Tuesday, September 14, 2021
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
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.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The First Race Sept 18 / 1914
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
played the Zone
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."
Vic Hotel (Victoria Hotel) on his birthday.