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