"Flamboyant and Fast"
Murray Stricker was one of those drivers who helped build the reputation of Merrittville Speedway as the fasted 1/4 mile track in Canada. Watching him at the wheel of his '37 Ford racer was like watching a conductor guiding an orchestra through a show tune. He was flashy, flamboyant and usually first.
Early on in his career, he raced a 1933 Ford Coupe sponsored by the Lee Furniture Company owned by I. Stricker and Son, 24 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines. While he showed some success with this car at area tracks, such as Merrittville and Ancaster, he is remembered for his driving and winning behind the wheel of the formidable red and white #32 coupes of Al Aldo's Church Road Motors cars. He raced at Merrittville since the opening and continued to race to the beginning of the 1960's.
In 1955 Stricker at the wheel of the Weller Park Garage #32 Ford coupe dominated the Merrittville Speedway season, having taken over the ride vacated by Orville Kelly, 1952 and 1954 track champion. Just to give you an idea of how successful the 1955 season was for Stricker, I would like to quote excerpts from the St. Catharines Standard article from the Awards Banquet: "The second annual trophy night of the stock car racing enthusiasts celebrated in the Elizabeth room of the Queensway Hotel could really be characterized as "Murray Stricker" night.
Stricker practically established a runway from his seat at the head table to the speakers dias, as he was the recipient of seven trophies, having won every main event at Merrittville including the John Spencer Memorial Trophy." A very fine gesture by the track management, John Marino and George Cullen was the disposition of a special trophy to Ray Stevens, who was still hospitalized in a Toronto hospital following his harrowing race accident.
The track also held a Ray Stevens benefit race that season and its winner was Murray Stricker. Even though the Merrittville Speedway racing season and its banquet were over, Stricker left at midnight to compete in a 100 lap race at Langhorn Pennsylvania. Stricker had a racing style that race announcer Rex Stimers captured. While he would announce the drivers numerically for the feature race, he would wait and bellow "and no. 32 Murray Stricker". The crowd would answer with both cheers and boos. His aggressive driving style from the rear of the pack was loved by some and hated by others. This scenario became a trade mark of the bantering between both Stimers and Stricker. One eventful evening in 1956 track owners Ken Kavanagh and Bill Russell decided to have Rex Stimers take a ride with Stricker. Stricker was asked to take Stimers for a few easy laps around the track. After Rex pulled on his helmet and was clinging on to the bars inside Strickers' 1937 Ford coupe, Murray fired up the racer and proceeded to give Mr. Stimers a ride to remember. The car took off at speed, sliding and spinning through the turns, spinning out on purpose. Murray gave him the works and after five laps came to a halt on the front stretch. A totally shaken Rex Stimers opened the door of the racer, walked directly under the P.A. booth and straight to his car. He proceeded to leave the Speedway, make his way to the St. Catharines Club to straighten up his nerves.
From that week on, Rex Stimers continued to support and announce the race results at the Niagara oval, from the safety of his seat at CKTB radio. No one else of that era drove quite like Murray Stricker, who would often hang back in a race until the last few laps then make a dramatic dash to the lead when the fans thought (and many may have hoped) he had been beaten. While many racers of that era piloted cars powered by flat head V8's, the Church Road Motors car sported a OHV Thunderbird engine.
Coupling the power of this racer with Stricker's ability, the 1956 season's points championship fell to Murray Stricker. While 1956 was not as dominant for Stricker as 1955, he was still on top. The Church Road Motors team of Murray Stricker and Chuck Richardson were the most formidable at the time. Murray Stricker had also become Merrittville Speedway's first back to back points champion, 1955 and 1956.
Stricker had to beat racer winners Pete Hurtubise, Chuck Richardson, Jeno Begolo, Bruce Van Dyke, John Bezason and Fred Hurst for the points win. As a youngster growing up in St. Catharines, I would often spend time at my grandparents' home, only to wander down Carlton Street to the local Esso station owned by Murray Stricker.
During the week days the red and white #32 coupe would sit alongside the garage and we would gaze and pretend to be racers often sneaking in to the seat and acting out our fantasy. My last remembrance of Murray Stricker was as a pace car driver at Merrittville Speedway driving a 1969 Camaro Convertible "Indy Pace Car" version provided by Drinkwater Motors. Unfortunately time and illness took its toll and Murray Stricker passed away at age 42 in 1976.
To give you an idea of how much respect the other drivers had for Stricker and his ability, even though he hadn't raced for nearly 15 years, many attended his funeral such as Chuck Richardson (#31) his running mate, Jeno Begolo, Bruce Swartz, Ivan Little, Fred Hurst, Harry Ross, who built many of his cars and Gene Schroyer who was associated with Murray when he raced on the old Daytona Beach course.
If there is ever a Niagara area Hall of Fame for stock car drivers, Murray Stricker should be the first driver inducted into it. Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh