Stan Friesen and Kurt Uhl
Stan Friesen and the famed #52 Coach
Stan Friesen like many others in the 1950's became interested in trying his hand at the sport of stock car racing. He along with Terry Edwards and Wingy Barron had a stock car and would take turns driving it at Merrittville Speedway, until one night on a dare, Wingy Barron rolled the car on the front straight away, some say it was on a dare by starter Bob MacPherson. Some of my first memories of seeing Stan Friesen race as a kid in the late 1950's was behind the wheel of one of Bill Willard Sr.'s #78 Coupe.
This was in an era of Willard's having as many as 4 cars, the #77 of Terry Edwards, #78 Stan Friesen, #79 a short career for Allan Willard and 777 Bev MacTavish. In 1961 -62 when the late model division started, Stan along with friend Kurt Uhl and Neil Sharp decided to build a late model. A 1957 Chevrolet was constructed, painted green and yellow and the #52 painted on its sides, all to match the colours of Kurt and Neil's Geneva Street B.P. Station. This car was campaigned with much success at Merrittville Speedway, Humberstone and Speedway Park. In 1967 they decided to purchase an ex Ray Stevens sportsman coupe and move up with the top runners of their day, fellows like Fred Hurst, Ivan Little, Jeno Begolo, Mike Zajac, George Treanor and many others.
The red and white coupe sponsored by Kurt's Ace Alignment of St. Catharines, was potent threat wherever it ran, with Neil Sharp acting as crew chief. With the Friesen family in the Dry Cleaning Business with Modem Cleaners on Lake Street, as well as Kurt Uhl running his successful Alignment business, their focus on racing was changing. Stan, around 1970-71, still drove the race car, but it was more part time with the likes of Gil Cramer and Terry Edwards. It was at this point that Davey Moore raced the #6 coach for Ray Stevens, however in 1972 the #52 would re-emerge as a red and white hump back coach with a Canadian Flag on its trunk, replacing Moore's #6. It was also late in 1971 that Stan and Kurt would become partners in buying Merrittville Speedway from my father, Ken Kavanagh and Bill Russell.
For some reason the two had the ideas for change and there were three major ones. The traditional 1/4 mile perfect oval was ripped apart and replaced by a larger D-shaped pattern with its now notorious turn four. Secondly, the old wooden bleachers were replaced with metal ones from the now defunct Niagara Drag Strip. However, the third change was probably the most memorable one and that was bringing the fledgling DIRT of Western New York sanction and its Schaeffer Beer sponsorship for a qualifying race from Syracuse. That event is still the biggest modified event on Merrittville Speedway's calendar some 28 years later.
Alex Friesen 1992
While getting their feet wet as race track operators, Stan was still pursuing his desire to race modifieds, while occasionally racing at Merrittville, trying to balance the racing against the administration of a race track. It was during this period that Stan and Kurt and Ray would run at Merrittville as well as Weedsport, N.Y. with Stan winning the 1972 modified point championship at Weedsport, N.Y. In 1973 the ownership of Merrittville Speedway demanded their time and Stan and Kurt focused their attention on operating Merrittville Speedway as a business. Like those of us before them, the wives and kids all played a part on Saturday nights, selling popcorn, programs and hot dogs, it all went with the territory. Speaking from personal experience, it was a fun place to grow up. Stan and Kurt, along with their wives Diane and Deanna took a very active roll along with the kids, Jamie, Joel and Alex Friesen and Janice Uhl, in the running of not only Merrittville Speedway, but now Ransomville Speedway which they purchased in 1973.
Alex Friesen with a feature win at Gasport in 1992 The Friesen and Uhl families were now operating two dirt tracks, as well as running their businesses. Stan Friesen had his trucking company and Kurt still operated Ace Alignment. The families ran both tracks until 1981 when they sold Merrittville Speedway to a group of 5 St. Catharines investors. While continuing to operate Ransomville speedway on Friday nights, the Friesen kids interest in stock car racing grew. In 1987 two events happened. Kurt Uhl was bought out as partner at Ransomville and young Alex Friesen along with his father Stan, purchased Lancaster Speedway.
The Friesen family now owned two U.S. race tracks, with Ransomville operating on it traditional Friday nights and Lancaster operating both a drag strip and a paved oval on Saturdays. Stan, Joel, Jamie and Alex were now deeply involved in the sport and business of auto racing, but it was Alex who wanted to promote and cultivate N. Y. state stock car racing into the 1990's. However, Alex was tragically killed in a snowmobile accident a couple of years ago. The Friesen family still carries on today with its ownership of Ransomville and Lancaster.
Jamie Friesen 1992
Son Jamie, carries on the family racing tradition by racing his #10 sportsman when he can, with the memory of his late brother's #68 on its tail panel. Jamie Friesen with a feature win at Gasport in 1992 While Kurt Uhl is no longer active in stock car racing, he and his family were an integral part of Merrittville and Ransomville Speedways' history and success.
It was Kurt Uhl's ownership and sponsorship of his friend Stan Friesen's race cars that led to their life long friendship and partnerships in racing. On the Uhl side, daughter Janice has been married to Raceline's Eric Tomas for 10 years.
I've always stated that stock car racing is a family sport at any level, to make it successful as the Friesen's and Uhl's are proof of that, just as the Kavanagh's and Russell's before them and the Cullen's and Marino's before them.
Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh