By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – Known as the Fireball 5 through the 1960’s and especially in the 70’s Earl Stroh was one of the most dominant racers in the sport in Southern Ontario. The great Don Biederman would drop everything and run up to the fence to watch Earl race. “We knew who was going to win, just wanted to see how long it would take for him to get there,” Biederman once said.
It wasn’t always that way however. When Earl turned 16, he got his license and wanted to race at Bridgeport but he couldn’t get his mom to sign him in. Earl got smart. His mom loved parades so he convinced his mother that if he took her to the parade that day, on the way home she would sign him into race. And the rest as they say is history. His first race car was a 1938 Dodge Coupe and it had a crude roll cage complete with a snow fence stake. In his first race at Bridgeport, Earl started at the back and as he came around to the start he drifted to the open space and almost took out flagman Bobby Anderson. Stroh received the black flag and was almost thrown out for good but Gene Karly and Ken Fisher saved his skin that day. After a few lean years of learning the ropes, Earl won his first trophy at the 1961 Pinecrest Winter Woolies. In a fast car with a Buick V8 and big slicks, Earl lapped the entire field with that rocket but he and the rest of the field never got paid. During that time Earl’s wife Maryann was welcoming new daughter Janet into the world and she almost missed Earl’s first trophy win. This was Earl’s greatest moment, wiping guys that beat him everywhere else
Earl race for over 30 years all the while working part time at a garage, at Electrohome for 9 years and Canox Welding for 38-1/2 years. Earl even managed to find time to be a volunteer firefighter for 15 years in there somewhere while racing several nights a week while raising three kids (Janet, Michael & Le-ann) with wife Maryann. He raced in the Jalopy division at Bridgeport for a few years and when Flamboro opened in 1962 he race the hobby division until about 1973. That was back in the days when car counts were up to 125 and wasn’t uncommon to have 80 or 90 cars in the pits on any one night. His wife Maryann was terrified at the large car counts and refused to go to watch. Then along with guys like Joe Clayton, Pete Bennett and Ron Porter they started a Limited Sportsman division and that is when Earl’s career really took off. Teaming up with Ken Stenhouse Sr. his entire career proved to be a huge plus for Stroh. Ken never shared too much information with Earl but always built a competitive car. “He never told me what he was thinking. He was ahead of his time and knew how to make a car handle. ” Stroh said. The were turning 15.3 second laps and the 119″ wheel base, it was longer and more stable and soon proved to be the most dominant car on the circuit. Everyone thought they had big power but “Handling was the key,” Earl continued. Stroh showed how dominant he could be winning the Flamboro championship three consecutive years from 1973 to 1975, he won the crown at Grand River Speedway every year but one and at one point won an incredible 21 races in a row. One story Earl told me was back in the day when the Limited Sportsman and Late Models warmed up together and one night Andy Brown “stuffed” Stroh into the wall as he tried to pass. A grudge race was called, but later called off and the cars no longer practiced together.
By 1978, the Limited Sportsman club started running independent suspensions and guys were sinking too much money into their cars and it eventually ran the division to extinction. That year Stroh, who had already started racing a Late Model for Bruce Bennett Sr. did so for a couple of years and eventually ran in the Street Stock division until the early 1990’s when he decided to retire from active racing. He did split a season with John Karley in the Hobby division (Canadian Vintage Modifieds) in 1999 but that was it for Earl’s racing career. However from 1978 until 1982, Stroh not only raced he co-owned Sauble Speedway with partner Bruce Bennett Sr. The Stroh’s enjoyed it but the long drive every week, the financial tole and a track that was starting to need lots of work eventually made the decision of selling their share of the track to Bruce Bennett a good one. It also got to be too much for wife Maryann who one time was followed out of the track and for quite a while thereafter by a car. This wouldn’t have been so bad but Maryann had a box full of money from the night’s gate receipts in her possession. Just another reason that helped to make their decision a little easier. Today the Stroh’s still live in Maryhill and are enjoying their retirement, still enjoying the odd stock car race, their family, baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. My thanks to the Stroh’s (as well as John Karley for the introduction) for their hospitality on my two visits and for their donations of programs, trophies and other items for the Flamboro Stadium and Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum. Congratulations to Earl on being being inducted to the inaugural class of drivers/builders for the 2012 Flamboro Speedway Hall of Fame.
Photos from the Earl Stroh Collection.