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While CanadianRacer.com previously covered CNE
Speedway's short-lived rebirth in 1990, the real glory years
of racing at Exhibition Stadium were from 1952 to 1966. Massive
crowds, up to nineteen thousand fans, were on hand to see the stars
of the era.
Fred Hamilton headed the group that was awarded the contract by
the City Parks Committee to run stock car racing at the CNE. This
created some controversy as the contract was never tendered.
The original track was surfaced with cinder and was one-third-mile
long. The Exhibition Stock Car Racing Association was the group
that ran the races which ran on Tuesday and Friday nights. Harley
Morden was the Race Director. The drivers were all members of the
Canadian Stock Car Racing Club. Admission cost for fans in that
first season was $1.00 for adults and 50 cents for children. Purses
were paid as a percentage of the paid attendance. The highest winner
payout in the 1952 season was $900.
The opening night of racing was April 22, 1952. It was a cold, rainy
night but 7,981 fans showed up. The rain didn't stop the racing
though. Since the grandstands were covered, the CNE raced rain or
shine. In the early years, the race program consisted of eight races:
3 heat races, a novice race, a consolation race, two semi-finals
and the feature. Tom Forbes of Islington won the first feature at
the new CNE Speedway.
Attendance reached its peak for the July 1 50-lapper when a capacity
crowd of 19,616 was on hand and the promoters had to turn some fans
The Midgets made an appearance on July 5, 1952 with Vern Herriman
winning the 25-lap feature. The night also featured a 3-lap race
between Norm Brioux and Ted Hogan who were trying midgets for the
promoter Ed Otto brought the NASCAR Late Models to the CNE on July
31, 1952. This was not the Grand National Division (i.e. Winston
Cup / Nextel Cup) but a short track series that had many of the
stars of the GN Series. The race was 300 laps (100 miles) and was
open to 1949-52 cars. Lee Petty won the race by 3 laps over Ray
Duhig in second and Pappy Hough in third. Canadians Norm Brioux,
Lloyd Shaw and Ralph Spencer finished tenth through twelth respectively.
Len Hurley was the other Canadian in the race. Brioux would have
finished even higher but he spent 10 minutes in the pits with spark
Racing shut down after the NASCAR event in order to make room for
the annual Canadian National Exhibition. When the racing returned
on September 12, the track had been paved at a cost of $13,000.
Lap speeds increased dramatically (about 2 seconds) which caused
more serious accidents. It was now common for cars to smash right
through the wooden fence.
The Midgets returned
on September 20 for their second event of the 1952 season with Roy
Graham winning the 28 lap feature.
The 1952 season
wrapped up on Oct 13 with a 70 lap feature won by Ted Race. Total
attendance for the season was near 400,000. Norm
Brioux was the first winner of the Molson Trophy as CNE Points Champion.
In January of
1953, Fred Hamilton approached the Parks Committee with a proposal
to race on Sunday afternoons in the fall. The application was rejected
by City Council in February.
Branston - 1953
The 1953 season
opened on Friday, April 3 with 16,275 fans in attendance and 52
cars in the pits.
Late Models made the first of two 1953 appearances on July 21, 1953.
The 250-lap race was won by Bob Welborn. Andy Winfree was second
and Jim Reed was third. The top finishing Canadians were Ivan Boone
and Phil Major who finished eighth and ninth respectively. Other
Canadians in the race were Wallie Branston, Ted Gilbert, Len Hurley,
Ralph Spencer and Mel Littlejohn. The
total purse was $4000 with $750 going to Welborn.
The second visit for the NASCAR Late Models was on September 29
for another 250-lapper. Canadian Norm Brioux had the fastest car
but two cut tires kept him out of the lead. Bob Welborn won the
race over Jim Reed in second and Virgil Stockton in third. Brioux
ended up fifth.
The 1953 season closed out on Oct 12, Thanksgiving with a 75 lapper.
Wallie Branston won 9 features in 1953 but the points battle was
between Ben Lalomia, Ted Race and Norm Brioux with Lalomia coming
out on top as points champion.
McClure was named Race Director in the off-season between 1953 and
He replaced Harley Morden who was focusing
on Speedway Park.
stars of the first few years included Wallie Branston, Norm Broiux,
Ted Hogan, Ted Race, Ralph Spencer, Ben Lalomia, Tony Occhino, Hugh
Darragh, George Bowers, Len Hurley and Jimmy Howard.
The engine rules were opened up for 1954.
There had been a 300 cubic inch limit in the first two seasons but
for 1954 the cubic inch limit was removed. Overhead cams were still
The 1954 opener was April 16. It was a cold
and rainy day but the crowd was 10,362.
The rainy and
cold weather continued thorughout the spring but the fans came any
way. The Toronto Star reported that average attendance for
the first 9 events was 9,508.
of Sunday racing was raised again in the spring of 1954, but again
the idea was shot down by City Council.
barely escaped death on July 9, 1954 when was hit by the race car
driven by Phil Major. Major and Duncan Mayo collided coming out
of turn 4, causing Major's car to spin into the infield. Kennedy
saw it coming and tried to jump onto the stage in the infield. The
impact threw Kennedy 25 feet in the air and he landed 35 feet away
on the platform. He suffered a broken arm, broken shoulder, two
broken ribs. Kennedy always worked down on the track, despite the
fact that there was a traditional, elevated starter's stand.
The NASCAR Late
Models returned on July 20, 1954 for a 250-lap feature. Jim Reed
won by 7 laps over second place finisher Bob Welborn. The night
also included the regular CNE racers.
Ted Hogan had been the points leader throughout
the early part of the 1954 season. George Bowers eventually overtook
him and was the points leader when the racing took a break to make
room for the Canadian National Exhibition. The drivers held a meeting
on the evening of August 2 and decided to race at Speedway Park
on Highway 7 on Tuesday and Friday nights while the CNE was being
held. It appears that they only raced on Fridays though.
racers returned after the CNE to finish out the 1954 season in late
September and early October. George Bowers held on to win the Bradings
Points Championship and $650. Ben Lalomia of Buffalo won the the
75-lap Fall Championship to end the season on October 11.
During the off-season
between 1954 and 1955, yet another attempt was made to introduce
Sunday afternoon racing. The Parks Committee voted in favour of
two Sunday afternoon shows on a trial basis with the proceeds going
to charity. The controversy continued throughout the spring. In
June, the request was withdrawn by the CNE promoters.
practice session was held on April 2, 1955 and over 3000 fans turned
out to watch.
Kennedy, the CNE starter, was back at his old job on opening night,
fully recovered from his injuries (although still limping). April
9 was the second night of the 1955 and it was designated as a benefit
night for Kennedy as the racing's proceeds were turned over to him.
On April 22,
a new division was added to program. The Jalopy division was meant
for new drivers and there was a $150 claim rule for the whole car.
The Jalopies (or Amateurs as they were properly called) didn't run
a feature in the early years.
A crowd of 18,000
was on hand for regular racing plus a NASCAR Late Model 150-lapper
on June 14. The opening laps were a fender-banging battle between
Bob Welborn and Jim Reed. By the half-way point the two drivers
had lapped the entire field. On lap 103 a bump by Reed caused one
of Welborn's tires to go flat. He pitted and lost three laps. Reed
went on to win the race while Lee Petty finished second and Gwyn
Staley was third.
A near riot broke out at the end of the race. While Reed was at
the start-finish line receiving the winner's award, Welborn parked
his car on the track and ran at Reed, swinging wildly. He was pulled
away by two police officers and assistant starter Eric Robertson.
Welborn got back in his car and instead of exiting the track, he
drove it close to where Reed was standing, narrowly missing many
people in the large crowd that had begun to gather. Welborn did
one more lap repeating the same stunt. This time, three police officers
pulled Welborn from his car and escorted him from the track. Promoter
Ernie Leiberman stated that Welborn would not be allowed to return
to the CNE until he had been disciplined by NASCAR.
of Speed" Late Model series came to the CNE on July 22, 1955.
The feature was a 100-lapper and was won by Ken Warmington. Finishing
second was Len Justa and third was Joe Sykes. CNE regular Len Hurley
did double duty that running his regular modified stock car and
also ran in the Late Model races.
the 1955 break for the CNE, the drivers moved to Pinecrest and ran
on Wednesday nights to prep for that year's Pinecrest International.
This started an annual tradition of the CNE drivers racing at Pinecrest,
on their own night, while racing was shutdown for the Exhibition.
George Bowers won the season-ending 75-lap Championship race, while
Don Fleming was the Brading's Point Champion. Fleming won $1000
as points champ. Len
Cameron was the first-ever Jalopy Champion.
For 1956 the
rules for the Modified division were thrown wide open. Any engine
could be run in any type of car.
attends to a Jalopy Division driver - 1956
Photo courtesy of Pamela Stec
June 5 was the
first Tuesday night event of the 1956 season and was headlined by
a 200-lap NASCAR Late Model series race. Jim Reed continued his
dominence of Late Model racing at the CNE by taking a 1-lap victory
over Bill Walker. Harvey Henderson finished third.
