to Late Models
While we seem to focus on the modified accomplishments in the history of racing at Merrittville Speedway, we shouldn't forget the novice divisions where many of Merrittville's modified stars got their start. In 1957 the Jalopy division was formed by track owners Ken Kavanagh and Bill Russell to allow young would-be racers a place to start their career and learn their skills. There was one rule in the jalopy division in that the drivers who finished in the top ten points standings had to move up to the stock car division so that one driver could stay and dominate that division. A good rule for the time and it also infused new talent into the upper stock car division ranks. During the 1950's these basically stock coupes and coaches, provided a proving ground for many rookies to show their talent. Drivers such as Ted Renshaw, Lloyd Holt, Neil Truesdell and Bob St. Amand all started in this division.
For example, during the 1959 season, it was truly a jalopy season dominated by St. Catharines native Lloyd Holt driving the J-15 coupe. While George Winger was winning steadily in the stock car division, Lloyd Holt won a record 7 features breaking the previous record of six victories previously held by Dave Halliwell also of St. Catharines.
The final race of the 1959 season saw Lloyd Holt winning convincingly over Neil Truesdell of Ransomville New York and Bob St. Amand of St. Catharines. All three of these drivers would move on to the stock car division and also claim many victories during the 1960's and 1970's. During the 1960's the availability of 1930's cars was starting to dry up and in 1962-63 the jalopy division evolved into the late model division, featuring full bodied post-war cars. During this period the late model division became the proving ground for tomorrow's modified stars.
The late model division also offered a diversity in car make. We not only had Fords and Chevrolets, but also Plymouth, Dodge, Chrysler, Studebaker, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury and Edsel. It became a very popular division which pitted not only driver against driver, but car make against car make. If you will show me some leniency, I would like to list a few of the names and their cars and see if it brings back some memories for you.
Harry Sittler #37 Pontiac Ralph Book #47 Studebaker Ken Aspen #81 Studebaker Don Turner #39 Oldsmobile Jim Burger #10 Ford (also shared by Keith Winger) Mike Zajac #88 Chevrolet Lynden Wood #38 Chevrolet Frank Fields #27 Chevrolet Bob Webster #5 Plymouth and Dodge Don Shirton #55 Dodge and Plymouth Pete Bicknell #42 Chevrolet Brian Stevens #14 Chevrolet Harvey Hainer #2 Chevrolet Roger Treichler#74 Studebaker Merv Treichler #58 Studebaker Bill Spiece #88 Plymouth
These sixteen individuals definitely are only a sample of the drivers that went on to further their careers at area tracks, some staying in a late model class, but most moving up to the powerful sportsmen modified class. I will try to cover some of these individuals in upcoming articles but I would like to focus on one individual who made a career out of the late model division. That was a fellow named Bob Webster of Hamilton, Ontario. Briefly, he was one of those drivers whose talent showed immediately. If memory serves me correctly, his ultra smooth driving style was a sight to behold
Week after week, his pristine white #5 Plymouth, usually a 1959 body style, would appear unscathed to drift and weave around the competition.
I'm sure his bodyman was kept busy, while by mid-season most other competitors cars appeared crumpled by the binging and banging of close competition. No matter which area track he raced at, either Merrittville Speedway, Speedway Park, or Humberstone, he was the man to beat in that division.
The last time I saw Webster race was in the late 1960's driving a 1964 Dodge, again painted pristine white with #5 on its flanks. I'm sure Bob is retired today and still living in Hamilton. It would be great not only to re-unite the modified drivers but also those that made their careers racing in the jalopy and late model divisions.
The legacy of the once proving ground carries on today as veterans such as Dan Turner, Brian Stevens, Harvey Hainer Jr. and perennial champion Pete Bicknell continue their careers today in the modified division. Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh