Billy rafter #22
Bill Rafter was one of those early drivers who was as skilled on asphalt as he was on dirt. Bill started his career racing midgets on the old Civic Stadium in Buffalo during the late forties to early fifties as a member of NASCAR. However the spectators' preference turned to early stock cars in western New York and regular midget shows faded away. During this period a used car dealer, John Moran, had a 1937 black Ford coupe built for Bill Rafter,created with the best equipment available for the period.
Rafter immediately started to build a career driving this car, however the season was interrupted by a drivers strike in 1951,as a result, they towed to Daytona Beach to race on the sand. In 1959,1960,&1961 Rafter would return to the new high banks of Daytona to race his modified to no avail, as he wrecked twice and had a broken suspension in 1961. Wild Bill Rafter's career was briefly interrupted by a stint in the Army & thus resumed in 1957. Upon his return he tried the Grand-National, new car division, but his first attraction was the sportsman class & thus returned in 1958.
During 1959 the Civic Stadium discontinued as a race track and therefore Bill continued to race at area tracks, mostly dirt after that. Lancaster Speedway opened in 1959 as a dirt track and its first points champion was Jeno Begolo, its second points champion was Bill Rafter in 1960. Bill when teamed up with his brother in law Gil Bruso, made a formidable team, with the infamous blue and white trimmed #22 coupe they were the nemesis of many rivals, wherever they competed. Here is a list of career achievements: New York State Fair Champion, Syracuse 1959; New York State NASCAR modified Champion 1959; During 1960 he went on to win the Labour Day State Fair Championship and in the years to follow he would win four other championship races at fairgrounds. These races were the result of Langhornes management, to independently conducting its races without NASCAR sanction. The first event was won by Ned Jarrett in 1958, then 1959, 1960, 1962, and 1964 all went to Bill Rafter.
Even with all of Rafters accomplishments he and Gil Bruss would cross the border to race at Merrittville Speedway as a regular and again at Speedway Park in Hamilton during the early to mid 1960's. In my mind "Wild Bill Rafter" was anything but "wild". He was a pleasure to watch on dirt threading through traffic to win at these two southern Ontario tracks in his blue and white trimmed #22 coupe. he was truly a master of the dirt ovals. If there was ever a year to see him perform, it was 1964 at Merrittville. He finished first in the points, with second place going to Chuck Boos of Lewiston, New York, and third to Ted Renshaw of Ridgeway and fourth to Fred Hurst of St. Catharines.
In the years to follow Bill Rafter continued to race on dirt and asphalt. In 1965 Lancaster Speedway was paved and its champion that year was Bill Rafter. My best recollection of Bill's skills was at a modified 100 lap special at Merrittville. The year was 1966-67 and he was now driving a Blue #22 Chevelle bodied modified. This was in the era of full bodied cars racing with the coupes. While he and others like Bruce Van Dyke competed in full bodied modifieds, others raced the more traditional pre-war bodied cars. During the late 1960's Bill's career focused mainly on New York state pavement modifieds this time driving white with blue trimmed #22 coupes again owned by brother in law Gil Bruss.
Today Bill continues to live in Niagara Falls, New York, spending his summers here, while spending his winters in Florida. In my mind and many others, he will always remain the #1 pioneer of dirt and asphalt racing in both Southern Ontario and New York State. Bill was inducted in to the DIRT Hall of Fame in 1992 a truly fitting tribute to one of Merrittville's finest.
Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh