Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fort William Gardens

Playing a parents/kids game with my sons in 2010

March 6 2011 marked the 60th anniversary of this Grand Old city landmark. Opened in 1951, the Fort William Garden's has hosted numerous memorable events. For myself I cannot think of a building in Thunder Bay that hold's so many memories. Through the year's,I've attended numerous hockey games,junior,senior, exhibition,and my son's minor hockey games. The Westfort Hurricane's, Fort William Canadian's, Port Arthur Marr's were the first game's I recall attending with kids being warned to keep their noses away from the board's. The Fort William Beaver's vs Port Arthur Bearcat's in their final year's. Thunder Bay Oldtimer's vs Montreal Canadian Oldtimer's circa 1970, Frank Selke Sr was here with the team. The Thunder Bay Vulcan's (featuring Bill Goldthorpe aka Ogie Oglethorpe in Slap Shot) whipping the OHA Jr team's in exhibition game's, Thunder Bay Twins being the dominant Sr hockey team in Canada. I recall attending the Christmas show in the 60's with "George the Porter" & "Suzy Snowflake", attending a Rodeo with my Dad sitting on the west side. Numerous version's of the annual Shrine Circus I attended as well as the Sportsman Show,World of Wheel's Car shows, Roller Skating, etc. Of course concerts were attended ,my first I believe was Lighthouse in 1974. I saw The Bee Gee's,The Stampeders ,Sha Na Na ,Dr Hook, Alabama ,Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Burton Cummings, and The Guess Who in 2000 (the last time FWG was sold out). When Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO) played the Fort William Gardens in June 1975 I had my "Day in Rock & Roll",working on the "Local Crew" helping set up the show. We started unloading the trucks around 11am working continuously right up to show time at 8 pm. Then it was security duty backstage after during the show,a unique experience. I took my parents to the Bob Hope show in Sept 1978, made even more memorable as Mom passed away that November. For the past four winters, my son's have played at the Fort William Gardens in the Northwood Hockey League. Remember how rare it was to get to skate there?
Through the years many big names played in the Fort William Gardens,Liberace,The Bee Gee's,Lighthouse, The Who, Hermans Hermits, The Everly Brothers, AC/DC ,Kenny Rogers, Alabama, Willie Nelson and so many other's. Adding to the list of big name performers at FWG. Bryan Adams returns in May 2012, And John Mellencamp makes a trip to the Gardens June 26/2012 Senior,Junior,NHL Exhibition games featuring Minnesota North Stars,Winnipeg Jets & Calgary Flames. Allan Cup Victories of Thunder Bay Twins,travelling European teams,"All Kids Night" with the Sr Beavers vs the Bearcats,and so much more I recall attending there. While its days are getting numbered, memories at Fort William Gardens will live forever.
Dave Nicholson has put together a page chronicling all the events at the gardens.

CLE Fairgrounds

This 1959 picture of Barry Kettering #57 & Albert Massaro #88 taken by Jack Cummings represents the true meaning of the term "Saturday Night at the Fairgrounds" It was part of a box of CLE photos from 1957-58-59 given to me about 20 years ago by a former co worker.

The CLE Fairgrounds
by Jeff Caldwell
The fairgrounds was opened in 1890,located centrally between the twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur Ontario. The fairgrounds was on both sides of the McIntyre River, with the race track being located on the Fort William side of the property. As with most fairgrounds, the highlight was the annual fair with a large agricultural focus, so it would be with the CLE as well, the first held in 1890 . Most fairgrounds also featured a race track varying in size of usually 1/2 to 1 mile in length, with horse racing during the annual fair(s) as a big attraction. While the 1/2 mile CLE track was originally intended for the horses, the automobile would take to the track as well, and become an added feature at annual fairs. The life of the CLE as an auto racing track would span a period of forty-seven years, from 1912 through the 1966 season, then it would return to the horses exclusively once again. Through that period there would be some great racing, stripped cars, speedsters, motorcycles, the IMCA sprints, through to stock cars and modifieds, they all tore up the CLE dirt. There would however be some down time as well, the great depression and second world war would shut down the racing for a time, but it always returned. All good things ,it is said must come to an end, the last races for the cars were the championship races in October of 1966,Jerry Lepinski took the final super modified race, John Asse took the late model race. In 1967 the horses returned with harness racing being the feature, the stock cars moved to Riverview and back to Murillo, the grandstand burned down and so ended racing at the CLE. The track is now but a memory of days gone by, but what a run it had!

In addition to the photos from 1957-58-59 ,I recovered a box of photos and negatives from 1954-55-56 at the dump moments before they would have been plowed under,gone forever. Sometime's you're in the right place at the right time!

