'A need for speed': Sprint car racing brings Kanien'kehá:ka community together
Racing is in the blood for generations of men and women from the Six Nations of the Grand River
Sprint car racing is a fast and dangerous sport that has been bringing together the community at Six Nations of the Grand River, about 100 kilometres southwest of Toronto, for decades.
For 21-year-old Alex Hill, sprint car racing is more than a sport — it's a lifestyle.
She began racing go-karts when she was nine and has been racing sprint cars since she was 14, the earliest age people are allowed to drive them.
Before the pandemic, Hill would race 50 to 60 times a year in Canada and the U.S.
"It keeps me busy, but if I didn't love it I wouldn't be doing it," she said.
What she loves most about the sport is that it allows her to spend time with her family — not to mention the adrenaline rush she gets from driving really fast.
Sprint cars are high-powered race cars that run on circular dirt tracks at speeds of over 250 km/h. The cars have wings on their hoods that increase the downforce pressure, boosting traction between the wheels and the track.
Kanien'kehá:ka woman hopes to bring awareness to sport
Hill, who is also finishing a degree in criminal justice at California State University, is said to be the only Kanien'kehá:ka, or Mohawk, woman to compete in the American Sprint Car Series tour.
"There are other women in racing, but there aren't really Indigenous women," said Hill, who notes that she's treated like any other guy on the track.
"Hopefully I can bring more awareness to it."
She got her start in racing through her dad, who was friends with Glenn Styres, the owner of the Ohsweken Speedway at Six Nations, which he built in 2000.
"It's really a good thing that Glenn did, because I think it has brought the community together and gives them something to do and keep busy on Friday nights," said Hill.
A childhood dream come true
Up until a few years ago, Styres was also competing on the track. He was forced to retire from the sport in 2019 after injuries and multiple concussions sustained in crashes took their toll on his health.
"I've been really, really passionate about racing for a long time and it's been a childhood dream to race cars and build a racetrack," he said.
He was introduced to the sport through his uncle, Frankie Turkey, who used to take him to races when he was a child. Turkey was killed in a car crash at age 27, but Styres's love for the track continued to grow.
He said the pandemic has been hard on the speedway, which had to cancel the 2020 racing season that usually takes place from April until August. But Styres remains optimistic that when the pandemic is over, the industry will see a boom because people have been starved for sports and activities for so long.
Aaron Turkey, who's also been driving sprint cars since he was 14, races on the Glenn Styres Racing team.
"I've been going to the races like every Friday ever since I can remember," he said.
For Turkey, the speedway is an important part of the community, one he also has a family connection with — Frankie Turkey was his grandfather.
"You get to see a lot of people, make a lot of friends and have a good time," said Turkey. "Everybody comes here after work, especially on a Friday night, and everybody gets to hang out, work on cars and watch racing."
Underground sport gets docuseries showcase
Derek Miller, a two-time Juno award winning musician from Six Nations of the Grand River, has been sprint car racing since 2017.
"Sprint car racing is kind of a little underground thing right now," said Miller. "Hopefully it'll explode into the mainstream."
Miller's grandfather used to race midget cars, which are the predecessors to sprint cars, so he says racing is in his blood.
"I just have a huge need for speed," he said.
His passion for racing will be showcased in a new docuseries called Friday Night Thunder that's set to air on APTN in the spring. The show, which was filmed in 2019 before the pandemic, follows Indigenous sprint car drivers and their families at the Ohsweken Speedway.
Miller is one of the creators of the show, which is produced by an Indigenous production company — Big Soul Productions Inc.
"I was able to bring all of my worlds together," Miller said. "I was able to do the music for the show, race and make a television show."