Tonight we reflect to an era when stock car racing was in it's infancy in Niagara. The year was 1953 and Merrittville Speedway was one year young. John Wesley Spencer was only 21 years old, while employed as an electrician by a Niagara Falls electrical contractor. His true passion like many others, was the new sport of stock car racing. John raced at Merrittville, when it opened, as well as at other area tracks, such as Chippawa, Ancaster, Stamford Park and Civic Stadium in Buffalo, New York. It would be at Stamford Park on August 13, 1953, that John Spencer woul tragically lose his life, while competing in the feature event, on the second lap in a field of sixteen cars. Apparently, his car hooked a rut and flipped violently. The belt gave way that secured the driver's door and when the car came to rest, the young pilot had succumbed to head injuries.

Pace Car

An inquest was held, and it was determined that stronger measures should be taken to secure the doors, latches or chains, and that seats be secured better. The safety equipment of the day consisted of aircraft belts from World War 11 and Cromwell helmets if you could get one.

It was ironic that his mother illian had persuaded him to stop racing twice that summer, but John returned to the port he loved. In fact, the night before his tragic wreck, he had just filled out his application for NA CAR membership.

 Even though John Spencer had raced since 1951, his crew was made up of many of his school mates from Niagara Falls, including Alvin Edwards. His sponsor Don MacArthur of MacArthur and Todd Signs established a Memorial Award.

The Johnny Spencer Memorial Award would become a tradition which would last to the mid 1960's when it was lost. After years of trying to track it down, the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee has it back and restored it to its original condition.


As we re-introduce it tonight after missing for 34 years, may it stand as a reminder as to how fragile life can be, as well as a testament as to show how far our sport has come in establishing safety measures.

Past winners of the Johnny Spencer Memorial
1953 Jerry Winger
1954 Murray Stricker
1955 Murray Stricker
1956 Bruce Van Dyke
1957 Bruce Van Dyke
1958 George Winger
1959 George Winger
1960 Bruce Van Dyke
1961 Bill Rafter
1962 Sandy MacPherson
1963 Bruce Van Dyke
1964 Bruce Van Dyke
1965 Lloyd Holt
1999 Peter Bicknell

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