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Back In The Day: The Fireball 5 Earl Stroh

Back In The Day: The Fireball 5 Earl Stroh

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.

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Back In The Day: ‘Mr. Kleen’ Doug Warnes

Back In The Day: ‘Mr. Kleen’ Doug Warnes

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – It is said that you can’t tell the players without a program. That may be true in some cases, but Doug Warnes was a little different. Back in the Day, everyone knew who the bright purple and white Karbelt Speed & Custom car was. Doug was well respected and a fan favorite with his paint scheme and always kept his cars, himself and crew looking very respectable. Tommy McClure, race announcer at the C.N.E. impressed with the look of the crew tagged them with the name ‘Mr. Kleen’ which stuck with Doug his entire career. The team would become the first to wear matching uniforms that were made for them by Doug’s sister. They wore vibrant purple shirts with each of the crew members with their name on them. Black pants with a purple stripe down the sides and they even wore white coveralls in the pits.

Doug and his uncle first attended races at the C.N.E. in the early 50’s and it got Doug hooked. Doug’s racing career began in 1953 when he bought his car, a Ford coupe, for $400. It was powered by a George Bowers built motor. Bowers cars and motors powered most of the top running cars for much of the late 50’s and well into the 60’s. His first car was painted black and yellow and he took the only available number which was 79. For the first few years Doug was learning the ropes and wasn’t to competitive. By the summer of 1956 he was racing other tracks including the track at Wasaga Beach. He started to win a few features and was quickly gaining more confidence. A big change to Warnes racing career came part way through the 1957 season when he sold his car and bought the familiar purple and white #90. The driver of that car was Ron Davidson but when his job transferred him the U.S. the car was put up for sale and Doug took over. He continued to flourish and as rules became more liberal. His break out year was 1961. With another Bowers built car Doug raced and won regularly at tracks like the C.N.E., Wasaga and Sutton. At one point that year he won the Wasaga feature for five straight weeks.

In 1962, Doug built a Super Modified and raced at the C.N.E. and also entered it in the Oswego Classic that year. Doug was a top 10 racer for most of the year and by the end of the ’63 season he was running 4 or 5 nights a week at Wasaga, Nilestown, C.N.E., Sutton and Delaware Speedways. That fall, Arthur Higgins, racing chairman at the C.N.E. announced for the upcoming racing season the track was dropping the popular Super Modifieds for a new and cheaper to run series called Late Models. Pinecrest Speedway made the switch the previous year and it was well received with drivers and fans alike. Doug had the distinction of winning the first ever Late Model race at C.N.E. oval but it didn’t come easy. Warnes who started on the pole shot out to huge lead and dominated the race but with one lap remaining the strap holding the hood down came off and the hood flew up and covered the windshield. Warnes kept his foot to the floor with his head out the window and still managed to take the heat victory. The car ran well for much of the season winning more times than not. Doug attributes a lot of the success and condition of the car to his father in law Mike Proctor and his long time friend Ron Moulds. There were numerous hours spent by everyone maintaining, repairing and keep the car always immaculate and race ready.

The 1965 season saw a change and it didn’t sit to well with Warnes. On the positive side they built a brand new car that was lighter and able to compete with the other top runners of the day, Norm Lelliott, Vic Parsons and Jack Cook. But a new sponsor, Tops Auto Body was on board and they painted the car and got to choose the color. They felt a burgundy color was much nicer looking than the purple and white that Doug raced for several years. His other sponsor was Town and Country Auto Wreckers and they had other cars that were also painted burgundy. The first two weeks Warnes had nothing but trouble with the car being damaged quite badly. Doug decided a color change may bring better luck so changed back to the familiar colors. It seemed to work and for the remainder of the season the purple and white Karbelt Speed & Custom #90 car was a frequent visitor to winner’s circle. 1966 brought the close of the track at the C.N.E. and Doug managed to finish fifth in the final feature. Doug along with several other racers routinely made the trek east every year to race International events at tracks in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The C.N.E. closed early ever year to make way for the annual Exhibition so this was a natural for the drivers to continue racing. The first year Doug destroyed the rest of the competition winning two of three of the big races. In the third race, Doug told me of the battles that ensued with Daytona Don Biederman. In that race Warnes was running close to the front all day but on the final lap lapped traffic gave Doug problems and was railroaded by Biederman and left on the outside finishing an eventual third. The next year saw Doug lose the first 50 lap feature race in Antigonish to the legend Jr. Hanley. In the second one Biederman edged out Warnes and they finished one-two.

In 1967, Doug continued his winning ways taking the track championships at Westgate and Nilestown. He ran Flamboro in 1968 and would continue his winning ways over the next few years. A huge fan favorite at all the tracks he ran and Doug just kept getting better winning his share of races. He was the points champion at Sunset and third at Pinecrest in 1971. He matched the feat and won the Sunset crown again in ’72 and was victorious in the International event held at Pinecrest as well as best appearing car at Pinecrest in 1973. In 1974, another battle with Biederman saw the two battle hard and it eventually took its toll and Daytona Don’s engine blew on lap 95 and that opened the door for Warnes to take the 100 lap International event. Doug would continue racing for a few more years, still successful I might add, but the travel and ever increasing cost and stiff competition contributed to him hanging up the helmet. However it lasted just a few days and Doug was back in a car that he purchased from Rick Harwood. For the first time in almost 20 years, Warnes was no longer in his familiar purple and white. He still sported the #90 but the car was a light sea mist green. He raced well but as the year finished out, Warnes retired once again, this time for good.

Doug stayed involved with racing and along with his wife Diane were hired by Nate Salter at Sunset Speedway. Doug was the chief technical steward and along with Diane developed the scoring and handicapping system used for years at the track. Doug enjoyed his time in his new position and eventually helped his son Rick to get into racing, first at Shakell’s Sunset Speedway, where he started in the Street Stock division, eventually moving to Super Late Models at Sunset, then went to running Super Late Models at Peterborough and the Flexmor Super Late Model series. Then for a change of car, Rick raced for several season with the Canadian Vintage Modifieds with the traditional purple paint scheme on his #95 – 1937 Dodge coupe and today he currently occasionally runs an Open Wheel Modified. The past couple of years you would have found Doug with his son Rick and his son / Doug’s grandson Rob running their Open Wheel Modifieds at tracks including Mosport, Delaware, Peterborough, Sauble and Varney Speedways. Grandson Rob decided to follow in the family racing tradition a couple of years ago and his  first couple of years saw some rough nights for the young racer. On the final fan appreciation night of the 2009 season at Mosport, he slammed the front straight wall and rolled his open wheel modified on its roof. During the fan appreciation, the girls handed out the treats to the fans from a table rather than from the car, while the crew and several helpers thrashed on the badly damaged modified with the purpose of getting the car ready for the feature race. Rob was able to get some hot laps after intermission and the team was able to make a few adjustments before the feature, he started scratch and had an impressive 4th place finish in a badly beaten modified. The car was rebuilt for the 2010 season, only once again to see a wild ride, this time at Peterborough on the second lap of the Autumn Colours modified feature, the modified climbed the back straight wall and rode the jersey barriers, finishing with the badly damaged modified ending up between turns 3 and 4 at Peterborough during the Autumn Colours modified feature. That car has since been rebuilt and is ready for battle again. Currently the Warnes racing team, which now consists of four Open Wheel Modifieds are preparing and looking forward to the 2012 season at Mosport and Peterborough Speedways with the Techtonix Open Wheel Modifieds.

A few things have remained constant. Over the years, Doug became an expert engine builder and always played within the rules. He has been building the team’s engines, along with several other race team’s engines, Crawford, Mahoney, Hart, Bell and many others over the past years. The other constant was the purple and white that he and Rick sported through their careers. Currently one of the teams Open Wheel Modifieds is the traditional purple color. It was a great experience meeting with Doug and Rick and seeing them again at the 50th anniversary celebrations at Flamboro Speedway in 2011. Doug is truly a fine gentleman and one of the greatest and most successful racers over the past 50 years. This article wouldn’t have been possible without the meeting I had with Doug and Rick. Thanks for your hospitality. Also for the information in the book, “The Golden Years of Stock Car Racing in Toronto” by Nate Salter, a great book on the history of racing Back in the Day!

Photos from the Doug Warnes Collection

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Back In The Day: Finding Flamboro’s First Winner

Back In The Day: Finding Flamboro’s First Winner

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – Flamboro Speedway is 50 years old this year. As many of you know I love history, especially of racing in Ontario. I’m  also a big numbers guy, I like to know who did something first and pretty much any kind of statistic. So that got me thinking… who won the first race at Flamboro all those years ago? So, I looked into it a little and found a story by Doug Haney in an old Flamboro Program. It read, “Jack McCutcheon of Brussels had the honor of winning the first feature race at Flambro Speedway as Ontario’s newest stock car track opened last night. More than 60 modified racers were on hand for the opening. Winners were Louis Cremasco, Dave Stephenson, Howie Scannell, Fred Engel, Harvey Lennox and Tom Jones.” July 28, 1962.

With my new found information I began the search. Looking at the story I recognized the name Cremasco. I wondered if perhaps since the name Louis Cremasco was listed first, if he had actually won the very first race at the new track. From one of my trips to Varney Speedway I knew of the Cremasco name from there. So I contacted Jayne Cremasco who had a Facebook account.

I heard the Jack was still alive and well and living in Brussells so I did some searching and found J.L. McCutcheon Motors in Brussels so I fired off an email stating who I was and what the reason for my inquiry. A few weeks past and one night I received a message from Jack himself, I was very excited. I had heard from some people that Jack didn’t talk much about his racing career. I was happy to learn that was untrue, when I talked to Jack he was very happy to re-live the memories of many years ago. Once he got talking, all the old memories started to flow.

I talked to Jack for a long while, what an amazing man. He told me that he kind of got into racing almost by a fluke. He helped out with the car and would get the car warmed up for the race. “One night the regular driver couldn’t make it so I jumped in.” The rest as they say is history. He raced for 11 years from 1957-67, all of them in a Super Modified and raced usually 4 or 5 nights a week, including twice a week at the CNE. Racing that many nights a week was the norm in those days. He raced at Nilestown, Flamboro, Delaware, Bridgeport and the CNE and he even raced Sandusky and Oswego where he ran the classic in 1966 and finished 31st and in 1967 he finished 14th.

He raced the red and white #73 and he told me, “We had a picture of Woody Woodpecker painted on the car, that attracted the kids.” Jack was a good racer and battled some of the best, Jimmy Howard, Howie Scannell, Glen Schurr, Harvey Lennox, Jack Greedy and Jack Sharpe… just to name a few. Jack stood tall and competed very well with them. One of the quotes I found in my research, “Terrible Ted Hogan of Toronto bumped out Jack McCutcheon of Brussels on the last lap to win the feature race at Bridgeport Speedway.” I asked Jack what it was like to race up against Hogan. All he said is was, “We all raced each other hard, but after the races we would party hard and have a good time together.” McCutcheon got the nickname Jack “The Ripper” from “Dizzy” Dean, who was a writer with International Motorsports News, later with Wheelspin and worked as an announcer for many years, including a stint at Flamboro and the “Fireball 500″ at Flamboro Speedway and how it was one of his greatest wins of his career. He also told me he only rolled the car once, and that was at Flamboro, early in a feature race, when his wheel got mixed up with Harvey Lennoxs’ wheel and over he went. His racing career ended after the 1967 season when many of the tracks switched to Late Models as many tracks in Ontario switched as a lower cost alternative to entice more drivers into the sport. He raced an old-timers race at Flamboro some years later with a hobby car and had the misfortune of having a car spin in front of him and he was hard on the brakes. The car behind Jack  slammed into him destroying the car. Jack who worked at a car dealership in Brussels, offered the owner of the hobby car, a car off the lot as a replacement. McCutcheon last got behind the wheel of a race car in the mid 80’s at the Paris Fairgrounds dirt track for an “Old Timers” race. He told me a story about, the Chief Howie Scannell and the great fun they had that day.

Jayne Cremassco passed along the information to her husband Dennis and I asked him what he know about his Uncle Louis. Jayne told me Louis had passed away a few years ago and Dennis’ dad did as well. History tends to fade off  through the generations, however they looked into it a little further and Dennis got back in touch and told me Louis raced locally for the most part at Bridgeport and Flamboro. “We think he might also have raced occasionally at Pinecrest and CNE, but not at Delaware or Nilestown.”  His car number was #72. Like most racers back then, he started in the hobby cars and then moved into a modified, and Dennis told me his brother remembers Louie racing a “hobby” car against Earl Stroh at Bridgeport, likely back in the  late 50’s or early 60’s. (Louis actually won the Jalopy Points title back in 1960 at Bridgeport in Kitchener, Ontario.)  Dennis continued, “When Louie started racing the modifieds, his car owner was Leeman Wilson. Leeman apparently was from Guelph and owned some type of trucking/haulage business that was located around Elizabeth and Stevenson street in Guelph. My grandfather Joe Cremasco also lived in that area and probably knew Mr. Wilson. Likely that is how Louie connected with Mr. Wilson.” An interesting side story to Dennis’ grandfather Joe, he also owned “Cremasco Motors” which was a small used car lot down beside Rockies Hot Dogs at the corner of Elizabeth Street and York Road in Guelph.

So I needed to know, did Louis actually win the very first race at Flamboro?  “Both my dad and Louie told me the same story so I believe that your research is correct. I don’t remember any other details of the story or any other results from that night.” Dennis also told me that he wasn’t sure how long Louis continued to race cars, but he eventually started training and raced trotting/pacing horses at the local racetracks. “When Flamboro Downs opened up, Louie was hired there to maintain the race track and worked there until his retirement about 7 years ago. Sadly, Louie had a sudden and severe fight with cancer a few years ago and is no longer with us.” But Dennis has carried the family name proudly and has raced Mini Stocks for the past 15 years. “I started at Varney and it is still our home track. I have also raced Flamboro, Sauble, Sunset and Barrie. I have approximately 45 feature wins, with about 6 of them coming at Flamboro, including the 2001 Oktoberfest Mini Stock feature race. Although he hasn’t claimed a points championship thus far, he has finished second and third a few times. The latest member of the Cremasco racing family to get behind the wheel is Dennis and Jayne’s daughter, Tessa . She is in her 6th year of racing, all of them at Varney Speedway.  She has about 6 feature wins and has  finished  as high as 3rd in the season points standings. As far as this season goes, Dennis is currently in fourth and Tessa is sixth in the Stock 4 class.

Many thanks to Jack McCutcheon and Dennis & Jayne Cremasco for sharing their stories with me and helping me tell the story of who won the first races at Flamboro Speedway, 50 years ago!
 
Photos : Tessa, Dennis and Jayne Cremasco after a feature victory this year at Varney. Photo from Jayne Cremasco  and the 2 pictures of Jack McCutcheon are by “Dizzy” Dean of International Motorsports News.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Randy Spencer.

 

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Back In The Day: The Legend Jim Hallahan

Back In The Day: The Legend Jim Hallahan

By Randy Spencer – Sometimes referred to as a living legend, Jim Hallahan has been around stock car racing for a staggering eight decades. His interest in cars started at a very young age. “All I ever did was work on them, drive them and sell them. That’s been my whole life.” He started racing jalopy stock cars in Streetsville, Ontario in 1949 at age 20. Five years later he moved up to the Late Model division and would race until 1982 when he called it a career. Along the way he raced at tracks all over Ontario including the CNE, Pinecrest, Flamboro and Nilestown. He took the Points championship at Pinecrest Speedway in 1958 (Modified) and 1965 (Late Model) and won many features and International race events in Ontario, River Glade N.B., Bathurst N.B., Fredericton N.B. and at Riverside Speedway near Antigonish, N.S.  The highlight was the 1959 Pinecrest International. “They had the Americans come up, guys from all over, it was a big thrill and probably the biggest one I ever won in Ontario.” Jim often joined an exclusive group of racers from Ontario that toured the Maritimes back in the 1960’s. Other well known racers included Doug Warnes and Don Biederman. Back in the Day, many would remember Jim behind the wheel of the #28 and later the bright orange #33Forbes Dartmouth sponsored car “The Hugger.” 

In 1969, Ivan Forbes offered Jim a job and an opportunity to drive a stock car for Forbes Chev Olds in Dartmouth. He took the job and sold cars for 25 years. But Jim’s run almost met a tragic end August 30, 1970. Hallahan was competing in the Halifax-Dartmouth International. On just the second lap, Jim was barreling down the back chute at over 80 mph. Heading into turn three, Hallahan sharply veered towards the infield and in a half moon arch spun and shot towards the outer guard rail. Popular Dartmouth driver Linwood Giberson, who was heading down the back stretch as well, unavoidably smashed into the rear of  Jim’s car with a resounding explosion. Within seconds a forty foot fireball engulfed the car and the track for 30 feet around. All the other cars stopped, drivers jumped out, fire extinguishers in hand to help save Jim. There was no sign of Hallahan until suddenly a shape staggered from the passenger side of the car and  collapsed onto the  track. He was rushed to VG Hospital in Halifax. Amazingly, his injuries included first degree burns to the left side of his face, singed eyebrows and a bruised and “wrenched” shoulder. His biggest concern was whether any other drivers were injured. The cause of the accident was thought to be a broken rear axle. He also had problems releasing his seat belt. Most felt his vast experience and coolness under pressure saved his life. A less experienced driver may have panicked and died in the inferno. The gas tank was ripped clear off the car, this too may have saved his life. If the tank was punctured and still attached to the car, things may have been much different. As a side note, when the race resumed the eventual winner of the race was none other than, Junior Hanley. 

Jim knew when it was time to retire. “I got into a 200 lapper up in Truro and I could feel it. I said to myself that this is it. That was my last race.” Upon retirement from racing and with the cooperation of other promoters and car owners, Hallahan was instrumental in the creation of the Maritime touring stock car series better known as MASCAR. He served as President for almost 15 years and is entering his twelfth year working at Scotia Speedworld where he has worked as Assistant Manager among other duties as well as Coordinator of the Carquest Maritime Pro Stock Tour. A terrific promoter, Jim said he always wants to put on a super show and have a super crowd. If the show isn’t good he didn’t have a good feeling and if the crowd wasn’t there, something was wrong and he knew he had to fix it. “I want to be remembered in the business for giving the race fan an honest show for their dollar.” In the late 1980’s he negotiated for the MASCAR touring series to race  through the streets of Halifax during the Moosehead Grand Prix weekends, raising awareness of the Maritime tour even more. After his retirement he was there to help get his son Jim Jr. and daughter Debbie into racing. Jim almost got out of racing for good in 1984 when Debbie was racing at the Riverside track in Antigonish and crashed. “We knew it was serious when it happened and we stayed in the hospital with her and she died during the night. I’ll tell you it really took a lot out of us.” Debbie was honored in 2009 by being inducted to the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame. Jim tried many times to get out of racing, but the thrill and his love for racing keeps bringing him back. In 2003, The Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame inducted Jim into the Hall. “After 53 years, this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my racing career. It’s a tremendous honor for me and my family.” Jim was also inducted into the Maritime Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. 

In addition to racing, Jim is a tireless worker for many charities over the years including the Children’s Wish Foundation, Rainbow Haven, a summer camp for under privileged children and the Boys and Girls Club of Dartmouth among many others. He still lives in Dartmouth today with wife Liz. Jim still works at Scotia Speedworld and the Parts For Trucks Pro Stock Tour. I talked to Ken Cunning, General Manager at Scotia Speedworld and he tells me, “Jim was a racer’s racer when he was competing. He is held in high esteem by our current drivers, which is evident with the respect he is shown around the track.” He tells me Jim still has that “can do” attitude and is there to offer help and support for the teams and is caring, enthusiastic, supporting and genuinely wishes for driver success. “I think the evidence of how people feel about Jim is shown by the response they give if you ask folks if they know Jim. They smile and answer, Yeah I know Jim.” Talking to Jim…I can say  the same thing with a smile on my face, “I know Jim.” 

I want to thank Jim and his wife Liz for all there help and all the information and pictures they sent me, Tara Foster and Ken Cunning for all their help, David Vokey and the information from stories by Monty Mosher, Hugh Townsend and Wheelspin News. 

Jim’s Championships
1958-Pinecrest Champion; 1959-Pinecrest International Champion and Mid Season Champion; 1960-Pinecrest Fall Champion; 1965-Pinecrest Champion and Mid Season Champion; 1966-River Glade NB Speedway International Champion; 1967-Danny Speedway NS International Champion; 1968-River Glade NB Speedway International Champion; 1969-Brookside Speedway NB Champion; 1979-Riverside Speedway NS Schooner 100 Champion 

For more information check the Scotia Speedworld website, http://www.scotiaspeedworld.ca/ and the Parts For Trucks Pro Stock Tour website, http://www.maritimeprostocktour.com/

Photos courtesy of Jim Hallahan’s collection.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Randy Spencer.

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Back In The Day: Remembering Jack Sharpe

Back In The Day: Remembering Jack Sharpe

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – “They were Super Heroes of their time.” Those were the words of Al Sharpe, eldest son of Jack Sharpe who piloted a Super Modified rocket that excited fans all over the area in the 1950’s and 60’s. Back in the Day, stock car racing was the in thing to do. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to get eight to ten thousand screaming race fans cheering on their heroes most nights. Super Modified cars back then were often crudely constructed with junk yard parts an ran on alcohol. This would often lead to fires, serious injury and even death in some cases. Racing back then was much more dangerous than it is today, and one such day, June 10, 1966 was a day that would change Jack Sharpe’s life forever.

John (Jack) Walter Sharpe was born in 1927 and from an early age was interested in racing. I spoke with Mike Graham who was a young boy in the early 60’s and he and his friends used to bike down to Reg Mitchel’s Garage on York where Jack worked. They watched them as the built the final “Lobo 1″. “They were always great with us, patiently answering our many questions”. Jack was short and slight in stature, very quiet and shy and Mike tells me he had a dry sense of humor. His demeanor changed however when strapped into the cock pit. He was a smooth but aggressive driver who “fought for every inch of track”. Sharpe began his racing career helping a friend and by the early 50’s was winning on tracks like Brodie’s Delaware Speedway, Flamboro, Nilestown, Sarnia, Brantford, Talbotville and Ailsa Craig, just to name a few. While the CNE and Pinecrest seemed to dominate the racing headlines in those days, guys like Jack, the great Harvey Lennox, Jimmy Wilson,  Trip Tepanier and Gord Truman made a name for themselves especially at Delaware Speedway.

