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

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