(HORSE RACE TRACK)
Tim Flock#91, leads Dick Rathmann & Lee Petty in his Fabulous Hudson Hornet during The first NASCAR race held in Canada, July 1, 1952 After World War 11 it seemed as though most people craved for peace time activities. The housing booms, the new car boom and of course the baby boom. Anything new seemed to be of interest to families.
The fledgling sport of automobile stock car racing seemed to be an interesting way for people to spend their leisure time and what better way to use pre W.W.11 cars but to race them. In the Niagara peninsula, stock car racing deemed a "fad" by many seemed to share facilities with race horses. These big 1/2 mile flat ovals were convenient for hosting stock car races. This is how racing got started in the U.S. with sprint car and stock car racing occurring on the already available fairgrounds' ovals.
Prior to Merrittville Speedway opening in 1952, the primary local track was at the Stamford Park Race track located in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It is believed that the stock cars first started sharing the facilities with race horses as early as 1948. A fellow by the name of John DeMetre, president of Stamford Park along with race promoter J.V. Carney of Buffalo New York, would try to attract stock car racers from the area, but most competitors came from the Buffalo area, since stock car racing had been sharing the billing with the midget racers at the Buffalo Civic Stadium for a few years already. Very few drivers were from the Niagara area except for Bruce Swartz, Ralph Taylor and Doug Greves, the others such as Hugh Darraugh, Carl Foss, Bill Hall, Jerry Swisher and Bill Bennett were all from the Western New York area.
In fact, Bruce Swartz along with Ralph Taylor were probably the first two stock car drivers in Niagara to join NASCAR. At times, Stamford Park would try and hold NASCAR sanctioned races, much like those held at the Buffalo Civic Stadium. The attraction for the spectators was that admission was $1.00 for adults and .50 for children, but you could have any seat under the fully covered grandstand close to the action.
The Niagara Falls track gained a reputation as being hard on cars, especially with its rutted flat surface and dangerous board fences which could pierce a racer like a knife through butter. In our history of auto racing in Niagara, Stamford Park has one distinction, that of being the first track to hold a NASCAR Grand National race outside the U.S. - July 1, 1952. In fact, the headline following the race read as follows: "Shuman Survives Niagara Falls Car-Killer" To give you an idea of how tough this track was, Buddy Shuman of Charlotte North Carolina drove his Hudson, all 200 laps, with his nearest competitor two laps behind, that being Herb Thomas in the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, with Ray Duhigg driving the Julie Petty Plymouth third. It took two hours, 11 minutes, and 33 seconds to complete the 200 laps at an average speed of 45.610 mph. The pole winner for the event was Herb Thomas in his Hudson Hornet, at an average speed of 52.401 mph. This was in an era when a NASCAR stock car was in fact stock. The field was made up of many racers who in fact are legends today. To that point of the 1952 season, Tim Flock also driving a 1951 Hudson was the point leader but on lap 78 of the event he wrecked when caught by a flipping Eddie Lenz in a 1950 Olds, both drivers escaped uninjured.
This enabled Herb Thomas who finished second to move within 42 points of Tim Flock. Out of the 17 car field, only six cars were left running at the end, those being Buddy Shuman #89, claiming his first victory in a Grand National event. Second place to Herb Thomas in the #92 Fabulous Hudson Hornet, third to Ray Duhigg in the #44 Julie Petty '51 Plymouth, fifth to Perk Brown in a "50 Ford, Seventh to Fonty Flock in a "51 Henry J., and tenth to Albert Lemiurx in a '50 Mercury Meteor, many laps down. Top runners such as Lee Petty, Herschel McGriff, Tim Flock, and Dick Rathmann were all sidelined by broken wheels, engine problems, and overheating. For his efforts in surviving the 100 mile event, Shuman took home the purse of $1,000.00, the winner's share of this truly "Car Killing Event."
During the rest of 1952 the local stock car drivers continued to dice it out at Stamford, but from August 18 - September 3 each year, the horses would take over the facilities. For stock car fans in Niagara, July 1, 1952 was also a historical event, as it was the opening day races at Merrittville Speedway, a daytime event that gave the area racers such as Orville Kelly, Ralph Taylor, Bruce Swartz as well as U.S. drivers such as Bill Hall and Jerry Swisher a facility specially designed for the high powered stockers.
Merrittville was designed as a 1/4 mile oval, with a durable clay surface unlike the flat horse tracks such as Stamford Park. This facility was the dream of John Marino and George Cullen, two businessmen who operated a trucking company in St. Catharines. By the way, Jerry Swisher was the first feature in the #29 -1937 Ford.
Stamford Park continued to hold stock car races, along with the horse races in 1953 and 1954. It was during this period that a young 21 year old stock car driver by the name of John Spencer of Niagara Falls, Ontario, was fatally injured and became the only driver to be killed at an area track.
According to the press clippings of the day his car #120, a 1936 Ford, spun wildly out of control on the second lap of the feature, flipping a dozen times. It was not uncommon for cars to flip since the loose surface of the track was easily rutted by the fast and furious stockers.
During 1954, the era of Stamford Park race track auto racing ended, as ovals that were dedicated to stock car racing gained in both popularity and spectator appeal. Tracks such as Merrittville, Ancaster, Civic Stadium in Buffalo and Chippawa opened a new era of stock car racing.
However, Stamford Park Horse Track and
Merrittville Speedway shared one thing in common - July 1,
1952. The first Grand National race held in Canada, and
opening day at Merrittville Speedway. Sincerely, Rick