Drivers were truly heroes and warriors back then. Safety wasn’t like it is today. Drivers didn’t wear fire suits, many smoked at the wheel, Hans devices weren’t invented while seat belts were often just straps and many like Jack wouldn’t wear a shoulder strap. Helmets were open faced, made of cork with a burlap lining and leather strap and sometimes covered with an aluminum outer shell. As it turned out many of these things contributed to Jack’s near fatal crash. There would be a rapid progress of the cars in the early 60’s largely due to influence from what Mike Graham called the “Yankee Invaders” from Ohio, Michigan and New York like Johncock, Sessions, Gibson and Swift. They had better access to superior equipment which included larger tires which gave them a big advantage. The Canadian guys caught on quick however and Jack was at the front of the class. The first three US/Canada Invitationals that took place in Canada were won by Sharpe at Flamboro  and Delaware Speedways. On occasion Jack made a trek to the US and was quite successful. On September 22, 1957 he won a 100 lap race at a dirt track in Columbus Ohio called the North American Stock Car Championship. In his only Oswego Classic appearance in 1964, he finished a respectable 10th place. It could have been different however. Jack had a problem with the gas cap not closed properly after taking on fuel and he was DQ’d and had to enter the pits losing the position. In 1964 he took the checkers in a 100 lap feature race held at a track in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Jack amassed an incredible record over his 15 year career. He tallied 287 victories and that was only features, it didn’t take into account all the heat races he captured. Jack always seemed to qualify for the pole position in many of the International events. He also claimed the 1964 Flamboro points championship beating guys like Schurr, Greedy, Howard, McCutcheon and Lennox. Many up and coming drivers looked up to Jack. Guys like Warren Coniam who was just a rookie as was Earl Ross, who I interviewed earlier this year and he told me Jack was one of his heroes. Jack had a few guys he really respected back in the day like Harvey Lennox, Jack Greedy and Joe Hlywka. But Jack had another big fan, her name was Eva and the two married a few years later. Jack tried to discourage her from watching him race when they were dating. But Eva and her sister would sneak to the track, watch their hero and make it back before Jack would. June 10, 1966, turned out to be  a dark day in racing circles. Heading full speed out of turn four Jack rubbed tires with a competitor and proceeded to do nine barrel roles at 90 m.p.h. down the front stretch. It was a violent crash. People I talked to said it was one of the worst wrecks they ever witnessed. Sharpe wasn’t expected to survive a tissue destroyed swelling of the brain. He spent the next 6 months drifting in and out of a coma. But Jack defied the odds and showed the doctors how strong he was and even had to learn to walk again. Three months prior to the crash, Jack and Eva, who was six months pregnant, moved from Lobo to Byron. With Jack in a coma and unable to work, the family struggled. Many came to their assistance and one of the most shining moments happened one week after the crash. Jack Greedy won the feature that night and he donated his winnings of $375 to Eva and the family. Al Sharpe still remembers that all these years later. Jack ended up returning to work the  following December, and one of the attending doctors when he was admitted, Charles Drake, had to visit Jack to see medical marvel for himself.

Al only went to one race after the crash and stayed away from the track for 11 years. Eva passed away in 1988 and Jack lived to a ripe age of 83. He passed away August 12, 2010 at the County Terrace Nursing Home in Komoka. Al told me he wanted to do something for his dad to commemorate and celebrate his father’s great career and life. Over this past winter he approached Delaware Speedway with an idea to have a memoriam. Al had a tree planted and just recently had a beautiful plaque and unveiled at a ceremony at the track. About 250 people attended the ceremony and it included several racers from Jack’s era like Harvey Lennox, Johnny McIntyre and Ross Ladell, among others. Al has also approached the families of several other racers and pitched the idea to them. So far the families of Trip Trepanier and Jimmy Wilson have confirmed to have a tree and plaque and Al tells me he has been in contact with several others and hopes many more will come forward. I  personally hope this really takes off, what a great way to celebrate the history of our heroes of yesteryear. Make sure you check out the displays while you visit and celebrate Delaware Speedway’s 60th anniversary this summer. To find out more check their website at http://www.delawarespeedway.com/ and for more stories on our racing heroes from the past, please check my Back In The Day column at http://www.ontariooval.com/ Many thanks to all those that contributed to this article. Jack’s son Al Sharpe, Mike Graham, Paul & Jack Houghton from Delaware Speedway, the London Free Press archives and Jim Cressman’s London Free Press article from August 17, 2010. Photos from/by Al Sharpe.

The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Randy Spencer.

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Back In The Day: Fifty Years Of Flamboro

Back In The Day: Fifty Years Of Flamboro

This year we mark the 50th anniversary of Flamboro Speedway. I’m proud to be a part of it in my second year as a race scorer and look forward to celebrating the anniversary all year long with the culmination, Flamboro Speedway 50th Anniversary Celebration & Memorial Night on August 20th. Over the past year I’ve been doing research on the track, piecing together a chronological history.  I’ve always been under the impression that Flamboro Speedway opened in 1961. Flamboro’s website says, “Flamboro Speedway was established in 1961 and has provided a full summer schedule of high-speed, high-excitement grassroots stock car racing action every year since, making it one of Canada’s longest running stock car tracks.” Numerous sources and track directories claim this as well. But recently it was brought to my attention by someone well respected in tracking racing history that this might not be the case. Last year from my estimation it was the 50th anniversary. It was explained to me that in 1961 the track was a dirt track and it wasn’t open for the full season. If anyone has any information on whether the track actually ran part season on dirt, please email me.

