Tuesday, September 14, 2021

1967 Canada’s Centennial A New Beginning

               by Jeff Caldwell
In the early 60’s, local racing was fading. Fan favorite, Barry Kettering moved to the USA midseason in 1961, to race more often, original members retired, with fewer cars & drivers filling the void, crowds shrunk resulting in no regular seasons in 65 & 66. Club President Al Massaro & Ed Colosimo pursued a solution, to revive the sport. As early as 1954, Jim Bernosky pursued the Lakehead Stock Car Club to join with him, to build a new track on his Hwy 61 property. A tentative deal was reached, then when a 5 year deal, rather than a 1 year deal couldn’t be reached, Massaro & Colosimo walked. Massaro then turned his sights toward the Murillo Fairgrounds track.  Bernosky joined forces with local car club, the Northern Ontario Timing Assoc., and with lots of volunteer hours, Riverview was born! July 9, was opening day, ironically with veteran Al Massaro winning the Late Model Feature! Richard Foreman took Pappy Fowler’s checkered, winning Riverview’s first Hobby Stock Feature. Though Tom Nesbitt won 5 features, to Don Young’s two, Young’s consistency through the season would give him the Late Model title. Billy Rea took the Hobby Stock crown. Riverview offered good purses, which grew as the season went on. Opening week, the purse was $750, growing to $1600 by season’s end, attracting neighbouring US racers. Continuing the tradition, started in 1957, end of season Invitational Championship races were held Sept 16/17. They were a huge success for the new track, with an announced crowd of 7000 fans taking in the two days of action. Three time winner of the CLE Championships, Russ Laursen of Cumberland WI took the Super Modified title, losing only the Trophy Dash. He would repeat as Invitational winner the next two seasons! Johnny Aase, repeated his 1966 CLE victory in the Late Models, with Billy Nelson taking the Sportsman win.
Murillo opened its gates to 1200 fans on the August 7 Civic Holiday, on a 1/3 mile track that was carved out of the original 1/2 mile for a 1953 event. Under the “Lakehead Stock Car Racing Association” & “Lakehead Stock Car Club” banners, the track would run the only full seasons in its existence in 1967 & 68. Tony Cryer took the first Late Model Feature, and Richard Foreman once again, was the first Hobby Stock Feature winner. The year’s class champions were, Tony Cryer in the Late Models, with Bunny Massaro taking the Hobby Stock title. Murillo held their “Centennial 100” Championship races, Sept 30/Oct 1 with Johnny Aase topping the Late Models, winning Saturday’s Feature & coming second on Sunday. Bunny Massaro, took both days Hobby Stock Features. In 1968, Riverview was becoming the more popular track, pulling regular crowds of 2200-2400 fans Sunday afternoon’s.  Over 150 cars were registered for the ’68 season, with the Hobby Stock Feature starting some 40+ cars three abreast! Murillo opened the season earlier than Riverview on May 5, with Tom Nesbitt winning the first two weeks Late Model Features. Throughout 1968, Murillo tried Thursday, Friday, & Sat nights, trying to find the right race day. This, hoping drivers would race both tracks, and fans two nights of racing. Riverview held three, two day meets that season. Tom Nesbitt beat out Dave Morgan’s Corvette “Stingray 500”, in the first two, in a totally dominating season, winning 19 of the 22 Late Model Features. Other added races those early years included, Powder Puff, Demo Derbies and end of season Figure 8 for the Hobby Stocks.
1969, Riverview had fewer cars, but in the Late Models it was all Nesbitt!  Tom, dominated again, winning only 14 of the 22 Features, repeating as Late Model Champion. A dispute over rough track conditions, brought the races to a halt July 6.  Some hostilities were exchanged, then cooler heads prevailed and racing continued. A new Late Model driver showed through the season, he would become a force to be reckoned with. He made the point abundantly clear during the fall invitational. John Jones took the fall invitational Late Model feature, to become the first local racer to win the feature in one of the main classes. Tom Nesbitt won the 1962 Hobby Stock feature during the fall invitational at the CLE. In 1970, Wed racing was tried, it was the regular night of racing back at the CLE. With only 900 in attendance, racing returned to Sunday afternoons. A dispute over the purse brought racing to a halt that August for two weeks. Wanting a $300 increase for both days of a two day meet, was the issue when Jim Bernosky would only agree to an increase the first day. He countered their demands, offering to rent them the track for the event. It came to an end after two weeks, when both sides agreed to a 60% split of the gate.
1971 was another Late Model title for Nesbitt, though both he & John Jones opted to race stateside more often. In the early years, Riverview’s  offering of a higher purse, lured several US racers to make the trek up Hwy 61. In the early 70’s, the role got reversed, affecting Late Model car counts.
1972, low car numbers delayed the season. A new Street Stock class, allowing some modifications, was cancelled due to only three being built. When it was cancelled, they were allowed to race as Hobby Stocks. Nesbitt and Jones chose to run regularly across the border. By August, Riverview called it a season, though opening for the fall invitational. Regular season racing, would once again go on a hiatus, 1973- 75. The invitational races were the only roaring of the engines those years. One bright spot was, Barry Kettering took the 1973 Super Modified class. A founding member of the Lakehead Stock Car Club in 1952, Barry got close several times through the years, but was finally closed the deal! © JMC 2019

The Fall Invitationals

 by Jeff Caldwell

With fall closing in along with the end of the regular racing season, the season championship weekends are on the horizon. Thunder Bay fans are usually off to our neighboring US tracks, but how many of them are aware the end of season championship races started in Fort William in 1957 at the old CLE half mile. Lakehead Stock Car Club President, Louis Tocheri and Tony Massaro came up with the idea of holding an end of season Championship Race Meet. The WESCAR Championships held September 25th attracting racers primarily from the upper Minnesota/Wisconsin area, Edmonton and Winnipeg to the west and Toronto and St Catherines ON in the east. Member tracks of WESCAR were all to send representatives to the race, but Calgary and Saskatoon were not represented at the meet.

The big race literally started off with a bang to ignite the chilled and enthusiastic crowd of 3500-4000 plus. Local season champ Louis Tocheri started outside of Rice Lake WI Dean Harrington on the pole. Charging into turn one the two tangled, with Harrington admitting he was not willing to yield the lead to Tocheri. Mutual pleasantries were exchanged as both cars were being towed from the track, finished for the evening. The race glory was looking to be in the hands of a local racer, Al Massaro led early when a flat tire put him out of contention. Crowd favorite Barry Kettering steadily moved through the field holding the lead till he suffered the same fate as Massaro when a flat tire on lap 41 ended his chance of victory. Though coming close to winning the fall championships several times, Barry would have to wait till 1973 when he took the laurels in the Sprint car feature which would be named in memory of him in 1976.  Bud Mayala Of Rice Lake WI took the inaugural crown with Barry Kettering and Al Massaro salvaging fourth and fifth place finishes respectively as the top locals.

The fall championships would continue each fall at the CLE half mile through 1966, being the last auto racing there. Top racers of the upper Midwest would be regular participants, with racers Russ Laursen, Jerry Richert, Don Mack, Scratch Daniels amongst others becoming favorites with the local fans through the years.

            In 1967 local racing moved to the new Riverview Raceways and returning to Murillo Speedway at the Murillo Fairgrounds. Riverview ran its inaugural fall invitationals Sept 19-17 running Late Model, Super Modifieds and Sportsman classes. Johnny Aase, Russ Laursen and Billy Nelson winning the Sunday Feature races in their class. Late Models and Super Modified/Sprint classes would continue being on the card through 1981, though in separate dates starting in the mid 70’s.

            Murillo Speedway scheduled their invitational Sept 30-Oct 1 weekend,  billed as the Canadian Stock Car Championships Centennial 100. Johnny Aase took the Late Model crown with local racer Bunny Massaro the Hobby Stock champion.  After a 1968 season, Murillo closed and Riverview alone hosted the fall championships through 1993 with Late Models run as the top class.

            Riverview closed early in the 1994 season and the fall races moved out to Mosquito Speedway in Nolalu the following years till it to closed following the 2003 fall championship races. Late Models continued as the top class but were dropped after 1998, with the Modified class as the top class as it was at the CLE. For the next decade plus through 2014, though local racers ventured west to Emo and to the regular US tracks,  the engines were silent on local tracks. A collective cheer from local fans came when  when the fall classic as revived at Mosquito for 2014 with Midwest Modifieds, Street Stocks, Super Stocks and Ice Racers.

 With the completion of the new Dairy Queen International Speedway on West Arthur St, the fall championships have found their new home. For the first event Sept 17-19, classes will include Modifieds, Midwest Modifieds Super Stocks, Street Stocks and Hornets. Since that first fall championships in 1957, racers from far and wide have ventured here to compete. Hall of Famers in the Late Model and Sprint classes have been part of the field. Jerry Richert, Don Mack, Buzz Barton, Ed Sanger, Curt Hanson, and our own Tom Nesbitt amongst them. © JMC 2021

Saturday, March 7, 2020

“Lots” of Fun

by Jeff Caldwell
Prior to the building of the “Expressway” in the mid 1960’s, Hwy 61B would run down main local arteries. One of these was Kingsway, which I had the good fortune of growing up just off of, on Murray Ave. Looking out our living room window, I could see the parking lot of the Two Cities Motel. Through that window, in the fall of 1966, I saw an orange Super Modified parked, with several holes cut out on the rear of the roof. Attending those final races at the CLE that weekend, across the track I could see that orange #89. That memory was forever implanted in my head! Shown b/w photos of it 30 years later, I immediately stated, “it was orange”!

           Along Kingsway, from Empire Ave to Arthur St., the lots of the Blue Swan Inn, Fort Motel, Two Cities, Holiday Inn, and the Kingsway Motel, filled with race cars from the upper USA, in town to compete in the fall Invitational Championships. These lots would be overrun with wide eyed young kids (and older race fans), filled with anticipation of seeing them in full flight on the track! We’d tag along with older brothers, then with our friends when we were a bit older. All five of the hotels were explored. Curiously we’d examine the racing machines, though we really had no clue what we were looking for. Perhaps the lingering smell of gear oil  addicted us somehow, our anticipation of the visitors grew as race weekend got closer!
        If we got real lucky, we’d get to meet a driver! And we did meet some! I met the driver of an orange Late Model in the lot at the Kingsway Motel, who told me, I’m sure in jest, I could buy his #4 for $10. Lenny Pistilli travelled from the Iron Range for the races. Another driver told us of Russ Laursen’s tragic crash, he was in the same race! Where the cars stayed, remained implanted forever, Dave Morgan’s “Stingray 500” parked at the south end of the Fort Motel lot, Dean Harrington’s yellow Ford #U2 in the same lot, where apartments now stand. The ramps on the trailers of the Super Modifieds, folded up over the rear wheels left an impression too!
            Of all the drivers I met in those lots, Tim Lorenz of Ladysmith WI, gave my best friend Jamie Kelner and I our best memories from those lots. Tim raced #9, a light blue 59-60 Corvette Late Model, on a ramp truck similar to Tom Nesbitt’s GMC. As kids were in those days, we were resourceful, if we wanted to do something. We’d usually have to find a way there, and a way to get in as well. We were too young to drive, so what’s the best idea, ask one of the drivers if you could catch a ride! From 1970 through 1972, Jamie & I rode to Riverview atop that truck in that Corvette, then in 1972 a Chevy Nova. Be there for around this time, up into the car for the ride! Hop out at the Riverview gate, over to the pits after the races, for the ride home! Each fall we’d be looking for our visiting hero, and friend. 1972 was the last time, but Tim Lorenz kindness to these kids has lasted a lifetime! Thank you Tim!
            Travelling to Los Angeles in 1990, for the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars at Ascot, we found ourselves again in need of a ride to the track. Staying at the Holiday Inn, in Torrence CA, the lot was filled with race cars. The friend with me asked, how we getting to the races. I answered, we have a ride in the parking lot, “They’re all going to the same place we are”, one was sure to have room! It only took a couple inquiries, to find a ride!
            Travelling to dirt races today, the parking lots are full of cars, where the crews prepare them for that night’s races. It takes me back to the days in those “Lots, of fun” along Kingsway so long ago!
© JMC 2017

*note: Though I grew up just off Kingsway, I never knew that stretch of hotels was referred to as "Motel Row". While in Superior for the races, I was chatting with Rick Cox and Jim Eliason. Rick referred to it as "Motel Row", the first time I'd ever heard it called such.

