Jon Race hasn’t missed a Penticton Vees home game in 15 years.
Inside Race’s home, located within walking distance of the South Okanagan Events Centre, rests a collection of 35 Vees game-worn jerseys — a fine supplement to his total jersey collection of almost 100 sweaters.
The walls of his home are lined with hockey memorabilia. The decor consists mostly of historic Vees items and collectibles from his favourite pro team, the New York Islanders. Race’s Vees memorabilia includes a set of engraved spoons from the 1955 World Championship team.
Race even has a custom made Vees jersey for his 3-year-old dog, Yukon.
His undying love for the BCHL club began when he moved to Penticton from Cranbrook 15 years ago. Originally from Oliver, Race returned to the South Okanagan because, to him, “this is the place to be.”
As soon as he moved to Penticton, Race purchased Vees season tickets in an attempt to “keep sane” during the winter season.
“I didn’t feel like getting up in the morning and going skiing. I much prefer sitting in the stands, having a cold beer and watching the game,” explained Race.
Although the Vees started simply as a way for Race to keep himself occupied, his relationship with the team has grown into something extremely special.
Or, as he put it: “It just got crazier and crazier every year.”
Race is well-known in the Vees community, not just to other fans but also to the organization.
The former auto-body worker turned sign painter frequently travels to away games in nearby places like West Kelowna, Salmon Arm, and Merritt to support his team. Sometimes, Race will travel to West Kelowna even if the Vees aren’t playing just to take in the game he loves.
Race recalls one instance in West Kelowna where Vees head coach, Fred Harbinson spotted him wearing a West Kelowna jersey. Race said Harbinson was shocked to see him wearing a rival teams jersey.
“The look on his face, he just couldn’t believe it,” Race said of Harbinson’s reaction.
Why was the die-hard Vees fan donning a West Kelowna jersey? It’s complicated. “I was wearing it because they were playing Vernon,” he said. “And I hate Vernon.”
Race’s collection of hockey jerseys is enough to impress even those uninterested in the sport. The lifetime hockey fan has accumulated autographed jerseys from numerous legendary pros like Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden, John Tavares, and Mike Bossy — but he’d much rather talk about his signed, game-worn Vees jersey’s.
Race’s self-proclaimed “addiction” to buying jersey’s started after he bought his first one - an Islanders jersey - when he was 15.
“I didn’t know I was addicted yet,” he said of his burgeoning habit. “The bad thing is I’m always lookin’ for more.”
Race has had a lifelong relationship with the sport of hockey. However, it is his relationship with the Vees that he’ll always cherish the most.
He has more memories with the Vees than he can count. Of course, the four championship’s the team has won since Race purchased his first set of season tickets will always be highlights. But his memories of the team go much deeper than wins and losses.
When Race’s mother passed away last January the entire Vees organization signed a card for him, knowing how much their condolences would mean to him.
Race feels blessed to live in a community that cherishes it’s hockey team as much as Penticton. He believes the fan’s support has contributed to some of the on-ice success the Vees have had over the years.
Ask him what it is about the Vees that he loves so much and he’ll give you a simple answer:
“Good fans and good times.”
In a request on social media, Race was nominated multiple times by members of the community as the Vees’ biggest fan. However, it’s obvious Race isn’t the only die-hard Vees fan. The request received over 160 responses.
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