"The American Invaders"
When Merrittville Speedway first opened its gates in 1952, the competitors were mostly made up of experienced U.S. drivers competing against the relative newcomers from Niagara. What I would like to do is recognize some of the U.S. competitors who called Merrittville home and competed here on a weekly basis during the early years.
Jerry Swisher #29 was known as the "Flying Milkman" from Buffalo- he won the first day time feature race at Merrittville Speedway on July 1, 1952. He was a regular experienced competitor who along with his crew chief Bill Graham from Tonawanda New York, had a successful career before moving north to Alaska. Bill "Wee Willy" Bennett #67 veteran driver who was a giant of a man competed from the early years at Merrittville against the Niagara regulars.
Bill Bennett from Buffalo raced at Civic Stadium, Stamford Park as well as at Merrittville. Jim Hurtubese #56 Ford Coach from Tonawanda, New York, would later join U.S.A.C. and drive in many sprint car racers and compete at Indianapolis from 1960 to the late 1970's. Will be long remembered for his hard "go for broke" style and his beloved Mallard Indy roadster. It will be always remembered that Jim's successful career was started in 1955 and 56 at Merrittville Speedway. Pete Hurtubese brother of Jim, competed from 1955 to 1960 at Merrittville. Drove the #19 Ford Coach. One of the first cars to position the driver to the rear, similar in design to those that competed at Monroe County and Syracuse. Presently running a landscaping business in Tonawanda, New York.
Cam Gagliardi from Lockport, New York was a consistent winner at Merrittville Speedway. While he never won a championship he was always a strong competitor, easily recognized first by his yellow 8A coupe and later by the infamous Lazy 8 yellow coupe. Went on to race consistently on asphalt at Lancaster in the mid 1960's as well as area dirt ovals. Will always be remembered for his good natured pranks in the pit area. Jerry Cook #38 & Ken Meakl #28 Jerry Cook was only 13 years old when he was introduced to stock car racing in 1956. Unable to race because of his age, he helped build a car for Cam Gagliardi.
In 1958 he got together with Ken Meakl of East Amherst, New York. These two drivers started as a team at Merrittville Speedway with Cook and Meakl driving. In 1963 Jerry Cook started to drive his own #38 Coupe, while Ken Meakl would drive his own #28 coupe. These two drivers would run most of the independent tracks such as Merrittville, Ransomville, Utria-Rome and Fonda. However, in 1966 he rejoined NASCAR following the asphalt modified track as well as the dirt circuit. He would become 1968 New York State Modified Champion and again in 1971.
Jerry Cook now from Rome, New York focused his efforts in the National NASCAR modified trail. The 1970's were kind to him as he would win the Championship in 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977. In 1983 Jerry Cook retired from active competition but took a position with the NASCAR modified division as head technical inspector.
While Ken Meakl would not win a championship at Merrittville, he was 1960 and 1966 Champion at Ransomville, New York. Bill Rafter from Niagara Falls, New York, along with Gil Bruss would make the blue and white #22 coupe a threat on any dirt track. Rafter competed at many ovals, but in the early to mid 1960's the #22 coupe raced at Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park in Hamilton
Bill Rafter was an accomplished veteran, who would become 1957 and 1959 Civic Stadium Champion, as well as 1959 New York State NASCAR Champion, as well as 1964 Merrittville Speedway Champion. Bill will always be remembered for his smooth fast driving style that showed many of the local drivers the way around the track. Ed Ortiz of Ransomville, New York was the first driver from Western New York to win a championship at Merrittville Speedway. His light blue #0 coupe was a strong contender no matter where he competed. He was 1961 points Champion at Merrittville, 1962 and 1963 Points Champion at Canadaigua, as well as 1966 Champion on the newly paved Lancaster Speedway.
The original Ransomville Speedway was built behind Ed Ortiz's garage in Ransomville, New York. Neil Truesdell from Ransomville, New York. Over the many years of competition at Merrittville Speedway, the #20 coupe would come through the ranks of the jalopy division in the 1950's to emerge as a sportsman competitor in the 1960's. The #20 blue coupe was always a threat to win at both Merrittville, Speedway Park and Ransomville Speedways. Neil would win many special championship races at Merrittville Speedway including the 1960 Can Am 50 lap Championship. Chuck Boos of Lewiston, New York was an innovator in the sport of auto racing. During the 1960's the white # 9 coupe was evolving. With it's engine set back in the chassis, Chuck Boos was always trying to improve the handling of his racer.
While on dirt Chuck Boos competed mostly
at Merrittville Speedway, Speedway Park and Ransomville, he
would never win a championship at Merrittville or Speedway
Park, but he would always be in the points chase. However,
the year 1967 would be Chuck's as he would win the points
championship on dirt at Ransomville and on the asphalt at
Lancaster. Chuck continued to innovate and he started to
think of 4 wheel drive. In 1969, a white #9 four wheel drive
coupe was built and tested. While the concept was a good
theory, it was difficult to make the set up competitive in
asphalt racing. Chuck will always be known as an innovator
and his driving style giving him the nickname "Mr. Smooth".
While the paved tracks of NASCAR in the mid 1960's attracted
many U.S. drivers, they left their mark in the history and
colour of racing at Niagara District tracks such as
Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park. The 1950's and
1960's at these area tracks were truly times when the
Canadian Stock Car Jockeys had to contend with the "American
Invaders". Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh