"The Sister Track"
As we remember the history of short track
"dirt" stock car racing in Southern Ontario, there is one
facility that is remembered as the most modern and fastest
dirt oval in Ontario. We all know that Merrittville Speedway
opened in 1952, followed by Humberstone Speedway in 1958 as
well as Lancaster Speedway in 1959 and Ransomville Speedway
in 1958, the last two being in New York State.
However, how many racing fans remember
Speedway Park in 1961? Speedway Park was the brainchild of
then track owners Ken Kavanagh and Bill Russell, as well as
Merrittville Speedway's founders John Marino and George
Cullen, all of St. Catharines. These four men became
partners in this endeavour and envisioned what was to be the
largest most modern facility in Ontario.
Basically the layout was simple, acquire
a large parcel of land near a large population and offer
lots of comforts for the spectators and drivers alike.
Quigley Construction of Hamilton carved a smooth, wide 1/2
mile oval out of the Stoney Creek clay. The track was wide
with the banking being smooth leaving room for three wide
racing. The lighting would allow perfect lighting for both
spectators and drivers alike. The grandstand was the most
modern steel and concrete facility money could buy,
incorporating both rest rooms and concession stands within
its walls. This was at a time when Merrittville's grandstand
consisted of wooden bleachers. The spacious Speedway Park
facility was opened on June 19, 1961 on a tract of land at
Highway #20 and Mud Street near Elfrida.
I can remember the scene as many area
racers from St. Catharines made the journey to the new
Stoney Creek race track to test its clay. The opening of
Speedway Park would start a tradition of racing on Friday
night racing that would last about a decade. While we worked
and watched during the races at Speedway Park, We would
venture to our home near St. Catharines and do it all over
again on Saturdays at Merrittville's 1/4 mile oval.
While Merrittville Speedway was only 9
years old at the time, it was the fledgling Speedway Park
that drew the admiration of many stock car pilots. Speedway
Park was truly the dream that we wished Merrittville
Speedway could be. Many Hamilton fans as well as many
Hamilton drivers would get hooked on the Merrittville
Speedway Park tradition. We now had a "dirt circuit" that
was independent of big sanctioning bodies, which now could
attract drivers and spectators not only from the Niagara
area, but also New York State and the Hamilton area. Many of
Merrittville's regulars would go on to score many victories
and track championships at Speedway Park.
I believe Speedway Parks most memorable
show had to be in 1966-67 when they introduced the racing
public to the U.S.A.C. Sprint cars. It was my first exposure
to sprint car racing on a professional basis and it was
truly an exceptional show-with former Merrittville drivers
Jim Hurtubise, then Indy racer in attendance, assisting
track announcer Dizzy Dean Murray in the pressbox. Speedway
Park would prove to be an extremely successful dirt track
and continued to attract the loyal dirt track fans, even
though Cayuga Speedway's paved oval would open in 1966-67.
Some of the U.S. drivers switched to asphalt racing, lured
by the higher purses, but the owners of Merrittville and
Speedway Park would remain committed to dirt track stock car
racing. The stress of operating two racing facilities
finally dictated a decision during the early 1970's to sell
A group of Hamilton investors purchased
Speedway Park and for some reason they decided to pave it,
of all things. The one thing that Hamilton area didn't need
was another paved oval. Already Cayuga Speedway was
operating on Fridays and so was Flamboro Speedway on
Saturdays, there was no real night for Speedway Park to fit.
After trying to attract different types of cars, from super
modifieds to lat models, Speedway Park couldn't continue to
function, having not found its niche. By the mid 1970's
Speedway Park was closed and the beautiful grandstand was
Today there is only a reminder in the
middle of a corn field, of what once was. The remainder of
the large oval is still visible as are the crash barriers.
If only the new owners had left the racing surface clay,
Speedway Park would still be functioning today. Many of
today's Hamilton based racers started their driving
apprenticeships on dirt. As we look across the field over
the remaining stubble of corn stalks, we can only reminisce
on how drivers such as Bill Rafter, Chuck Boos, Alex Gunn,
Bruce Van Dyke, the Deagle Brothers as well as Fred Hurst,
Mike Zanjac and others all veterans of our sport would carve
their mark on this big 1/2 mile oval.
Today Speedway Park is only a distant
reminder of what Merrittville Speedway could have been.
Thank goodness no unscrupulous promoter decided to "pave"
the now oldest dirt track in Canada. The tradition of dirt
track racing in Ontario is alive and well, we only wish that
Merrittville's sister track Speedway Park was as well.
Even by today's standard, Speedway
Park would be ranked as a modern facility. One of the last
track champions at Speedway Park was George Treanor. George
was one of the veteran pilots to drive Jimmy Birks' bright
orange #67 Coach Modified.
The car was one of the first to be
powered by a big block engine. Once Jim and George sorted
out the handling of this car, there was no stopping its
accomplishments. It not only won the points championship at
Merrittville Speedway in 1969 and 1970 but also Speedway
This past year, Jim Birks master engine
builder and championship car owner passed away. Jim was
inducted on to Merrittville's "Wall of Fame" two years ago.
When you see his plaque on the walls of Merrittville
Speedway, remember not only his accomplishments at
Merrittville, but also at Speedway Park, with drivers such
as Chuck Richarson, Ted Renshaw, George Treanor and later
So while we lament the passing of a
racing tradition, we will not forget the man who helped tame
it, for the last time, Jim Binks and his big orange coach,
on Speedway Park's big 1/2 mile.
Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh