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