Murillo Speedway

Photos courtesy of Russ Wanzuk
Murillo Speedway

by Jeff Caldwell

The Murillo Speedway like the CLE Fairgrounds was originally built for horse racing at the Murillo Fairgrounds west of Thunder Bay. Murillo was opened in 1891 as a 1/2 mile horse track, and its operation as an auto racing track, though over a number of era's was mostly part time. The first auto races at Murillo were in the 1920's featuring the speedster's of the Twin Cities Motor Contest Association as they split their events between Murillo and the CLE Fairgrounds, racing into the late 1930's at both tracks. The track would remain idle until the early 1950's when Barry Kettering and Tom Dow raced one another there in 1950 and 1951. The Lakehead Stock Car Racing Association chose Murillo as the site for their first race on September 5,1952 during the Murillo Fair, and held another two races there before moving the racing to the CLE upon finding Murillo track conditions not to their desired standards. In 1953 a non Lakehead Stock Car Club event was scheduled for the August 1st & 3rd Civic Holiday long weekend with racing scheduled for Saturday and Monday featuring drivers from Duluth, Minnesota. A new 1/4 mile track was built inside the 1/2 mile track and held up poorly during Saturday's racing and forced the cancellation of Monday's events. Once again the track would remain idle until the 1960's when the CLE track closed, it opened for weekly racing on Saturday nights. The track would operate in 1967,1968 and 1969 running Late Models and Hobby Stocks, and in 1969 the track closed for good. A tentative schedule was drawn up for 1971,but the season never happened. Though the track remains, the only wheels that have turned on it since those race days in the 60's,were "Chariot racing" during the annual fall fair, and the track has returned to the horses. In its lifespan from the 1920's to 1969 Murillo had its moments but was never a regular track but for a couple of years in 1967,'68 & '69 when it closed, more so it was a place to race when a track was needed to race on. It is though a part of Thunder Bay racing history and many got their first taste of racing there, and like all tracks is missed and fondly remembered. During the annual Murillo Fair in Aygust 1987,there was one more auto race on the track. On the Monday of the Fair, August 3rd, the ice racers of the Thunder Bay Autosport Club took to the track for two 8 lap heats, and a 15 lap fearure.

Riverview in Y2K

Ever since Riverview closed in the summer of 1993 there would be rumour's of its re-opening. In the fall of 1999 there was actually some truth to it,a handshake deal was reached to purchase Riverview from Bowater with the words "it looks like you've bought yourself a racetrack" being spoken. There was objection to it by residents near the track calling themselves TBROAR,I found most of their objection's were (as usual) lacking fact and wrote the following letter to the Chronicle Journal refuting the claims.
The Chronicle unfortunately did not run my letter,here it is in its entirety.

 October 2/99 Another Point of View, Re: Riverview Raceway
Having read the various letters on the re-opening of Riverview Raceways, I find the opposition is based more so on a “Not in my neighborhood ” attitude than on actual facts. In particular, reasons for opposition to the facility presented by Ken & Karen Cocks, and their group TBROAR, are misleading, inaccurate, and based without any presented fact(s). In their letter of September 11/99,the Cocks state, they are opposed for “obvious reasons - noise, dust, Increased traffic on Hwy 61,spillage of gasoline, oil and antifreeze into the bordering Kam River.Consider the following facts, 1/ Dust can be kept to an acceptable minimum through proper track preparation, with the track thoroughly watered for a night of racing. This not only keeps the dust down,but also makes for better racing. 2/The noise problem is probably the biggest concern, consider the following, the state of California has the strictest noise laws in the USA, through the use of mufflers, and enforced curfews of generally 11pm,several tracks exist in area’s close to residential areas. For example, tracks in San Jose CA, Chico CA, the former Ascot Park in Los Angeles, and the new Irwindale Speedway, both track and residents co-exist in harmony. Most nights, Riverview started with warm-ups at about 7:00 pm, with the races over by 10:30 pm, a 3 &1/2 hour period. This was not a steady period of on the throttle racing, there was breaks between races, as well as an intermission, is this time period too much to ask for in a week of 168 hours? 3/ The increased traffic on Hwy 61 was directed most race nights by a police officer, this made the exiting from the track orderly & efficient. Is the traffic flow from other local venues, such as the Auditorium, Ft. William Gardens etc handled in this fashion? While a tragedy did occur on Hwy 61,it is not the fault of the track that a fan chooses to drive recklessly after leaving the facility. 4/ Regarding the spillage of gasoline. Most race cars do not operate on gasoline, but use Methanol. Most race cars use very little, if any anti-freeze. As for motor oil it must be disposed of in proper containers provided at the track, this is enforced by the Ministry of the Environment. There is some spillage though, when an engine blows, though it would not be considered an environmental hazard. There has never in the years of the tracks operation been an environmental hazard that I am aware of. Can the Cocks present evidence of one? 5/ The Cocks state concern about disturbing the wildlife at the nature preserve, is the operation of motorboats down the river not disturbing? Is this to suggest that perhaps this activity should be outlawed also? 6/ The Cocks state that the re-opening of Riverview will lower proper values in surrounding developments. Most of these were being developed while Riverview was still operating. I find it quite a stretch that with two major industries (Bombardier & Bowater),two major rail lines, and an airport in close proximity that a race track operating less than 10 hours a week, over 3 1/2 to 4 months would actually affect any property values. This seems more like fear mongering than anything, if the Cocks can provide facts, please do. Their are many residents of these developments that are in favour of Riverview’s revival. Also, how many of the opposed purchased their homes while Riverview was in operation. If so opposed, why would you have bought in that location then? 7/ The Cocks also state that “It is not the big time racing, money drivers and fans you see on tv.” Is this to suggest that unless something is “big-time” that we should not support it? Is that not the attitude that sent the Thunder Cats and Whiskey Jacks packing? Through the years top USA drivers that have appeared include,1949 Indianapolis 500 winner Bill Holland, Four time IMCA National Champion Bobby Grimm, Jerry Richert who was also a Four time IMCA National Champion was a regular competitor at the CLE in the 60’s,as well as Riverview in the 70’s,Doug Wolfgang, arguably one of the greatest sprint car racers of all time raced at Riverview in 1976,these are just a few. Over the past 30 years Tom Nesbitt has dominated the upper mid-west US in the Late Model class winning over 30 track titles, Joel Cryderman is a top Late Model racer in this area today. Both Lyn McIntosh and the late Barry Kettering were champions in the sprint cars of the Midwest Sprint Association in the 70’s. Perhaps this is not “big-time” enough to the Cocks, but it sure is to those who enjoy and know racing. 8/ Despite the hard work of many, as well as good racing, Mosquito has not been the more practical location for racing that they suggest. As with any business, location is the most important factor, car counts as well as attendance has thus suffered with Mosquito’s location. The Cocks ask the question, ”Why should we as property owners bear the blunt discrimination of this so-called automotive opportunity?” Is this not a prime example of the “Not in my neighborhood ” attitude that has derailed so many other ventures that the city and area would have benefited from? Is the ”Not in my neighborhood” attitude of the Cocks and their group TBROAR not “Blatant discrimination” against those who enjoy racing? In the years of its operation, Riverview operated responsibly as a member of the community,and their are no indications that would suggest those re-opening it would operate otherwise. While the Cocks consider Riverview something they do not want in their neighborhood, have they ever attended events at Ft.William Gardens, the CLE, Community Auditorium, P.A. Stadium, etc. I’m certain that some residents in these neighborhood’ s wish these facilities were not in their neighborhood, but they live with them and do not try to deprive those who enjoy these facilities the pleasure they find there. Consider these other facts, 1/ Since first appearing on the local sport scene in the late teen’s, racing has paid its own way, never using taxpayer funds to aid in its operation. While the first few races were merely exhibitions as part of the local fair, racing has otherwise been ran and organizied, by clubs, such as the Twin Cities Motor Contest Association in the 20’s & 30’s , the Lakehead Stock Car Club in the 50’s & 60’s,Thunder Bay Dirt Track Association, or by private operators such as Riverview & Mosquito’s builders were. These groups were and have been responsible for the maintenance and improvement of the track(s) they used, without any use of taxpayers money. Certain cultural entities locally have received local or provincial tax dollars to aid them, racing never has, or will. 2/ Riverview is built on private property, thus paying property taxes, its rebuilding and maintenance will also be done with private money. Nearly all other local sports, as well as cultural entities operate in publicly owned and operated facilities, generating no property taxes, built by and maintained with public funds. Racing contributes to the community economically as well, consider the result of a 1985 study done by the state of Maryland. The study concluded that Hagerstown Speedway, a 1/2 mile dirt track, located near Baltimore, contributed $7,000,000 to the state economy. While this figure may be 15 years old, racing has increased in popularity since that time and it demonstrates the kind of impact such a track can have on the local economy. Hagerstown Speedway operates one night weekly with a couple of two day specials during the season. If you figure in inflation, and conversion into Canadian dollars the re-opening of Riverview would certainly have a very positive effect on the local economy even if its crowds were half of Hagerstown.. 3/ All of the competitors are essentially independent operators, funding their race car from their own pockets. Some may think that sponsors pay the costs, not true, sponsorship dollars help but the bulk of funds come from the racers own pockets and prize money won. 4/ Fall races at both the CLE and Riverview attracted competitors and fans from the US, bringing tourist dollars to Thunder Bay. According to Mr Hayward’s letter of Oct.2/99,many have told him they would like to return. With all the public money spent to attract tourist dollars to our area, is it not a bonus to have private money doing it? 5/ Racing takes place ,20% at the professional level,80% at the non-professional level. It is at tracks like Riverview where legends, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al & Bobby Unser, Richard Petty, etc started their careers. Today’s new stars, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart also started their careers on these tracks. 6/ From the local tracks to the professional level,racing is the last sport where true sportsmanship occurs. It is a very common site for competitors to help one another repair their car or lend parts so they can return to competition. There are many rumours to the proposed use of the Riverview property for non-racing activities, more along the lines of recreational use. If this is true, would it be wise to discourage private funding of such a facility, rather than depend on tax dollars to do the same. Names I’ve heard associated with Riverview are those of racing people, and I doubt that without the track running, any other recreational development on the site would take place. Certainly the Cocks & TBROAR are entitled to present their opinions, but please present facts. Better yet, come out to the races and see what good people racers are, and the great entertainment they provide. I am in full support of the re-opening of Riverview, and am certain that it will present the same or even better quality entertainment than it did in its previous existence. Hopefully it will come to fruition.

Riverview Raceways

When racing ended at the CLE a new location was needed for racing locally. Riverview was opened in 1967 and ran until 1993. I did attend a few races at the CLE but it was really at Riverview where my love of racing formed. I loved the early years with the 55-57 Chevies and the Studebaker's the Nesbitt's and a few others raced and in the fall fell in love with the sprint cars! Remember the Hobby Stock Feature starting three abreast,and the Figure 8 season ending race,and of course the Demo Derbies?

Riverview Raceways
by Jeff Caldwell

Located on Highway 61 on the edge of Thunder Bay, Riverview was a 3/8 mile dirt oval that operated from 1967 to July 1994. The roots of Riverview Raceway can be traced back as early as 1956 when permits were approved by the Municipality of Neebing, Municiple Board of Ontario, Department of Highways and the approval by plebicite for Sunday sports in Neebing. EJ (Jim)Bernosky had tried to attract the Lakehead Stock Car Club to relocate to his location, attending their meetings annually,but had been unsuccessful. When weekly racing ceased at the CLE Fairgrounds in 1964,Club officials Al Massaro and Ed Colosimo approached Bernosky in the winter of 1965 in an attempt to kick start local racing. A tentative deal was reached, but fell through after the parties couldn’t agree on the length of the deal.. In the early sixties, a group of local hot-rodders formed a car club, calling themselves the Northern Ontario Timing Association. As their name would suggest, there were several drag racing enthusiasts, with one of the objective’s being the building of a local drag strip. Thus, in the fall of 1966 members of the approached EJ Bernosky and a mutual agreement to proceed with the building of a stock car track came after several meetings between the two parties. The club would build the track, Bernosky would build the seating and concessions. The club would then use its funds from the dirt track to build its drag strip on the same property at a later date. With the assistance of several local businesses and countless hours of volunteer labour Riverview Raceways became a reality and would have both property owner E.J. Bernosky and the Northern Ontario Timing Association as co-operators of the track. The initial track plan was patterned after the half mile CLE track, but during its construction was reduced to a three eighths mile, similar to Proctor Speedway in Duluth MN.
Riverview would host Late Models and Hobby Stocks in 1967 Sunday afternoon’s on a weekly basis with the first race taking place July 10th 1967,with 24 cars competing, and a crowd of more than 2500 fans. Flagged by Pappy Fowler, feature wins were taken by CLE veteran Al Massaro in the Late Model's and Richard Foreman in the Hobby Stock's. The quick times for the day, though they would be broken almost every following week that season were. Al Massaro and Riece Stewart at 27.0 seconds in Late Model,Terry Cuff and Billy Rea at 32.0 seconds in the Hobby Stocks. As with most race tracks there were grumblings from neighbors about noise and dust though they had little effect as the proper channels were followed in its construction and racing would continue unimpeded. Though the track first opened on July 10th,the "official opening" was held July 17th with local dignitaries on hand,the track records would fall dramatically as well, with Don Young knocking 2 full seconds off the Late Model time with a lap at 25.0 seconds, three full seconds were knocked off the Hobby stock time by Bunny Massaro and Gary Young at 29.0 seconds. Tom Nesbitt would win his first Riverview feature that day in the Late Model class, this would of course be a very common occurance in the following years, Billy Rea won the Hobby Feature, and Riverview was officially on its way. With each race day, both car counts and the crowd size would increase, crowds would vary in size from 1500 fans to as high as 3,300 plus for a regular race day. Riverview would in late summer have to contend with the re-opening of the Murillo Speedway, headed by Al Massaro under the name, Lakehead Stock Car Racing Association, the two tracks would go head to head on Sunday afternoon's the rest of the season. In 1968 Murillo would switch to Saturday nights as it had tried on its first meet in '67. The premier season at Riverview was a resounding success with large crowds and high car counts, including some USA racers appearing for some weekly shows,a number of special features which included "Powder Puff" and "Media" races. Tom Nesbitt took the lions share of feature wins in the Late Models ,winning races , took the most wins in the Hobby Stock class. Through the season, the track got faster and faster as each week the fast time would be a new track record,at seasons end it would drop to 22.0 seconds, set by Johnny Asse of Duluth, MN a full 5 seconds faster than opening day! The track champions in that first year were Don Young in Late Model and Bill Rea in Hobby Stocks. In the fall Invitational Championships held on September 16 & 17th,the classes would be,Late Models, Super Modifieds/Sprints and Sportsman. The Invitationals were a huge sucess with an announced crowd of 7,000 fans present,fast times were, Ron Belland in a Late Model at 21.3,Jack Solinger in a Sportsman 22.2 and the fastest time was Bud Peterson and Russ Laursen in Super Modifieds at 20.9. Trophy Dash winners were Tom Nesbitt in Late Model, Bill Nelson in Sportsman and Barry Kettering in Super Modified. The 25 lap feature winners were Johnny Asse in Late Model, Bill Nelson in Sportsman and Russ Laursen in the 50 lap Super Modified feature, top local racers were Tom Nesbitt 3rd in Late Models and Lyn McIntosh 6th in Super Modifieds. Former local racer Barry Kettering now from Richfield, Minnesota finished in front of McIntosh in 5th and they would finish one behind the other an incredible amount through their careers. Riverview ran Sunday afternoon's from 1967 through 1972,with regular racing ending in mid 1972. The fall Invitational Sprint & LateModel races were run 1973 through 1976 when there was no weekly racing at the track. The track re-opened weekly racing in 1976 on Wednesday nights (a local race night previously at the CLE track) with Late Model Street Stock and Diamond classes,more to come.....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Short but Brilliant History of the Midwest Sprint Association

photos by Brian Skedgel,Jeff Caldwell,Phil Dullinger

by Marsh Muirhead
from Open Wheel Magazine Oct 1982

Once upon a time not so very long ago,say 1973,a group calling itself the Midwest Sprint Association. Its dream was to be what CRA or WoO have become. It failed in its goal. In fact the MSA,if not nonexistent,is only an occasional heartbeat in the life of racing in the area now. For a few years,however,the fans and drivers and car owners had a hell of a good time as they went to any track that would have them in pursuit of the glory and the dream that is sprint racing.
Drivers under the MSA banner included locals Barry Kettering,John Stevenson Bob Hop and Jerry Richert. Invading talent like Don Mack,Dick Sutcliffe and Doug Wolfgang added not only to competition but also prestige to the organization. The machines were of Hill,Trostle,King and “backyard” mint with an occasional resurrected supermodified or stretched midget thrown in.
Twenty five tracks in five states and Canada hosted point meets for the group. Most of these were quarter mile ovals,five were half mile dirt circuits including those at Knoxville,Fargo and Fairmont,Minnesota. Contrasting these lightning fast bowls were Rice Lake,Wisconsin’s one-fifth mile flat dirt circle,a one third mile tri-angle course at Fountain City in the same state,and Minnesota Nationals three-eighth mile paved facility south of the Minneapolis suburbs.
At first the club’s premise was to race anywhere for anything. A reputation would be established by competitive racing,good looking cars and those little extras like flashy driver introductions and parade laps. Forty seven dates were booked in that first year. The men of the MSA were busy twisting the wheels of their mighty machines as often as five nights per week. seven races in eleven days in 1974 involved a towing distance of just under two thousand miles! Keep in mind that these men were basically amateurs-weekend races-and prize money those first years varied from good to almost nothing. A driver could pick up over a thousand dollars at some of Neil Larson’s show’s at North Star or Fairmont,but there were some cold nights at Princeton when the total purse was $600 and a win in the main paid $75! Princeton,a small farming community fifty miles north of Minneapolis,was the Friday night stop for the group in ‘73 and ‘74. The tight quarter mile oval at the fairgrounds had run stockers and supers for years and the latter had evolved into full sprints by the time the MSA was formed. The old covered grandstand there was only eight or ten rows high but it lined the track from turn four to a ways beyond turn one. If one chose,and many did,you could have sprint cars almost in your lap by sitting in the front row. A three foot high board fence and a roll of chicken wire were all that separated the breathless fan from the right rear wheels of as many as sixteen sprinters blurring by at ninety MPH. It was a unique place to watch racing-you could feel it and taste it and smell it as no where else. The sprinters rarely run there anymore. The management and the open-cockpit set parted ways after the ‘74 season-due to differences involving not only prize money, but also the question as to which class should dominate. There were some memorable incidents from those Friday nights,however,that must be recalled. Speed Chamberlain,a veteran from the glory days of IMCA,was hot lapping his pearl and chrome number 7 one night when he suddenly disappeared over the bank on the number three turn. The officials hadn’t noticed this but Speed’s crew did and scampered across the track at the first break in traffic. They found their driver hanging unconscious in the overturned racer. Untrained in rescue procedures,they enthusiastically righted the car-its pilots torso flopping about as the machine settled back on four wheels. Speed came to a few moments later,asked what the hell happened,and then insisted on running his scheduled heat. He finished second in a field of nine. The MSA’s efforts to attract outsiders paid off at Princeton’s opener in April of ’74. the early season date and lots of publicity drew a record crowd and number of cars to the pits. the crowd,already excited over the big field of sharp new cars,really started buzzing when a copper and orange number 18 sprinter bearing Missouri plates. It was Dick Sutcliffe. Until that night,an outlaw was someone who pulled in from Duluth or Fargo,and those who knew of Sutcliffe and his exploits at places like Knoxville were with anticipation. Dick was loaded with charisma. He was big and looked mean to those who didn’t know him. He sat high in the car and his shoulders stuck out both sides. He made the average sprint car look like a midget. He frequently draped one paw over the roll cage during slow warm-ups. It was said by some that certain male glands of his were as big grapefruits,and that he didn’t put his pants on one leg at a time. When the green went out during hot-laps Dick stood on it,and the Trostle racer jerked forward with an explosion of noise and spraying clay. The left front never touched the ground as the Missouri invader pitched himself around that little oval like no one had seen before. He ran away from the field in his heat and ran wheel to wheel with Dave Skari in the dash until the two collided on the white flag lap. Both men started the main but it was perennial track champion Barry Kettering who took the checker. Princeton had a way of getting glassy-hard by feature time and it was usually a track veteran who found the fast set-up. Nevertheless,Sutcliffe’s appearance spread racing fever to Minnesota race fans early that year. For most of its history,North Star Speedway,just north of the Twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul,was the Sunday night home of the Midwest Sprint Association. It was wide,moderatley banked,and it was surfaced with clay and rocks. The rock situation improved a little each year but lots of heavy screen was still used into the ‘75 season. Several drivers were knocked silly or bloodied by flying stones and rock picking sessions became a regular Saturday afternoon event. Neil Larson promoted the place in ‘73 and ‘74 and put on some class shows. Fields of thirty to forty cars were not uncommon. Larson was the last of the big time spenders as far as sprint car racing in Minnesota is concerned. He also ran the fast half mile oval at Fairmont where weekly late model shows were supplemented by big sprint specials three or four times a year. Men like Goodwin,Opperman,Shuman and Ed French towed in for excellent purses.
Larson was publicity conscious and made a real effort to curry favor with local sportswriters who should have been covering his shows without coaxing. North Star’s greatest media event, however was unplanned and came on the opening night of the 1973 season. It was the most spectacular wreck in the track’s history. A couple of cars spun in the dust coming out of two in the feature. Darryl Dawley collided with Leonard McCarl and Dawley bounced end over end down the backstretch as McCarl’s rolling sprinter burst into flames and sent a sheet of fire fifty feet down the track. Amidst the fire and steam and pieces of chrome and fiberglass that filled the night sky,other cars spun and crunched. Amazingly only Bob Hop was injured with minor leg wounds. The story was all over town on Monday. People who had never heard of North Star were now aware that some big time dirt racing was going on north of the city. Larson,in a gesture of both thanks and sympathy,paid the five car owners who sustained the brunt of the damage in the crash each $200. It was a mistake. Others, whose machines had suffered blown engines and other expensive but unspectacular misfortunes,felt slighted. A tongue in cheek question in the pits the next week was, ”How high must one flip for the added allowance?” Larson was never again so generous. Buzz Beck took over the facility in ‘75 and the sprinters continued to run strong with Stevenson,Richert and Hop in torrid action. Its closure to commercial development after the ‘79 season was a major factor in the demise of MSA as a significant racing club. The “travelling” dates were really a kick - especially when the sprinters were in an area where such cars were rarely or never seen. Hot-laps were followed by open mouths,screaming children,and the hysterical babble of those who have seen a miracle.
The MSA group made stops at places like Rice Lake,Wisconsin,where the bellow and roar of 600 h.p. engines echoed back from the hills and big stands of pine that surrounded the one-fifth mile dirt oval. The field caught its tail in three laps and the main event was like a hoard of hornets in a tiny jar. Hutchinson,Minnesota’s McLeod County Fair hosted the car’s for three years in late August. Sprinters hadn’t churned the sandy dirt here since Frank Winkley pulled the IMCA set into town in the late fifties. The half mile was lined on the backstretch by willow trees and by cattle barns in three and four. Half buried tires lined the inside-the treacherous things put Pat Willis and Ron Shuman on their heads on a Sunday afternoon in 1974. Racing here was a photographer’s dream. The intense afternoon sun reflected off chrome and brightly painted racers as they emerged from billowing clouds of black dirt. The narrow turns kept the cars bunched and allowed lenseman close to the action. The MSA made no attempt to sign dates at Hutchinson after 1975. The fair board insisted on a $2.50 top ticket price and even with good crowds the purse wasn’t worth risking life and limb-if such risks can ever be given a dollar value.
Minnesota National,a three-eighths mile paved oval south of Minneapolis,invited the club down several times for “Speed Sport Spectaculars”. The sprints ran in conjunction with late models, hobby stocks,karts,cycles and whatever else the promoters could assemble. The term “spectacular” certainly applied to the open cockpit events. Many drivers found the switch from dirt to tar difficult and showers of sparks were common in the first few appearances of the MSA.
The track management there hyped the initial races with the entry of SCCA champion Jerry Hansen. His exotic Formula A rear-engined road racer was not only superior to even the finest sprint cars-it was a whole different realm of auto racing and the MSA men protested. The promoters insisted on Hansen’s entry for its publicity value but smoothed things over by paying Hansen from a separate fund. He would also start all events from the rear. That only made things more embarrassing. The low orange number 44 lapped the entire field after a dozen laps. He toyed with the cars in the second 20 lap heat but the ploy was obvious and the humiliation was even greater. Hansen was scheduled to run against the group yet another time on a different evening. Time has blurred the reason why the sprinters gave in again. Perhaps it had to do with the original premise of the club-to race anywhere for anything and apparently,against anything. This time,however Hansen didn’tmake it through the maze of scrambling sprinters. He got run over. It wasn’t intentional and he wasn’t injured,but the cheer from the dirt track contingent in the stands expressed a common feeling. Rear-engined cars are not sprint cars. They may run faster than the uprights but the image that is unique to sprints is not theirs and they do not belong. Further shows were run without the gimmick and Kettering,Richert,Ron Larson,Joe Demko and Bill Dollansky waged some good wars on the tar. The only other pavement date for the MSA was at the prestigious Minnesota State Fair in 1978. The whims of the powers that be and a concern over an adequate field prevented a return. Although visiting talent like Wolfgang,Goodwin,and Mack posted impressive wins at some big money dates in the first years of the MSA,the circuit became the property of Barry Kettering. He won close to forty main events and was after the club’s fourth season championship when he was killed at Fairmont in 1976. Barry was good on dirt or pavement-on short tracks or on big ones. He was smooth and professional and when the conditions were to his liking he could be a real charger. He rarely took unnecessary risks-unlike Dave Skari or Darryl Dawley, contemporaries of Ketterings who also died in sprinters. Perhaps that is why Kettering’s death was such a shock to many. His image as a suburban businessman with a family and his pipe in mouth friendly manner seemed to render him immune from the ever-present possibility of death. It is ironic that the end came to the careful, well prepared driver via an apparently broken seatbelt during a routine flip-the kind that a hundred drivers a season step out of unscathed. Few of the club’s members knew how influential Barry’s manner and style and devotion to the sport were in advancing the MSA’s image and reputation. Promoters, fair board members,and fans found it hard to believe that this intelligent,reasonable man with the pipe and three-piece suit was the suit was the same person who manhandled the famous red and white number 57. Barry once towed his washed and polished racer down to a small track near Austin,Minnesota on a free Saturday night to promote a series of upcoming MSA races. During the intermission of the stock car program he strapped himself in, rumbled out on to the track,and made a few reconnaissance laps. Then he stood on it,spraying clay into the darkness and terrifying the locals,many of whom had never seen the ultimate in dirt track machines. Going into three,Barry hit a rut and bicycled it up to the top before bringing it down and hitting the power again for a final pass in front of the grandstand. Barry’s fee for the advertisement was gas money,$20. When Barry went over the wall at Fairmont in his last race everyone,and racing in particular lost a great friend. Surely the MSA lost a great deal-much of its competitiveness,its professional image,its fun,its spirit. Bob Hop dominated the MSA points race after Kettering’s death. In fact he took four championships -sharing the ‘78 title in a controversial split with Steve Schweitzberger and Lyn McIntosh.
When North Star closed down after the ‘79 season the club was left without a home track. Enthusiasm among officials and competitors flagged and the last season title was won by Bill Dollansky in a schedule of less than two dozen dates. The fact that MSA is no longer active is neither a sad situation nor an important one. It served a function-organizing owners and drivers into action at a time when the thunder was dying off in the warm summer skies over Minnesota.
New promoters and clubs are already gearing up to fill the void left by the MSA. Sanctioning groups come and go as they always have,but the sprint car and its special kind of driver will persist here-doing what they have done for decades-quickening the heartbeats and tightening of the throats of those of us who watch-letting us in-if only as spectators-on the sound and fury of life on the ragged edge.

