"The Panther and the Duke"

George Winger was one of those individuals who also raced stock cars at merrittville Speedway in the early years. A very quiet cigar smoking individual who also let his driving do the talking. George was there when Merrittville was built and he also worked for many years at Ed McPherson Construction in St. Catharines. George always had good equipment, going back to Bill Willard's #21 Ford coupe, or later on hismost memorable ride Jack Munn's #18 Chevrolet coupe, gold coloured with the panther on its side.


During the 1959 season, George won many features with the gold #18 coupe, but one of the most memorable had to be the closing evening in 1959. If I can quote an article from the St. Catharines Standard, it stated: "A record crowd of 4,327 race fans contributed to the drivers share of the purse, $1,705.00 was an all time record for Merrittville Speedway." George Winger had already clinched the stock car points championsip, since he had already won a record 10 feature races, surpassing the later Jerry Winger's record of 8 wins, by 2 in 1957. Co-incidentally, by winning the 50 lap fall championship feature, George became the first recipient of the Jerry Winger Memorial Trophy an honour he would never forget, since Jerry had only passed away six weeks ago, and the trophy was purchased by Jerry Winger's pit crew in his memory.


An idea of how the race wnet, it was not a cake walk, although he won by half a lap. He had to duel with long time friend and competitor Cam Cagliardi of Lockport New York. He took the lead from the Lazy 8 on lap 18, but had to use a "heavy foot" to maintain his lead over the next 32 laps. Third place went to Ken Meahl of Lockport New York.


Gagliardi and Winger were friends in the pits and both could be seen in the pits smoking their cigars and working on their cars. The antics of practical jokes flourished with exploding cigars being exchanged between the two. While George was the successful pilot behind Jack Munn's #18 Panther coupe, it was Jack Munn who wore many hats at the Speedway.


Jack Munn was a successful construction company owner in St. Catharines who loved the new sport of stock car racing. Jack was the man who became Merrittville's Race Director and later Speedway Park's as well, who kept the drivers organized in the pits under the N.A.R.A. banner. During 1959 and 1960, Munn's attention was also as that of a championship car owner. In fact, it was at this time as a youngster that I got my first ride in a stock car.


I will never forget sitting on the floor board of the gold #18 Chev coupe riding around Merrittville's 1/4 mile oval with George Winger. Most drivers had nicknames emblazoned above their windshields, in George's case, it was "The Duke". So here I was riding with the Duke and the Panther. In 1959 the gold coupe was almost unbeatable, and 1960 was no different.


With a crew made up of Jack Munn, Norphy Rosetto, and Junior High, they were a potent combination. After George retired as a driver, Jack Munn continued his duties as N.A.R.A. race director both at Merrittville Speedway and Speedway Park until 1970. Jack also continued to be involved in his hobby building and flying radio control model airplanes, all over the world in competitions.


George re-appeared at Merrittville Speedway in the early 1970's driving the Toyota Pace Car supplied by Dominey's Toyota of St. Catharines. A couple of years ago, George was inducted on to the Wall of Fame and was also interviewed for Rogers Cable. Today, George's health is failing, and I know the wishes of the racing community are with him. If I can say one thing to you George, it is to say "Thanks" from a little kid in 1960 of 7 years old, who will never forget his first ride with "The Duke" in the #18 Panther. Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh

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