"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 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
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