I recently was given an old copy of International Motorsport News from June 21, 1963 and it shed light on what is perhaps a more accurate determination of when the track actually came into being. I quote from the story, “Only 15 minutes from the city of Hamilton, Ontario is Flamboro Race Track in Freelton, Ontario. Completed only recently, this track has become known in Canada as the fastest 1/3 mile macadam track in the Province of Ontario. Flamboro is the dream of racing fans and drivers alike in that it gives both excitement and thrills in a setting of modern race track design. The promoters and track manager, Ross Cockswell, were more than a little excited when the track opened in August of 1962.”  So to me that spells it out pretty clear. In 1972, the track closed and didn’t run a full season but re-opened in 1973 when the current owners John and Frank Casale purchased it from Rocco Di Carlo.

With all this said, one thing is clear, 2011 is still the 50th anniversary. If you count every full calendar year between 1962 and 2011 inclusive, this is indeed the 50th year, so all is good. Let’s all enjoy this year. If you know of any former racers that competed at Flamboro, have them check http://www.flamborospeedway.itgo.com/cgi/50_form.htm, to register and plan to attend to celebrate with us. I also ask that if anyone has any insight, old programs, newspaper clippings, pictures etc. to contact me. It would make the celebration that much better with displays and if anyone has donations or would like to loan items for the August 20th celebration, please email me or talk to me at the track. Your items will be tagged and photographed so they will be returned to the rightful owners the way that they were loaned. And if you have further information on the track opening please let me know. I will be writing stories on some of the memorable events and doing profiles on some of the heroes that raced over the years. You can also get a copy of the Flamboro Speedway Race Night Review souvenir program. There will be a new one every week with stories and memories and pictures from the past 50 years!

For more information check http://www.flamborospeedway.ca or you can email me at rspencer@ontariooval.com. See you at the track!

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Back In The Day: The Wild One

Back In The Day: The Wild One

By Randy Spencer – It was simply called “The Wild One.”  Back In The Day, Flamboro Speedway in Millgrove and Pinecrest Speedway in Toronto were home to some of the best racing in Ontario. October 13, 1969 would be the last race of the year and it was a challenge, Flamboro drivers vs. Pinecrest drivers.  All the big names were there and some of the drivers on the Flamboro team were track champion Howie Scannell, Earl Ross, Doug Warnes, Tom Cuzzilla and Don Biederman while Pinecrest sent their best including Jack Cook, Norm Lelliott, Vic Parsons, Ross Howes and Jim Hallahan.

The event would consist of heat races, a consi, a 10 lap challenge race and a 40 lap feature challenge event.  The winning team would be determined by a points scheme in the feature event. The starting field consisted of the first seven from each of the three heats and the first three from the consolation. Pinecrest had the edge in heats with victories by Howes and Cook in the first and third heats with Scannell winning the second. Doug Warnes won the consi. The 24 starting positions showed how evenly matched the tracks were as 13 positions went to Flamboro and 11 went to Pinecrest. Prior to the feature a 10 lap challenge race was held with two teams of five cars. The Flamboro team consisted of Howie Scannell, Jim Shipway, Tom Cuzzilla, Tom Jones and Walter Zavitz. The Pinecrest team was made up of Jack Cook, Ross Howes, Charlie Greenlaw, Jim Hallahan and Rick Batters.  The Pinecrest team won the battle as Ross Howes led all the way for the win but when  all was said and done, they would loose the war.

In the Feature race all eyes were focused on the two track champions, Jack Cook and Howie Scannell. The two waged a classic battle all race long trading paint and exchanging the lead three times and after the race both drivers expressed the mutual respect they had for each others racing abilities.  By the mid point of the race the two were waging a three abreast battle with another Flamboro favorite Bruce Van Dyke. Except for a few laps while they were separated in lapped traffic, Scannell and Cook were never more than a car length apart while Van Dyke and Ross Howes were never far behind, waiting for the two leaders to make a mistake. When the checkered flag flew Scannell was able to hold off Cook for the victory and the Flamboro drivers outscored the Pinecrest drivers by a score of 103-92 and crowned champion.

The official top 10 finish was, Scannell the winner, Cook second, Van Dyke third, Howes fourth, Tom Jones fifth, Rick Warnes sixth, Lloyd Howard seventh, Rick Batters eighth, George Rueffer ninth and Jim Hallahan tenth.  The “Chief” Howie Scannell showed visiting Pinecrest racers how he won the 1969 Flamboro championship with a heat win, a second in the 10 lap challenge race and a victory in the 40 lap feature race, undoubtedly one of Scannell’s most impressive days on track. It truly was a “Wild One.”

Photos by Dave Grant for Wheelspin News.
Randy Spencer – Writer/Historian
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The opinions reflected herein are solely those of the above commentator and are not necessarily those of OntarioOval.com. Please direct comments or concerns to Randy Spencer.

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Back In The Day: History Of Racing Not Always Black & White

Back In The Day: History Of Racing Not Always Black & White

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – History… it intrigues us all. Celebrating and educating you is my goal with my ‘Back In The Day’ column. Writing about history offers many different challenges. People have said to me, it must be easy to write about racing history, but in my research for my column and for the book I wrote on the Galt Hornets a few years ago, it is far from the truth.

The internet, with it’s vast amount of information, has it’s pros and cons when researching for a story, and even though it’s right there in “Black and White”, it is in many cases the writer’s take on the events of the day or maybe an opinion, not necessarily the complete story. I’ve had several instances lately in which I quoted events to my interviewees only to find it was not the way that they remembered it.  Unfortunately, many who have made racing what it is today, have passed on and for others, the memories of days gone by have faded.  Another challenge I’ve faced is just about everything I want to write about has been written, in many cases, several times. Sometimes it’s difficult to slightly change the wording as to not plagiarize and change the meaning of actual events. Like many of you, the majority of what I have and will write about is events or people I knew previously, only by name.

Fortunately for me, so many people have helped out so far by way of emails or with phone numbers. Some of the names and numbers being passed along are going to make amazing reading. A few people that I’ve met through Facebook have been a wealth of information. Many thanks to Joe Hutton, Doug and Rick Warnes and Nate Salter. Nate, who wrote the book, “The Golden Years of Stock Car Racing in Toronto 1951-1966 , and has been around racing ovals since 1952. If you haven’t read his book and would like a copy, please contact me and I ll put you in touch with ‘Honest’ Nate himself. I met with Nate recently and he graciously agreed to loan me 10 videos he took in the mid ’90s researching for his book. Many of the legends of racing back in the day are included like Wallie Branston, Ross Howes, Warren Coniam, Don Fleming and others. I will be writing a series on these ten individuals over the next few months and I know you will really enjoy the  stories. One guy I’m really looking forward to interviewing personally is Jimmy Howard.

And the upcoming 2011 race season will be one to remember and will make memories that we will all be able to cherish forever. Several tracks are celebrating anniversaries, Merrittville and Delaware are celebrating their 60th year and Flamboro and Capital City are celebrating their 50th year. 

All the tracks will be celebrating throughout the year and I’m especially looking forward to Memorial Night at Flamboro Speedway August 20th, where I will be able to meet so many of the racers from the past 50 years. So keep watch for my series of stories on the Legends of Racing and track histories as well. The first story on a racing legend will be on Doug Warnes and his racing family. Doug started racing at the C.N.E. way back in 1955 and I met with him and son Rick recently, it was a lot of fun. The first track story will be on Capital City and the racing history of the Ottawa region. I wrote it last year, but have done some more research and spruced it up.

Make sure to plan to attend and celebrate our racing heritage this summer and OntarioOval.com will be on top of all the action all season long and take a walk down memory lane and reminisce with me about racing ‘Back In The Day’.

Randy Spencer – Writer/Historian
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Back In The Day: The Legend Of Earl Ross

Back In The Day: The Legend Of Earl Ross

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – Ailsa Craig is a small hamlet located in Middlesex County north of London, Ontario. It is known for it’s racing history, the four legged kind as well as the four wheel kind. Oddly enough Ailsa Craig is best-known for its annual turtle racing event, but, that’s where the similarities end. The other kind is known for speed. With over 10,000 wins, John Campbell is one of the youngest members to enter the Harness Horseman’s Hall of Fame. It also is the birthplace and home of Earl Ross, the first non-American to win a NASCAR (Grand National) Cup race, which he did in 1974. Earl was also Nascar Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in 1974. As you enter the town, big beautiful signs pay homage to these two legends of racing… and also the turtles races held the third week in July. I recently made my way to the Racing Capital of Ontario to speak with Earl.

Born in Fortune, P.E.I. in 1941, Earl had the love for cars from a young age. In 1952, the Ross family moved to Ontario and Earl would soon start the road to what would be his passion for his entire life, stock car racing. His first car was a hobby car. He built it himself to race locally and won his first race, from that day forward he knew racing would be his life. Starting out in the early 60’s Earl told me his favorite drivers were some of the best known and most successful drivers of the Super Modified era, the Tammy 10 of Harvey Lennox and the Lobo 1 of Jack Sharpe.  By the mid 1960’s Earl was starting to make a name for himself and would begin to ply his trade in the Late Models. He won a few races in the beginning, but his break out year was 1968. When the final flag dropped that year Earl was Points Champion at three different tracks, Nilestown, Delaware and Flamboro. He would quickly be known as the Maritime Express and London Flyer.  Earl told  me that the top class of cars in the early to mid 60’s was the Super Modifieds and as he progressed the plan was to switch to the open wheel series. Costs began to soar and car counts dwindled at tracks all over Ontario, most tracks dropped the division for the Late Models which were more economical and Ross definitely made the best of the situation.

In 1970, Earl was nearly perfect. Back in the day, local tracks like Delaware, Flamboro, Pinecrest and the C.N.E. ran International Events. The best racers from Ontario and parts of the U.S. would routinely make their way to the local tracks to battle wheel to wheel to compete for large sums of money that are rarely seen today. Ross didn’t get started on the right foot early that year blowing several small block engines including the first International. The team made a change and began using a big block engine and they never looked back winning the remaining 9 straight Internationals, something never matched again. In 1971, Earl and some buddies made the trek to Daytona to take in the Great American Race. It was his first ever trip to a super speedway and little did he know that in two short years he would be taking the green flag at the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar.  During the 1972 season, Earl won his first Export A series crown and after another successful campaign in 1973, NASCAR came a calling.

Back in 1972, the Carling O’Keefe brewery (controlled by Rothman’s, whose parent South African company used stock car racing to promote and sell beer and cigarettes) sponsored Larry Smith, who won NASCAR Rookie of the Year honors in 1972. The following season, Smith was killed at Talladega and Carling officials were forced to look for a new driver. In 1973, they wanted to increase their sponsorship in NASCAR and decided to enter a car in the Daytona 500 to promote it’s Red Cap brand. They wanted the best and Earl Ross was their man. Before the 1973 Daytona 500, Carling’s rented the Daytona track for three days over Christmas and had Donnie Allison show Earl the ropes. Things didn’t start well as they blew all three engines they had in only 10 laps.  Enter NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. Johnson, one of NASCAR’s top 50 all-time best drivers was also well known for his ability to build superior racing engines. Earl qualified for his first Daytona 500 and  ended up finishing 39th in his NASCAR debut and also finished third in the ARCA Daytona 200. Ross would race just two more Grand National races that year. 1974 was Earl’s best year as increased interest from the sponsor and changes to the engine rules, Ross found himself with a full time ride for the remainder of the season.

At that time NASCAR changed to small block engines, many blew up so most still used big blocks, but they were restricted. They gave less horsepower, but at least would finish the race. With the better equipment gained through the Carling’s sponsorship, Earl’s finishes were getting better. He finished fifth at the World 600 race at Charlotte, third at Dover, fourth at North Wilkesboro and in one of his best moments finished a very close second to the ‘King’ Richard Petty in Michigan. Junior Johnson took over ownership of the operation and Earl found himself teammates with another legend Cale Yarborough. The greatest racing memory of Earl’s career came in September 1974 at Martinsville Speedway. Starting 11th in a field of 30 cars, Earl raced the race of his life. Yarborough was dominating the The Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville, but his small block blew up on lap 288 and Ross led the rest of the way. He raced the final 100 laps with “no brakes” beating Buddy Baker and Donnie Allsion  to the checkered flag for his only NASCAR win and took home a cool $14,550. Ross was the first non-American winner of a NASCAR race and finished the year with 10 top 10 finishes and was crowned Rookie of the Year. Earl told me he was the last driver to win a race running a big block engine. That year, there was 30 races and 4 drivers dominated 29 of them. Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison would clean up, but Earl was the only other driver that year to win a race. Carling cut back there sponsorship in 1975 and Earl would run only two more NASCAR events driving for Coca-Cola finishing 13th in Charlotte in 1975 and 39th at the 1976 Daytona 500.

Back at the local tracks, Earl continued his domination.  He won the Export A series again in 1975 and finished second to another legend Junior Hanley in the OSCRA series in 1976. He would take the Wheelspin trophy series with a win at Delaware Speedway in October of 1977, his 4th win of the year. Earl continued to race in various regional racing series throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s. Earl took some time off from racing in the late 70’s and early 80’s but made a comeback and won the McKerlie Millen race in 1982 at one of his favorite tracks, his home track of Delaware Speedway. Earl took time off again to focus on his business, Earl Ross Metal Fabricating and returned in the early 1990’s racing for Ford on the CASCAR circuit for four years before calling it a day. “When you get older, you kind of lose your edge a bit.” In 2000, he was recognized by the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. In 2007, his hometown of Ailsa Craig recognized his  achievements and the road signs were erected in his honor. His home province of P.E.I gave him recognition and elected him into their Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. A successful semi-retired businessman, Earl’s spends his days still keeping active in his business and also enjoys golfing.  ‘Back In The Day’, Earl was with out a doubt one of the most successful drivers to race at tracks in Ontario, Eastern Canada and the United States. It was definitely an honor to meet one of the racing legends of our time.

Randy Spencer – Writer/Historian
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Back In The Day: The Beginning Of A Fun Journey

Back In The Day: The Beginning Of A Fun Journey

By Randy Spencer / OntarioOval.com – Have you ever wondered what racing was like back in the day?  I’ve been a racing fan for almost 40 years, that combined with my love of history and writing made it natural to want to tell the stories of the trials and tribulations of our heroes of yesteryear. Stars like Ross, Lennox, Warnes, Howard, Scannell, Biederman, Hanley, Bicknell, Boos, Mackereth, Lelliott, Witter, Coniam and so many more were household names and competed wheel to wheel with the best there was to offer from all over North America.

By now, many of you know my passion for stock car racing with emphasis on the history of the sport in Ontario. Over the past year and a half, I’ve put my passion to words setting up my own website. My busy schedule in 2010 somewhat hampered my efforts to keep the site up to date the way I envisioned it. In August of last year, I started writing for OntarioOval.com by doing weekly race recaps from Flamboro Speedway, where I work as a Scorer.

Over the winter, OntarioOval.com Editor Greg Calnan and I discussed my passion for the history of racing and he asked if I would be interested in doing stories as a special section on the website. Without hesitation, I accepted with much excitement! Working at Flamboro, writing for the website, making many new friends through Facebook and being at tracks around the area opened a new source for contacts and has opened the door to furthering my effort and mission to preserve and promote our rich racing heritage all around the province.

Last summer I received several boxes of old issues of Wheelspin News, Gator Racing News, Old Autos etc. and the information in the pages has been invaluable to my research. I look forward to talking to so many of the racers and people to learn about tracks that no longer exist, the innovators who shaped racing and made changes to better the sport, the people behind the scenes that made it possible for the warriors to enter battle each week as well as some of the characters of the sport I love so much.

I would also like to get you – the reader – involved and ask for your help. Any information you may have, a story, pictures, old programs or news clippings, anything that will help further our knowledge of our past would be greatly appreciated. I collect old racing programs and memorabilia so please feel free to contact me. If you have something that you don’t want to part with please contact me and perhaps I can arrange to have them scanned or photocopied with full credit given.

So please check back often to read my new column at OntarioOval.com called ‘Back In The Day’. Stories, anecdotes, pictures, statistics and much more will be added regularly. For some of you, I hope to take you on a trip down memory lane and for others, an interesting and informative look into the history of stock car racing from oval tracks around Ontario over the past hundred years. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas, contributions or comments you may have.  I look forward to meeting with many of you and doing some “bench racing” while reliving some of the great memories of stock car racing in Ontario.

Randy Spencer – Writer/Historian
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