#4 Lenny Pistilli from the Iron Range, offered my his car for $10

My best friend & I used to ride to Riverview with Tim Lorenz of Ladysmith WI

Russ Laursen of Cumberland WI at the Two Cities Motel

This Super Modified of Steve Schweitzberger, from St Paul MN forever implanted in my memory!

Kids all over a car at the Blue Swan Inn

Don Mack from E. Grand Forks MN at the Holiday Inn

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Neil (Young) went to play for awhile in Thunder Bay...

" On the other side of Winnipeg, Neil and The Squires
played the Zone
But then he went to play,for awhile in Thunder Bay
He never looked back and he’s never coming home"
Randy Bachman "Prairie Town"

Neil Young was born in Toronto Ontario Nov 12 1945 the son of famed Canadian sports writer Scott Young. When his parents divorced Neil moved to Winnipeg with his mother and through the years ,both Toronto and Winnipeg have claimed him as their own native son. Fort William Ontario however,has a bit of a claim of its own.  Neil spent time here in late 1964-65,of his time in Fort William, Neil says in
"Don't be Denied" by John Einarson

 "Fort William is like  a forgotten chapter in my life. It had an immense impact on me because I really started to grow on my own. Fort William was more important than Toronto for me in terms of growth as a singer and songwriter. I gained a lot of valuable experience there."

Several interesting things occured in Fort William. between October 1964,when Neil Young and his band The Squires came to Fort William and June 17th 1965. The Squires travelled to Fort William and secured a one week engagement at The Flamingo Club (aka The Flame) starting Oct 13 ,and returning November 2 for a two week engagement. During the November stay, Neil turned 19,and wrote "Sugar Mountain"at the
Vic Hotel (Victoria Hotel) on his birthday.

While in FW, Neil became friends with local musicians,and with then CJLX DJ Ray Dee (Delatinsky),with Ray becoming a somewhat local contact/manager for Neil.  With Ray Dee as the producer,Neil recorded his singing for the first time Nov 23 1964 during a late night recording session at CJLX studio's on Victoria Ave. Three songs were recorded in that session, "I'll Love You Forever", " I Wonder" and "Together Alone".

In April 1965 Neil and The Squires packed up to move to Fort William.While here a spin off of the Au Go Go Singers "The Company" were playing the 4D (Fourth Dimension), April 18 1965. Young became fast friends with a member of that group in a fateful meeting in Rock and Roll history named Steven Stills. "Cruising around and drinking strong Canadian beer" as Stills recalls,when Stills departed both shared a strong desire to play together. The roots of the Buffalo Springfield had been sewn and the later Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
June 17 1965, Neil headed east to take local musician Terry Erickson to play a gig in Sudbury,with Tommy Horricks and Donny Brown of "The Bonnevilles" joining in. Neil's beloved hearse "Mort" blew its transmission and after being unable to have it repaired headed east to Toronto to his father's home in Toronto with Erickson and Fort William would become a part of Neil's past. "Long May You Run" (1976) which Neil played during the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics tells the story.

"well it was back in Blind River in 1962 (actually 1965) when I last saw you alive,but we missed that shift on the long decline,long may you run."  

 In the waning days in Fort William,the bands name changed as they became "The High Flying Bird". Having been booked to play an engagement at "Smitty's Pancake House" on Memorial Ave,when the ill fated sojourn to Sudbury took place the date went unfulfilled,the sign outside read "The Bird has flown", ending Neil's time in Fort William.
During his time in Toronto, Neil replaced "Mort" with another hearse, and eventually ventured off to Los Angeles in early 1966 with Bruce Palmer in search of Stills, after a previous trip to NYC hoping to connect with Stills, had Stills already gone. Stopped at a red light on Sunset Blvd., Stills spotted a hearse with Ontario plates heading the opposite direction and chased it down believing it was his friend Neil. Young and Palmer teamed up with Stills, Richie Furay and fellow Canadian Dewey Martin to form Buffalo Springfield fulfilling the seed sewn in Fort William with Steven Stills, to play together.
Years later while compiling his Archives collection,out of the blue Neil called Ray Dee inquiring if he still had the masters from that long ago recording session at CJLX. Ray flew down to Young's California ranch with tapes in hand. The two drove across Young's ranch, Neil stopped the truck,and apologized for leaving Ray behind without a word all those years before. Young explained that without "Mort", he couldn't return.
Having left Fort William in his rear view mirrors back in June 1965, Neil Young would return one day,almost 27 years later on May 23rd 1992, to receive an honoury doctrate in music from Lakehead University. During his speech Young recalled his days in the Lakehead,thanked Ray Dee and told the story of "Mort".