The Thunder Bay Invader

Above photos by Brian Skedgel

By Marsh Muirhead
from Open Wheel Magazine April 1983

There are few real heroes. To be a hero,a man has to do exceptional things. He’s got to be an outstanding race car driver,or overcome a terrible disease,or shoot for the Olympics,or overcome a terrible injury from a crash or be absolutely fearless. Meet Lyn McIntosh. He’s done all that and more. If it seems that surviving a horrible crash and cancer and exploring a quest for Olympic Gold coupled with some great rides in the most unforgiving race cars on earth are too much for one man,perhaps its time to meet a true hero. Lyn McIntosh fits the head definition. He hails from Thunder Bay,Ontario on the northwest shore of Lake Superior. Thunder Bay,a place a racer ought to come from. There’s a catch though. Its a 700 mile tow from Thunder Bay to the nearest place Lyn can call a home track - Knoxville,Iowa. Things used to be closer to home. McIntosh raced the modifieds and the supers in Thunder Bay and at places like Superior and Rice Lake,Wisconsin. When fellow Canadian Barry Kettering moved to Minneapolis and got into sprinters,Lyn made the switch too and made regular forays into Minnesota for IMCA,MSA and other shows. He beat some of the best on the fast black banks at Fargo and took main event wins at Grand Forks and Princeton. He won an MSA championship in 1978 and took back to back victories in the Russ Laursen Classic in Superior,Wisconsin in 1978 & 79. In 1973 he ran second to Jerry Hansen’s SCCA formula car in the “Minnesota Golden 200”. When open-cockpit action practically dried up in the area in the late 70’s,Lyn went as far as he had to for the thrill of strapping himself into 600 horsepower of craziness-Knoxville. Round trip driving time to the weekly show: 28 hours! That terrifying oval repaid the loyal visitor by almost killing him at the 1980 Nationals. Lyn clipped a spinning Ronnie Daniels in Fridays Mystery Feature and went for the ride of his life-a hideous series of snap rolls that made his face turn black and swell like a balloon in the hours after the crash. He recollects it as a very bad deal. “I remember it (the crash) starting and then being in the Knoxville hospital. The people there told somebody to take me to Des Moines-there wasn’t anything they could do there. I guess I was semi-conscious and it scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know how bad I was hurt. They were afraid I had head injuries because my face and head had swollen so much. On the way to the Des Moines hospital it hurt so bad I couldn’t believe it. The guy in the ambulance kept trying to reassure me and then I guess I went out again. Then I don’t remember anything for a couple of days and it was February before I had my shit together.” Lyn spent two weeks recovering in the hospital and many more at home. Three vertebrae were fractured and his wrist and collarbone were broken.
In the spring after the Knoxville accident the bones had healed and The Thunder Bay Invader was ready again. Other men might have called it quits entirely or else hired another driver just to be near the action. Not this man. “I went to Knoxville in the spring. It was the first place I raced. We didn’t go too bad. I found it hard to get going fast there though. We went good at Hartford and Fargo-they’re fast and toward the end of the year I got going at Knoxville too. I think that out of the last five times we went there I won four heats. We usually broke in the feature. This year I went back too for the first race-when Gary Scott got killed. That took a lot of wind out of my sails. I don’t know why. I knew him fairly well but he wasn’t a friend-not like I knew Barry or Skari or Russ-they were good friends yet it bothered me more than they did-it just started to seem senseless.” Barry Kettering,Dave Skari and Russ Laursen were all good friends of Lyn McIntosh. They all drove sprinters and they were all killed in them. Lyn won the Russ Laursen Classic twice. He won the Skari Memorial in Fargo in 1978,and took the Barry Kettering Memorial in their hometown of Thunder Bay in 1981. The bizarre irony of all this requires no comment. It does ,however raise the frequent question posed to drivers as to whether they are either very brave or very stupid. “I think they’re a little of both. You can’t say driving isn’t dangerous-no way-but I don’t do it because its not safe. I’m not a martyr trying to kill myself but I’ve seen too many people killed or hurt bad to say its not dangerous. On a little track its not bad but when you stick em on Hartford or I-70 they’re going fast and they just come unglued when they tip over. But I’m a fatalist. I really believe that when my number is up its up. I’m not ready to go stick my head in the lion’s mouth but I’m actually more leery of being hurt than being killed because I’m going to get killed one way or another.” One way to die is of course in a race car. Another is disease-like cancer. Lyn beat that one too. “Four years ago I had cancer-in the fall of 1978 and winter of 1979. I had complications from it and I thought I was going to die. I really did. I had an operation for bladder cancer. They cut half of it out. But I had a bowel obstruction and it became a really serious deal. I was weighing 80 pounds and