Monday, July 1, 2013

The CNE Stock Car Races of the Early Sixties

Actually it was more like the late fifties and 1960.

A word of caution here before I start to write on this subject. I was a very young lad in those days and I am attempting to remember the sights, sounds and smell of that era so some of this might not match the actual history but I will do my best to recreate those magical memories.

The two photos below are being borrowed from the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. I apologize but I took the liberty of running them through Photoshop in attempt to improve the clarity of these wonderful historical images.
Ted Hogan
The gas station where he worked on his car was
located around the corner from Vaughan and St.Clair

Jim Howard
The only thing missing here is the cigar that Jim usually
had hanging from his mouth. He even smoked it in
the pits!!
There's a reason why Ted Hogan's picture is ahead of Howard's for me. My two older brothers introduced me to racing at the venerable old CNE. My first visit to the track was quite the experience for a kid still in elementary school. They were more Howard fans so I naturally took to Ted Hogan. His car was white with red numbers (sort of the knight in shining armor look) and Howard's was black with school-bus yellow numbers and roof (sort of the bad guy look).

The first thing that came to mind as we approached from either the street car loop or the Dufferin gates, (where we lived in Toronto allowed us to get to the CNE grounds either way via public transportation) was the sound of cars practicing. And then there was this sweet smell of burnt fuel (I believe it was methyl alcohol aka methanol) and burning rubber. The super-modified's had a power-to-weight ratio that meant that lots of rubber was laid down on the track from both sheer power and the g-force resistance that you got out of this 1/4 mile oval track.

The Stock Car Races shared the venue with the Toronto Argonauts who have been a long standing member of the Canadian Football League aka CFL. Since the Canadian football field is larger than the American version (particularly the 25 yard end zones), this led to a situation that when football was the venue of the day, the end zones actually protruded out onto the four corners of the track.

I have a recollection of a driver, Glen Schurr or Scherr (I don't remember the proper spelling but it was pronounced like "sure" and I think his car number was 36, maybe 32) spinning out wildly in the western end zone with sod flying in every direction. I'm sure the Argos weren't real pleased.

The track was a symmetrical paved oval that had equal radius corners with no banking to speak of. It had the old Grandstand (partial roof) on the north side and the newly constructed south aluminum seats that you see in the background of the Jim Howard picture. It made for great racing unlike the later version that had late model racing that was an egg-shaped track that had a radius in the east side of the track that was pretty much impossible to navigate.

The cars that drew the most attention were the super-modified's which were constructed on a very loose set of rules by the governing racing body which is something I have absolutely no knowledge as to the persons responsible for such guidelines. Generally speaking they were creations that came out of the minds of working-class individuals that doubled as builder and driver. Jack Greedy was a welder, Hogan was a garage mechanic (to my knowledge) and others were people that tended to build things with their hands. They usually worked in aluminum and sometimes just used old post-war cars like Hogan's vintage Fiat that you often saw converted into an NHRA dragster.
Similar model to Hogan's stock car but
converted into a dragster
Howard's little black beast was a chopped up version of a 1934 Ford as I was told. At one time, one or both cars was on display at the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in Milton, Ontario but that is no longer in operation. They are seeking to locate a new showplace and the cars are in safe storage for now.

Fibreglass or glass-reinforced plastic was not something that was used on the creation of these personal works of art since it wasn't in widespread use at the time, not something that a lot of the participants were comfortable with or was just too expensive to utilize effectively in a home-built race car. They were more likely to find some usable series of parts in the local junkyard.

I'm not sure on some of the following but I remember car #31 (Crag Hill?) in a creation that was made from a jet engine drop tank (or maybe that was Fisher's). More conventional looking cars were 10 or 11 (Jack Greedy), 40 (Norm Mackereth Sr?), 42 (Howie Scannell  Sr) and 77 (Ken Fisher). There were more but that part of the memory banks is real cloudy.

The pits were situated outside of the oval in the southeast corner next to the new open-seating bleachers. And this what was so wonderful for spectators at the time. You could go to the pits before and after the race with no pit pass required. It may have been open during the races, but no spectator was going to miss the events of that evening or afternoon.

After the racing events ended for the evening you might have been witness to some post-race fisticuffs put on by disgruntled participants of the main feature. I am pretty sure that Hogan and Howard went at it more than once. They had a fierce rivalry much like that of Pearson and Yarborough in NASCAR history.

I don't know why I stopped going to the races, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Ted Hogan tragically died in his private airplane on an approach to the Toronto Island Airport which is in spitting distance of the CNE grounds. CNE is short for the Canadian National Exhibition but I think that anyone reading this article would be saying "Duhhhh" right about now.

It was the start of a lifelong love for motorsport for this little guy (not so little amymore lol). That is most definitely how Ned the NASCAR fan came into being.

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