sports on was once the site of a popular race track in Nanaimo.
Long before there was Merle Logan Field, there was Grandview Bowl, a 5/16-mile paved oval race track that opened in 1958.
Former Nanaimo race car driver Hank Neilson remembers racing at the track during the 1950s and 1960s.
“It was a super race track,” he said. “We were racing mostly stockers. We clocked in about 90 miles an hour. It was a hell of a lot of fun.”
Neilson, a long-time Nanaimo resident who was inducted into the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2014, wasn’t just a race car driver, but one of a number of individuals who were instrumental in getting Grandview Bowl built.
“We were very excited about getting a race track in Nanaimo, that’s for sure,” he said.
During its lifetime, Grandview Bowl hosted hundreds of races and tens of thousands of fans. In 1959, the race track hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip for a special ceremony.
Neilson, who was also a former executive for the Mid Island Auto Racing Association, said on any given race night there would be plenty of fans in the stands.
“We had a pretty good turnout,” he said. “But there was always room for more in the grandstands. We had a lot of followers. There would be people that would come up from Victoria because we would race in Nanaimo on Friday nights and then Victoria on Saturday nights. Sometimes on a weekend we’d put four races in, two in Nanaimo and two in Victoria.”
Neilson said he has plenty of fond memories racing around the bowl. He said he enjoyed racing against longtime friend Ray Pottinger, who was a respected and accomplished race car driver on the Island.
“We were wheel-to-wheel for all the time that I was racing,” he said. “It was fun.”
Grandview Bowl officially closed down in 1985 after repeated noise complaints reached the highest levels of the city’s administration. It remained largely as a patch of decaying asphalt until it made way for Merle Logan Field.
Although he had long quit racing by the time the track shut down, Neilson said it was unfortunate to see such a fun race track close.
“It was sad,” he said.