Harry Vanderzanden’s introduction to racing came literally by accident, when in 1967 he took a part time job driving tow truck for Terry’s Garage in Stoney Creek. You see, Harry and his young family already lived only a concession from the new Speedway Park, next to the Satellite Drive-In where they operated a poultry farm. They could sit in their backyards watch a movie and also hear the roar of the dirt track racing across the fields.
Back in the day, Harry supplemented his income from the steel plant by raising poultry and took odd jobs. Well Terry’s Garage faced Speedway Park’s entrance at Mud St. and Hwy #20, where it was convenient for them to do the towing duties during the Friday night racing program. Quite often Harry would take his young sons Paul and David in the tow truck to the races, towing cars in the pits, waiting ready in the infield and acting as the final starter in a race, if there were an odd number of cars. Well one night, a late model competitor was having trouble firing his car for a race, with Harry’s tow truck pushing it through the pits. Out of frustration the car owner said something to Harry about selling the car and so for $35.00, including the helmet, Harry was now a racer. This was in the era of 30 late models starting a feature and various makes of cars from Fords, Dodges, Chevrolets, Studebakers and Edsels, where drivers such as Bob Webster, Frank Field, Mike Zajac, Lynden Wood,& Don Turner got their start.
As these new divisions grew in popularity, the modified Sportsman headlined, and the late models replaced the Jalopies, but a new third division, mini-stock was created for four cylinder cars. Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park now ran three divisions every Friday and Saturday night. Both competitors and fans came from all over the Golden Horseshoe, where Hamilton, St. Catharines and Thorold were the hotbed of dirt track racing. This new mini stock division interested Harry and as his poultry farm became more secure, he was able to pursue his hobby.
So by 1974 Harry built two mini-stocks, #74 for himself and #75 for his son David. These bright orange mini’s would become memorable at Merrittville, where the now Fenwick turkey farmer would mix his business with his hobby. He decided as a board member of the Ontario Turkey Board, that he could promote race fans to eat more turkey if he painted a turkey on the side of his race car, and most every Saturday night he would ask the Speedway to raffle off a 4 – 6 lb. turkey as a door prize. We now had two Mini-Coopers painted bright orange racing and winning, lapping Merrittville’s oval with turkeys painted on their sides.
For ten years the Vanderzandens raced with much success in the mini-stock division, winning many races, competing against the likes of Bill Dominey and the Toyotas, Larry Benjamins in the Volkswagens and yes the Vanderzandens had their Mini Coopers. In 1985 the mini-stock division evolved into the mini modifieds and the full bodied cars didn’t fit, so Dave and Harry looked at their options.
Dave decided to take his #75 and go modified racing, with Harry’s support, racing out of their North Pelham poultry farm. While Dave enjoyed driving the modified division the racing was demanding and no longer a hobby. You had to work on the car every night. In 1995 Harry decided to re enter the fledgling mod-stock, run what you brung class, that looked like fun and could be a hobby. This gave Harry an outlet to be able to continue his hobby, while the demands of raising turkeys, running a grain elevator and feed mill took his time.
During the new millennium the racing bug bit the next generation as Paul and Dave’s children took to racing go-karts. Harry always the competitor, coached his grandkids and today the third generation of Vanderzandens are racing, while sons Dave and Paul tend to the turkey business.
In 2010 Harry purchased a dirt race truck that he numbered #74, for he and his grandson Stephen to race. Yes Harry still had the desire to race at age 74, but the grandkids handle the driving duties. As we fast forward to 2012, Harry Vanderzanden can be seen sitting at his spot in turn four, every Saturday night. His family purchases a renewable life-time pass, so Harry can still enjoy his passion for racing some forty five years later.
He will soon be able to cheer for his grandson Stephen, as a Vanderzanden returns to the mini-stock division driving Dave Small’s Mustang, and Taylor is still racing the #74 dirt truck at Humberstone. Here’s to you Harry, as you are about to interviewed for the first time, where your dedication to the sport of dirt track racing from a tow truck operator to a competitor and car owner at Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park has fueled your passion for our sport, your turkey business and your family. Welcome to the Merrittville Speedway Alumni Wall of Fame. Rick Kavanagh