In Merrittville Speedway’s 57 year
history there have been so many stories of drivers getting
their start by first watching from the grandstands. Gary
Saunders included after he saw his first live race in 1958.
Eventually Gary would lend Pat Collins a hand. One of
‘Dudley’s crew members made marriage plans instead of racing
a car that had just been built for him – so Gary would get
his start with a 1953 Ford.
An investment of $100. Gary had some help
at the start from a high school friend turned racer himself
– Ron Gravestock. Saunders would finish third in points in
the Late Model Class in his rookie year in 1962. A Union
strike at work kept him from racing in 1963 but he returned
the next year with a 1955 Studebaker.
Merrittville Speedway at the time asked
the top drivers in the Late Models to move up so while in
second in the points – Gary put an end to season in August
rather than make the jump. 1966 was Gary Saunder’s break
out season – although it didn’t quite start that way. Prior
to the start of the season – Gary had built himself a new
engine like so many others back in the day in his basement.
When it was ready to go into the car – a slight problem
arose. It got to be too heavy to carry up the stairs. Most
homes in those days had ‘milk boxes’ for visits from the
milk man. Gary rigged up a ramp and attached chains to his
car outside and some how was able to get the thing up the
stairs and out of the house.
Gary became part of the 4S race team with fellow drivers – Bill Spiece, Walt
Staley and George Sider, Sr. Gary had as a sponsor – Kitchingman Auto Wreckers
and after that motor blew up – they supplied him with another from a wreck.
Race Team Sponsors have done so much for their drivers – year in and year out.
In his second race that year he won and
set a new track record in the process. After another win in
the Civic Holiday Championship in August, Saunders would
flip the car and would be forced to sit out the rest of the
season. Another year and another car. Once again Saunders
and other top drivers were forced to move up so the car was
given to his brother-in-law Larry Haslam.
With the 70’s came a reversal in the
forced moving up so Gary was back to the Late Models and
along with Don and Glen Shirton and Bob and Danny Hatt – he
raced with his son Mike. Three father and son driver teams
in the Late Models. With the cost of Late Model racing on
the increase, Gary would switch to Humberstone’s B Class but
for him – his real passion were the full fendered race
cars. That prompted a move to the Bomber Division and won
back to back Championships at Merrittville and Ransomville
before retiring before handing the keys over to his son
Carl. Wanting to race with Carl – Gary would return to the
seat after 5 years away and won a few features in 1985. The
boys were now in the Sportsman Division but again Gary’s
love was the fendered cars.
Gary’s grandson Todd Saunders wanted to
enter an enduro so Gary was back on the scene and the car
was upgraded to meet Street Stock rules. While Gary was a
big help to his family, he would also help his peers –
having parts available and even building rent to own
trailers so the teams could get their cars to the track.
Mike Zajac used one of Gary’s cars to build his own car
from. Wayne Tucker, Doug Binning, Kevin Baker and Wayne
Howard also got their starts with help from Gary. George
Bosse grew up next door and today Rob Murray lives down the
street and visits.
Gary Saunders raced by the motto – “I’d
sooner help someone so that their car handles better – than
have them spin out and wreck me.”
Thanks Gary for all you have done for the
sport and congratulations on your induction onto the L. St.
Amand Enterprises Wall of Fame!