was so weak they couldn’t operate. Well I pulled that one off but I figure somebody’s got the numbers and when the cards run out they run out-whether you’re driving a sprint car or happen to get sick or you’re riding an airplane that crashes.” Lyn’s wife,Lenore and the kids-AJ,Trish and Doug-thought they’d lost him more than once during the whole ordeal. When he came through it Lenore felt it had been one of the best things that ever happened to them. She says,”It was really a positive experience-you wouldn’t believe all the love and support we got. Lyn got calls from all over the world when people heard he was sick. Our whole philosophy changed-you see that life’s too short-you really have to try what you have to try.” Since then Lyn has had a clearer vision-a mellow sort of boldness he didn’t have before. Lenore enjoys the racing more now too. She used to be quite nervous but now she takes it all in stride-laid back,one day at a time. McIntosh is a warrior with class. He knows about the excellence of the noble quest. He was assistant program director for the Canadian Ski Team in 1973 and 1974 and in the 1975-76 season he was the women’s coach. He guided the team in training and competition in South America,Japan and in Europe and he shared in the glow of Olympic Gold when Kathy Kreiner won the giant slalom at Innsbruck. The quest now is 100 %,foot to the floor.”I’ll tow anywhere” sprint car racing. Lyn makes no mention of USAC or champ cars on the Brickyard but he would really like to put in a big swing with the World of Outlaws. “I’d like a chance to do it right once. I think when you’ve raced as long as I have you like to be with the best guys and try that. Given proper financing I’d like to do it for one year. If I didn’t make any money I could say I tried and I’m not as good as they are. And if I made money I’d stay with them.” Lyn says his performance picks up just running with the Outlaws a few times a year. His coaching experience is evident when he talks about concentration,hand-eye coordination and going to the limit in competition. He has nothing but praise for the WoO bunch. “Guys like Doug Howells,Karl Kinser and Gary Stanton can stand in the infield and tell you more about a car than the driver can-they’re excellent people.” He feels that the drivers too are men of unusual talent backed by the most sophisticated machinery in the history of the sport. The dominant names are of course,Steve Kinser,Doug Wolfgang and Sammy Swindell. “Those guys have run together since the outlaws started and they race almost constantly. When one of them wins the others run a little bit harder. The next time they all push a bit harder yet. They move their limit up a little each time. They’ve really brought a high level of professionalism to sprint car racing. Whether that’s good or not I’m not sure. They have really put a lot of guys out to lunch. There’s no room for the weekend racer anymore.” Co-owners of the Invader,Murray Robinson and Pat Slivinski in addition to McIntosh are ready and willing to follow the outlaw dream. A group of Thunder Bay businessmen each kick in a few hundred dollars every year and they represent the Invader name. for an all-out run in 1983,however McIntosh is putting together a formal presentation for major sponsorship. It is necessary for a serious effort. “You have to remember the Canadian dollar is worth only $ .75 down here-you cross the line and you’ve got three-quarters of what you thought you had. And living way up where we do it costs us three hundred bucks just for gas to Iowa. We have one motor. We might go down to Knoxville or an NSCA race and if we break the motor we don’t have another to put in. The $500 or so it takes just to get us down there is out the window and we still have to replace the motor.” Lyn McIntosh is forty years old. This man with a dream -this special man among special men -has to consider that someday that helmet comes off for good. “Its a high when you do well. You can never explain it to anybody for all the frustration there is to it,but the highs make it a worthwhile deal. “ “ I couldn’t be a race fan or just stand around and haunt everybody. I went to the Nationals this year just to watch and I ended up helping Tim Gee-he’s another Canadian. It made me feel a part of it rather than standin’around with my hands in my pocket going for coffee. Watching just doesn’t turn me on. Neither does fishing or anything else for that matter. Maybe that’s my problem. I don’t have anything else to turn to. I’ve been hooked on racing so long its hard for me to think that sometime it will be enough. I don’t know when enough will be.” Lyn’s last race of the 1982 season was at the Proctor Speedway near Duluth in late August. Lyn had his heart and foot in it but the Invader was tired and ill-handling and rode just behind the leaders, inconspicuously, working hard at what was possible. In the feature somebody spun in the first turn and Lyn couldn’t avoid him and his car vaulted onto its side after the impact. The motionless driver was not hurt. He yelled something about “getting this damn thing back on its wheels” to his crew and they waved the safety people away.He was pushed off to a sixth place finish-with a battered wing and a fresh determination for the 1983 season. Heroes are like that.