A Champion in Big Block and 358 Modified Divisions
By Jim Irvine with thanks to Peggy Vogt, (Wheels … the Ray Stevens Story) and Rick Kavanagh
With a list of Wall of Fame drivers that includes Stan Friesen, Bruce Swartz, Lloyd Holt, Dave Halliwell … Harry Sittler, Mike Granton, Hughie Tripp, Davey Moore, Ted Renshaw and others hanging around your garage … it would only seem natural for Brian Stevens to become a driver himself.
Stevens – one of two sons of Ray and Lee Stevens has a brother Mark and their dad Ray needs no introduction as a Wall of Famer … former driver … car owner and crew chief. Like Ray, Brian had a natural talent – winning more than 150 Features and track championships in Big Block (1982) and what is now the Bobcat of Hamilton 358 Modified Division back in 1992 at Merrittville Speedway.
“Before he got behind the wheel of a race car,” remembers (Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee Chairman) Rick Kavanagh, the son of former Merrittville co-owner Ken Kavanagh, “Brian and I would watch the races from the grandstand in the 60’s and he even helped us by working at jobs such as selling popcorn … we would always try to finish early though so we could watch some of the racing”
While recent L. St. Amand Enterprises Wall of Fame Inductee Harry Sittler was driving a Modified owned by Ray – Brian would jump at the chance to get behind the wheel of Harry’s Late Model in 1974. At 22 years of age in 1975 – Brian would have his own 14s Late Model and began his racing career that season. Like his Dad, Brian was driven by the challenge of winning races.
After his marriage to his wife Teresa his rookie season, 1976 was a milestone year as shortly after the birth of their first daughter Amanda - he would win his first career feature. Amanda would soon have a younger sister when Melissa was born.
As the 70’s became the 80’s , Brian would move up into the Modified Division and quickly would back up his first Merrittville Championship with the same honors at Humberstone Speedway in 1982. A second title at the Port Colborne facility would come in 1987. Later that season at Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse NY, Stevens helped put local racers on the map after finishing 5th in what is now the Syracuse 200 held each October Stevens became the highest finishing Canadian until Joe Plazek equaled it with a 5th in 1995.
Of course the record books were rewritten once again with Niagara-on-the-Lake native Stewart Friesen winning it in 2010 and 2011. Friesen is the grandson of the late Stan Friesen.
Occasions over the course of his career that he probably doesn’t enjoy remembering include a garage fire and explosion in 1978 and big wrecks at the Weedsport and Fonda Speedways early in his career. While only two were ‘racing accidents’ – Brian walked away from them all.
One thing that Ray stressed with any of his race cars right from the first in 1952 was safety. Brian’s Dad was a little superstitious about his son carrying his own 44 on his race cars so once he was a Modified regular … you may remember that his car was the 44A. Stevens’ racers over the years were also numbered 444 … 15 … 4 and one season as the 68 in memory of racer and promoter Alex Friesen who we lost too early.
Long-time supporters of the Stevens’ 44A and 444 were companies such as York Electro Plating still owned by former racer, Wall of Famer and former Merrittville owner Bryant Irvine … Groff Tire and the Edward J. Fischer Oil Company.
Ray Stevens not only maintained Brian’s race cars he was also the engine builder but a familiar name on many hoods over the years was Cosgrove Racing Engines with much help from Tom Cosgrove. Cosgrove was known for drag racing but was a renowned oval track engine builder. His son Ken – a racer of his own now owns the Thorold business.
Arnie Blanchard of Central Automotive would also assist Ray with engines over the years.
Also playing a huge part in the success of Stevens Racing were companies such as Heavy Duty Pizza … 3-D Meats … Passero National Collision … Alex and Helen Bruce Photography among others and through fund-raising efforts of the Flyin’ Brian Fan Club. R
Ray back in the day was one of the first drivers to have a Fan Club and when Brian got behind the wheel – his friends, family and fans were great supporters. He was also one of the first local racers to have an enclosed trailer … just look at the pit area today!
Through the 90’s, Stevens Racing would join forces with Frank Pirillo with the Pirillo-Stevens #15 and #4 sporting sponsors such as Queensway Auto Parts … Mountainview Homes and North End Collision.
Brian would close out his racing career with the familiar 44 which was sold after the 2010 season to Harry Sittler’s son Andrew who to this day fields a 37s for Robbie Krull Saturday Nights. Brian got behind the wheel of the 44 one last time August 13th of 2011 in an emotional tribute to his dad Ray who passed away August 12th.
“My dad loved, breathed and slept racing,” said Brian in a Joe Cassidy tribute in the St. Catharines Standard, “He loved it more than anything in life, and that is why me, my family and my friends are here as a tribute to my dad.”
Many of Brian’s crew were reunited that night including his Uncle Neville … Ben and Laura Nadon … Peggy and Don Vogt … Danny Wurster … Ray Samuel … Carey and Jeannie Walton … Gary and Betty Glover … Bonnie, Chris, Kirk and Kyle Clayton … Ed Curran and Bill and Marie Toovey among others.
Supporters and crew over the years also included Roger Griffiths, Lorne Elliotson, Dave and Lorna Clark and Ray and Stu Beckett.
Brian Stevens spent over 40 years at his dad Ray’s side as they raced across Canada and the US. With Brian’s 2010 Induction into the FOAR SCORE Hall of Fame – the two became one of only 4 father and son teams that have been inducted.
Tonight – the family and friends of Stevens Racing come together again as Brian and Ray are together once again on the L. St. Amand Enterprises Wall of Fame.
Congratulations Flyin’ Brian Stevens on your 2014 Induction from the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee!