Celebrating our 55th Season
It’s hard to believe that 55 seasons of
dirt track stock car racing has come and gone for this
Saturday night racing tradition that started out from humble
beginnings as a ¼ mile dusty oval on July 1, 1952.
While it is interesting to trace the
history of tracks such as CNE, Pinecrest, Oakwood, Speedway
Park, Mohawk, Bridgeport and many others, they have all gone
the way of the dinosaur, while this now 3/8 mile dirt oval
not only celebrates its history, but continues to add to it
and that’s exactly what we did on July 15, 2006.
The Merrittville Speedway Reunion
Committee with Rick Kavanagh, (chairman) Terry Huffman,
Erica Bicknell, Jeno Begolo, Jim Irvine, Mark and Bruce
Swartz and Ted Renshaw, planned another alumni reunion and
with over 260 guests for a barbeque dinner, under beautiful
sunny skies, we all got to visit with many racing friends,
check out the many years of memorabilia, and vintage race
cars, all before the night’s six racing divisions took to
The display of vintage race cars dated
from the 1940’s and highlighted with John Smith and Daryl
Bray’s Desoto powered “Big Car” and their Chrysler powered
1936 Plymouth Coupe that was driven at Merrittville by Doug
Ryder, in 1954-55 and both beautifully restored. Having
these two cars on display along with our other alumni’s
collection of coupes and coaches (tudors) really created a
“time machine” especially when compared to the modern
Bicknell chassied modifieds of today. A real surprise
was the phone call that Erica Bicknell received, that the
History Channel would like to be present and film, both the
Reunion and evening’s racing event for one of their upcoming
programs, this fall. We will all be looking forward to
seeing the finished product.
When we fired up the vintage race cars
for “hot laps” we all knew that it was time to head for the
grandstand for an evening of racing. This evening
would serve up a real variety of classes, from late model
“Hoosier Stocks” to dwarf cars, mini-stocks, vintage,
sportsman and modifieds, which would be our feature event,
for the Jerry Winger Memorial 55 lap Lucas Oil Shootout.
While there were many facets to the
evening, some highlights included the following events: The
vintage heats and feature were a joy to watch as many of our
Alumni racers, graciously raced their pieces of racing
history in front of a packed grandstand, but when compared
to the modern technology of the modern dirt modified, with
their performance on the track, proved just how far this
sport has evolved
The modern modifieds put on a special
Dash for Cash event sponsored by long time Alumni supporters
Sandy MacPherson and Tim Tallman and won by Rich Vinson of
Sanborn, New York. Intermission, however, was our focal
point for the celebration, as we inducted three more of
Merrittville’s Alumni to our Merrittville Speedway Alumni
Wall of Fame, sponsored by Bob and Pat St. Amand of L. St.
Amand Enterprises. Bob is our present pit steward and also a
past modified champion and Wall of Fame inductee, and all of
us at Merrittville Speedway thank them for their continuing
Erik Tomas, from Raceline Radio was our
emcee on stage. Our first inductee was presented by Reunion
Committee members Jeno Begolo, past champion and Wall of
Famer and Mark Swartz, to the Richardson Family in memory of
their father Charles “Chuck” Richardson, who competed at
Merrittville when it was a ¼ mile oval from 1953 to 1968 and
was a racing pioneer of our sport during that era, when we
evolved from flat head Fords to overhead valved Chevrolets.
The second inductee was real treat for us
as we inducted a racer who was not only our modified
champion in 1980, but competed at Merrittville Speedway for
41 years. Don Turner from Binbrook, Ontario goes back to the
early 1960’s at Speedway Park (Stoney Creek) and
Merrittville Speedway when he started out in the late model
division and moved up to the sportsman-modified division
during the mid 60’s. Don and his brother-in-law Roy Hammill,
purchased one of the first factory race cars, a Tobias
chassied Gremlin bodied modified and went on to win the 1980
modified Championship. Probably one of the things that was
respected the most about Don’s career, was the fact that in
41 years of competition, he and Roy competed without any
major sponsorship, just his familiar #39 and a Canadian flag
painted on his metallic blue modified.
It was a pleasure for myself, Jim Irvine
and Erica Bicknell to present Don with his plaque.
Our final inductee was presented by Terry
Huffman and Bruce Swartz Jr. Mike Gratton had a
colourful career as a modified competitor, starting out with
car owner Ray Stevens, himself a “Wall of Famer” and along
with friend Billy Matthews, competed from their home track
at Merrittville Speedway up and down the D.I.R.T. circuit.
Mike went on to work in NASCAR, Winston Cup circles, as a
fabricator and tire changer with brother in law, Mike
Hillman, first for Jimmy Horton and then Dick Trickle.
Along the way, Mike learned many skills
and has returned to his roots, at Merrittville, now as a car
owner, where he has fabricated a very successful Camaro
#777, where former go-karter Tyler McPherson won the
Merrittville and Humberstone Championships in 2005 and Mike
was awarded Crew Chief of the year for their Hoosier Stock.
For 2006, he has constructed another #20
Camaro for former late model and modified competitor Terry
St. Amand and also Cody McPherson, a former go-karter, is
behind the wheel of the 777. Mike’s plan is not only as a
car owner, but as a mentor, to give an up and coming
go-karter a chance to race at the next level, in good
With the inductions complete, it was time
for both the sportsman and modified features. For our
finale, we asked John Smith and Daryl Bray to pace the
modern modifieds with their beautiful vintage race cars.
After a hard fought battle between Scott Wood #38 and Peter
Bicknell #42, Bicknell’s modified held off the Thorold
racers, late race challenges to win the 55 lap Jerry Winger
Memorial- Lucas Oil Shootout and was presented with the
winner’s trophies, with the Winger Family present.
While this brought an end to our 55th
Anniversary celebration, by the time you read this, we will
have crowned our Champions in each division. The points
chase is too close to call in each one, but by Labour Day
weekend our 55th season will be complete for the modifieds
and sportsman. As the longest continuous operating dirt
track, not only in Niagara, but in Canada, we welcome you to
join us next year, as we celebrate 56 seasons.
For more information on Merrittville
Speedway, contact us online at www.merrittvillespeedway.com
and for more in depth racing history and area tracks of the
past, search under Merrittville Memories.
The Merrittville Speedway Reunion
Committee would like to thank event sponsors, TRW (Canada),
L. St. Amand Enterprises, CAA Niagara, and the Fonthill
Kinsmen for their support.
Text by Rick Kavanagh
Photos by Julie Davidson & Bruce Bonham