Trying to Fool
Report By Rick Kavanagh
I am sure that the summer of 2009 will go down in “car guy” history as one of the wettest ever. After battling Mother Nature over the last few seasons, the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee decided to see if we could fool mother nature in to gracing our 58th Reunion with sunshine by changing the date. So on July 18, 2009 we opened the gates to our invited Alumni to again celebrate our 58th continuous year of dirt track racing under cloudy, but dry skies. All of our guests congregated at the turn one lounge, where we had set up an array of memorabilia and photos back to the beginning of our sport, as well as a great display of vintage race cars, that would take to the track and show all of the race fans the way our sport used to be. As race time drew near, all of the race fans in attendance were wondering who the members of the Reunion Committee had voted on to be inducted on to our Merrittville Speedway Alumni Wall of Fame, sponsored by L. St. Amand Enterprises.
Our first inductee was Doug Gordon of St. Catharines whose career started in the late 60’s in the late model division, but by the mid 1970’s graduated into the ranks of dirt modifieds, where he would compete for the rest of his driving career, before handing over the driving chores to his son Todd in the late 1990’s.
While race fans of today enjoy the talents of drivers such as Todd “Sparky” Gordon- the Gordon family name is like so many others that have graced Merrittville Speedway’s Pit area. Racing is in their blood and before Todd’s XXX-his Dad made his history in first his #71 and then the 8D. Back some 41 seasons ago, Doug Flash Gordon would get his start in racing in the former late model division in 1968 with a 1958 Ford. In his first time out he won his qualifying heat- a victory that he probably still remembers to this day. Soon Doug would move on to drive a 1963 Chevrolet in the same late model division for car owner John Cosby.
Cosby bought the car from Lyndon Wood with the #38 changed easily to a 39 for Doug. Winding up his close to 5 year late model career, Doug would purchase another car-the #71 from John Swartz. Another opportunity soon surfaced for Doug as a former Terry Edwards driven Coupe became available for car owner Phil Gerrie for the move to the modified division. Doug would get his start with the former #51 just as the Gremlin-bodied tube chassied racers were coming onto the local racing scene. In the mid 70’s Doug would soon land in a former Dave Lape car and what was interesting about this car was that it was the very first show car engineering car built by the late Howard Conkey. With this car and Doug’s rising talent-he and fellow racer Don Turner would share the Most Improved Driver Award in 1974. With this car Doug would race from the 70’s into the 80’s at a time when Davey Moore would dominate winning a string of championships. One night in 1980 however was all Doug’s though, as he would win his first Modified Feature.
Larry Lampman Jr
He did it in such a fashion, blowing his engine crossing the finish line. The recession years of the 80’s drove Doug into other areas of the sport-first serving as a corner man and then as Assistant Starter while his wife Judy was developing as a scorer herself-working in the tower at both Ransomville and Merrittville Speedways. His first love was to be behind the wheel and as the 80’s became the 90’s he would make his return teaming up with Neil and Ken Sharp to form Sharp Gordon Racing.
While Doug’s name never made it to the annual Jerry Winger Trophy which we are also celebrating tonight-it did make it to the Sterling Silver Award that honors Bill Willard Senior every Labor Day. Doug was the first winner of the Trophy for the Sportsman Division donated by former racer Ken Walsh in 1990 and still continues to this day. As Doug’s driving career was winding down-it was his son Todd’s that was winding up.
In the late 90’s Todd would join the former Pro Stock Division before joining the Modified ranks himself. In a career that has spanned some 40 years, Doug would get back behind the wheel in an instant. In fact that happened in recent years with Doug in Victory Lane after winning a Mechanics Race in Todd’s car. “If they were all like this,” relayed Doug about the 15 lap Fun Event, “I’d be back every week!” Back in a late 90”s interview with Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee Chairman Rick Kavanagh, Doug took the time to thank those that had helped with his racing career-one that started with fixing their race cars in Gary Saunders’ and Paul Christie’s driveways. Doug also mentioned Stan Friesen and Kurt Uhl, Ivan Little as well as pete Bicknell and Randy Williamson. Doug’s racing involvement also included a stint working at Bicknell Racing Products where he learned a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. 2009
Old friend Barry Robertson and the Sharps-Neil and Ken, last year’s Crew Chief of the year Bob Walton and crew member Derek Miller have also been a big help to Flash. While Doug and Judy now cheer on their son Todd and keep his racing career developing-it’s only fitting that he meet up with those that have helped his racing career. Doug- it’s your turn to join Gary Saunders, Ivan Little, Stan Friesen, Kurt Uhl, Lyndon Wood, Terry Edwards and Don Turner and host of others on the L. St. Amand Enterprises Wall of Fame at Merrittville Speedway. Our second inductee was Howard Disher, who now resides in Welland, Ontario but also had a storied driving career, also from late models to B-class modifieds, finally on to the modified division by the mid 1970’s.
Tonight we honour an individual who loved stock car racing and was successful in all divisions in which he competed while racing in all of the era’s top divisions at Merrittville Speedway, Humberstone Speedway and Ransomville Speedway.
Howard competed against the likes of Davey Moore and Bob St. Amand in modified to Bruce Parkes and Harold Sonnenberg and Don Ledingham in “B” Modifieds, and even competed in full bodied Fords in the late model division against Don Shirton and Don McGinnis. While Howard considered Merrittville Speedway his home track during his modified career from the late 60’s until 1979, probably his most memorable victory lane was winning the 50 lap All Canadian in 1972 at Humberstone Speedway driving his #11 “B” Modified coupe, with Don Shirton of Wainfleet winning the late model feature in his #55 Dodge.
Howard Disher put Wellandport on the map as a consistent competitor, whether it was in his #11 Ford sponsored by Robert Rowe Motors of Dunnville or later when he moved up to what used to be called an unlimited sportsman, later to simply be called Modified.
The early to late 1970’s was a transition era in modifieds. Veterans such as Ivan Little, Lloyd Holt, Bob St. Amand, Harry Sittler, Don Turner and George Treanor had to contend with new comers Harvey Hainer, Don McGinnis, Brian Stevens, Howard Disher, Mike Granton and Mark Elsie, but one newcomer was to make the 1970’s his own, Davey Moore of St. Anns, Ontario.
By the mid 1970’s the newcomers were definitely making their mark at both Merrittvilleand Ransomville Speedways and by 1978 they dominated the modified division.
While 1979 will go down as Davey Moore’s 5th straight modified points championship and over 50 feature wins, it would be a career changing year for 37 year old Howard Disher. Howard and his #11D Pony Express” modified were definite challengers to Davey Moore’s #6 at both Merrittville Speedway and Ransomville Speedways early in the 1979 season.
However, on May 29, 1979 while competing in a special Memorial Day 75 Lap feature at Ransomville, Howard’s #11D tangled with another competitor and flipped over 15 times landing Howard in a Buffalo Hospital.
While we aren’t here to dwell on Howard’s career ending accident, we must emphasize how promising a career Howard Disher had experienced up to that fateful evening.
By the way, Merv Treichler driving the D & H potato wagon won the event with newcomer modified pilot Pete Bicknell #42 finishing second and Don Turner #39, third. Everyone in the pits, however, were concerned about fellow competitor Howard Disher.
After a long recuperation, Howard Disher hung up his helmet for good. From that time on, Howard and his wife Gale, would travel from their Wellandport home following both dirt track racing and asphalt racing, meeting greats such as Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and even stopping by the Dawsonville Pool Room, hometown of Bill Elliott.
However, the Disher’s love of dirt track racing brought them “full oval” back to their roots-for decades, Howard and Gale have been superb spiritual ambassadors of our sport with their Racing to Jesus Ministry with Howard giving the invocation tonight.
Tonight Howard, it is our turn to say Thanks for your devotion to our sport and congratulations on being inducted in the L. St. Amand Enterprises Merrittville Speedway Alumni Wall of Fame.
With the inductions complete it was our pleasure to ask “Pastor” Howard Disher to conduct the invocation before the evening’s racing program started. With over six divisions, including the vintage modifieds to compete, it was a busy evening but probably one of the most memorable annual events, where the fans would experience the thrill of the vintage modified competition and later we would host the 50 lap Jerry Winger Memorial modified feature sponsored by Lucas Oil, for our modern dirt style modifieds. This truly would be a celebration of 58 years of dirt track racing, experiencing the sights and sounds of decades of Canadian Dirt Track racing at the oldest continuous operating dirt track in Canada, while remembering Alumni no longer with us. Merrittville Speedway has hosted the Jerry Winger Memorial since 1959.
Jerry Winger was young talented racer, who started his career when Merrittville Speedway opened its gates on July 1, 1952. Immediately this 18 year old’s driving talents surfaced as he would win Merrittville’s track championship in 1953 and would repeat again in 1957. During this time, Jerry would establish his talent for fast, clean, sportsman-like driving, that brought him not only success, but also admiration from his competitors. From 1958-1959, Jerry Winger would not be able to defend his championships due to illness and would pass away during the 1959 season. At that time, Merrittville Speedway’s owners would retire his #10 forever and his crew would establish the Jerry Winger Memorial Award, which would be awarded to the winner of a special feature night once a year.
The award was lost for many years and was finally tracked down by Merrittville Speedway’s Reunion Committee, and was returned to us. Rick Kavanagh and his father, former track owner Ken Kavanagh, restored the trophy, so it could again be presented, this time on our Annual Reunion Night. In 2008, Nostalgia Night once again fell to the curse of Mother Nature- not just once, but twice. The Committee proudly inducted Dave Halliwell and Gary Saunders as the rains fell on July 12th and then again on September 12th. While we watched a hard fought vintage feature won by Dave Charczuk of Lewiston, N.Y. the upcoming Jerry Winger Memorial feature turned out to be a very hotly contested battle amongst former track champions Chad Brackman and Larry Lampman, while track owner and 20 time modified champion Peter Bicknell was eliminated, being involved in a rare crash early in the event.
Larry Lampman emerged the winner and was very enthusiastic about the win in victory lane. So with the evening’s race program completed, we definitely fooled Mother Nature in to giving us dry skies while we celebrated another anniversary in Canadian motorsports.
The Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee, of chairman Rick Kavanagh, Erica Bicknell, Wall of Famers Jeno Begolo and Ted Renshaw, Jim Irvine and Mark Swartz and Terry Huffman, owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteers, Alumni, and most of all the owners and drivers of the vintage race cars who came from as far away as New York State and Michigan to participate.
For more information on Merrittville Speedway, stay tuned to our web pages at www.merrittville speedway.com and the Merrittville Memories stories. We had one more event on our racing calendar as on Labour Day weekend the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee hosted the 50 lap John Spencer Memorial modified feature which was the final modified event of our 58th season. It was a hard fought battle won by Mike Bowman of St. Catharines, a rookie in the modified division.
It’s hard to believe that our 58th season is over, but we are already planning for our 60th anniversary in 2011, hopefully under clear skies.