Ad in FW Times Journal for their first appearance at the Flamingo in October 1964.

An article by John Einarson, chronicling Young's time in Fort William
appeared in the Chronicle Journal Saturday December 21/1991

Neil received an honorary doctrate in music from Lakehead University
in May 23/1992 with his father Scott attending the ceremony.

On Buffalo Springfield's second album "Buffalo Springfield Again",members listed influences and inspiration's in their career. Fort William appears in the last column,representing Young's time here and maybe a bit for Stills as well. 

John Einarson's "Don't Be Denied" tells of Neil Young's Canada years.

Neil's dad Scott Young wrote this book on Neil

"Shakey" give's great detail of Neil's time in FW and his friendship with Ray Dee

Neil Young Archives Volume 1 Book has six pages on Fort William


Saturday, April 7, 2012

R.M.S. Titanic 100 years have passed...

The story of the Titanic has been well documented over the past 100 years. Deemed to be "almost unsinkable",though this was not from the builder,Harland & Wolff in Belfast,but rather from a trade journal. The Titanic was the middle of three sister ships, Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic, two of the three,Titanic and Britannic had short lives.

Britannic,the third of the sisters was launched in Feb 1914 and was requisitioned into military service as a hospital ship for WW I in 1915. Having completed five successful voyages to the Middle Eastern Theatre and back to the United Kingdom transporting the sick and wounded soldiers,Britannic struck a mine off the Greek island of Kea November 21 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives.

Olympic,the first of the three,was launched in Oct 1910,and was not without incident in its lifetime,which exceeded both sister ships combined. The first incident was Sept 20 1911, when she collided with a British warship, HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. Although the incident resulted in the flooding of two of her compartments and a twisted propeller shaft, Olympic was able to return to Southampton under her own power. In Sept 1915,Olympic was requisitioned by the Admiralty to be used as a fast troop transport and stripped of her peacetime fittings, and armed with 12-pounders and 4.7-inch guns, the newly-designated HMT (His Majesty's Transport) 2810 left Liverpool on 24 September 1915, carrying soldiers to Mudros, Greece. On Oct 1 lifeboats from the French ship Provincia which had been sunk by a U-boat that morning were spotted off Cape Matapan and Olympic picked up 34 survivors.From 1916 to 1917, Olympic was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain.  In Aug 1919 Olympic returned to Belfast for restoration to civilian service,with its interior modernized and boilers converted to burn oil rather than coal. In 1934,at the instigation of the British government,White Star Line merged with the Cunard Line. This merger allowed funds to be granted for the completion of the future RMS Queen Mary. Cunard White Star then started retiring its surplus tonnage, which included the majority of the old White Star liners,sending them to the "breakers". Olympic was withdrawn from service in 1935 and sold to be partially demolished and its final demolition taking place in 1937.Though the majestic Titanic sank on its maiden voyage,and became the greatest maritime disaster in history,with over 1500 deaths,it is a story that will never cease being told.

In the April 15 1912 edition of the Fort William Times Journal, the reports suggested
all onboard were safe and be transported to shore.

But the next day,the news couldn't
have been worse!

A display of books on the Titanic disaster at the Brodie St library,marking the
100th anniversary of the disaster

For some incredible pictures of the Titanic on the bottom of the Atlantic,check out
 National Geographic.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We are all familiar with the "The Twelve Days of Christmas",but has anyone thought of how all those gifts would be received. In Penthouse magazine in 1973,there was a version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" by John Delaney Ford,the result of such extravagance has an interesting result. Enjoy!