The NASCAR Convertible
Division made its only appearance at the CNE on July 6, 1956. The
150-lap feature was won by Don Oldenburg. Joe Weatherly was second
and Tom Pistone was third.
Tragedy struck the CNE drivers during the break for the Exhibition
when Ted Race, one of the top drivers, was killed in an auto accident.
The last points
night of the 1956 was on October 5. The 75-lap Autumn Championship
was the feature of the night and was won by Hugh Darragh. Ken Fisher
was the points leader going into the night. In second place, and
the only driver within reach, was Jim Wilson. Unfortunately for
Wilson, he had to miss the last few nights due to an injury. Fisher
only had to start the race in order to wrap up the championship.
Fisher dominated the season winning nine features including four
Photo courtesy of Tom Cuzzilla, Jr
fans greeted the racers on April 19 for 1957 season opener. The
evolution of the cars was continuing at a fast pace. The Toronto
Star reported that the cars were worth approximately $4500 and
most had engines of 300 horsepower or more. Ted Hogan showed up
with a Fiat-bodied car with a 325-horsepower engine.
The NASCAR short track Late Model series returned on June 15, 1957.
The lap feature was won by Jim Reed. Reed and Rex White had been
battling for the lead on lap 99 when Reed knocked White out of the
race. After the drop of the checkers, Reed admitted the mistake
and offered the prize money to White.
The races on
June 28, 1957 made front page news in the Toronto Star. Ruth Carrier,
Miss Toronto 1951, was injured while driving in the Powder Puff
race. The news report said her foot stuck on the gas pedal and she
crashed through the fence. She was taken to the hospital unconscious
but returned to the track later that night with no injuries.
The sprint cars
made their first-ever appearance at the CNE Speedway on July 16,
1957. The 35-lap feature was won by Leo Clum. Ted Hogan borrowed
a sprint car from a friend but it had no tires. He found front tires
for the sprinter but could not find rear tires. He ended up using
the rear wheels and tires from his regular stock car. Since he was
also racing the stock car, his team spent the evening switching
the wheels between the two cars.
On Aug 2, 1957 the CNE Speedway hosted a 100-lap International.
Joy Fair won the race and $1200 in front of 17,402 fans. Ted Hogan
was the top Canadian finishing in 3rd in the race that featured
seven different leaders.
During the second
week of the Canadian National Exhibition, the track held a series
of afternoon races. These were non-points races.
Ted Hogan won
the 60-lap Autumn Championship to close-out the 1957 season. He
was also the points champion.
The first big
event of the 1958 season was on June 20 when the sprint cars returned.
Cotton Farmer was the race winner. A teenage fan was slightly injured
at the end of the sprint car feature when he ran onto the track
and was hit by a car on its cool down lap. Fans had begun to do
this regularly at the end of the race program in order to get to
the pits. Normally the CNE stockers drove off the track immediately
but the sprinters took an extra lap to slow down, surprising the
fans. The CNE officials made the decision to add a wire fence to
keep the fans back from the track.
on July 18, 1958 but instead of the short track division as in years
past, this time it was the Grand National Division. Lee Petty won
the race that has been covered in more detail in another CanadianRacer.com
The 1958 season wrapped up on August 2 with the 100 lap Canadian
International won by Jack Conely. It was the first time that the
CNE racers did not return after the Exhibition. The 1958 season
was also the first that the Amateur Division (or Hobby as it was
starting to be known as) was finally given a feature on a regular
basis. Jimmy Howard won the Modified points championship.
1958 season it appeared that the stock car racers would be given
the boot from Exhibition Stadium. The Argos had signed a deal to
use the stadium for their games beginning in 1959. Ernie Lieberman
was able to make a deal with the CNE to share the space with the
Argos. The track would be reconfigured into a quarter-mile with
the football field making up the infield. Work began on the new
track after the CNE closed in September.
spent $75,000 in reconfiguring the track to accommodate the football
field. The wooden fence was gone and replaced with steel guardrail.
The new track was narrower than the old third-mile configuration
- it was only 28 feet wide.
Division - sometime between 1959 and 1962
Photo courtesy of Canadian Motorsport Hall
of Fame Archives
May 1 was the
opening day of the 1959 season. The drivers had a difficult time
adjusting to the new track as there were multiple crashes in the
early season. Speedway officials were concerned about the length
of the program, so in late May the corners were widened to 35 feet.
Jimmy Howard won four features in the 1959 season on his way to
the track championship. The season finished on June 30 with a 60-lap
feature. It was the shortest season to date. The Toronto Argos took
over the stadium beginning in July.
This began a tradition at Pinecrest for the next few years that
brought the CNE drivers there on Tuesday nights after the football
season started. This brought drivers such at Ted Hogan, Don Fleming,
Charlie Greenlaw, John Shirtliff, Howie Scannell, Jimmy Howard and
the return of Norm Mackereth who had left Pinecrest to race at the
In 1960, the
CNE promoters finally received approval from Toronto City Council
to allow Sunday afternoon racing. The first Sunday event was on
May 8, 1960.
The yellow flag
was introduced in 1960 along with the rule that puts cars involved
in a caution to the back of the pack. Previously if a car crashed
and was off the track surface, the races carried on. If the track
was blocked, the race would be stopped and cars were put back in
their previous positions.
Ted Hogan took advantage of the new re-start rule during the 50-lap
Spring Championship. In order to save weight, Hogan was running
a fuel tank that he knew did not hold enough fuel for the full 50
laps. During a caution, Hogan pulled up by the pit entrance. His
crew ran out and dumped two gallons of gas in his tank. It made
the difference as Hogan won the feature.
The NASCAR short
track series was on the card for July 12, 1960. The feature was
100 laps and was won by Jim Reed. Buck Baker and Al White finished
second and third.
The 100 lap International
on July 22, 1960 was won by Jimmy Howard despite a scoring error
that caused the race to last 112 laps. Howard had held the lead
since lap 71 so the extra laps did not change the outcome. The win
paid Howard $1100.
The 1960 season
wrapped up on July 24 with Ted Hogan as points champion. The CNE
drivers moved to Pinecrest on Tuesday nights and ran until August
Tragedy hit the
CNE drivers and fans on November 23, 1960 when Ted Hogan and former
racer Bruce Tanner died in a plane crash. The plane, owned and piloted
by Hogan, was on its way to the Island Airport when it was seen
to spin, catch fire and then crash into Lake Ontario.
Lennox - Modified Division
Photo courtesy of Canadian Motorsport Hall
of Fame Archives
The 1961 season
opened with forty-six Modifieds and sixty-five Hobby cars in the
pits. After a few weeks, Glenn Schurr took over driving Hogan's
car. Schurr took a few weeks to get the feel of the car and he picked
up his first feature win on June 2.
Sprint Cars were added to the show on June 18, 1961. The 50-lap
feature was won by Jim McElreath. Ken Fisher did double-duty, running
his own car in the Modified races and also racing a Sprint Car.
Fisher won Sprint Car Semi-Final but dropped out of the Feature.
July 4, 1961
was "Ted Hogan Memorial Night". About forty former CNE
drivers were on hand for two Oldtimers races that were won by Jim
Warren and Phil Major.
season was dominated by the driving team of Gary Witter and Jimmy
Howard. Witter drove a Howard-built car to the 1961 points championship,
just edging out Howard. The 1961 season closed out with a 100-lap
International, won by Norm Mackereth.
The 1962 season was the first time that the Hobby Division ran a
feature every night. In past seasons, the Hobbies only ran a feature
on an intermittant basis.
The USAC Sprint Cars made a return visit to the CNE on June 1, 1962.
The 30-lap feature was won by Earl Halaquist.
Harvey Lennox dominated the 1962 season on his way to winning the
points championship. He also won the 100-lap International to finish
the 1962 season.
Howie Scannell arrived for the 1963 season with a former Indy Championship
car that had been raced by Tony Bettenhausen. Glenn Schurr started
off the season by winning the first three Modified features.
The USAC Midgets took over the CNE Speedway on April 26, 1963 for
a 200-lap feature named the "The Toronto 500". The race
was won by Elmer George (father of Tony George, currently president
of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). The race featured several crashes.
The drivers complained that the field of 33 cars was too large for
such a small track.
The CNE Speedway experience a "first" on May 10, 1963
when the races were cancelled due to heavy rain and fog.
Jack Greedy dominated the second-half of the 1963 season and wrapped
up the points championship on the second-last night.
Harvey Lennox closed out the 1963 season with a win in the 100-lap
During the Modified / Super Modified years the star drivers were
Ted Hogan, Jimmy Howard, Don Fleming, Harvey Lennox, Jack Greedy,
George Makins, Norm Mackereth, Jack McCutcheon and Glenn Schurr.
The Late Models Take Over
The drivers' meeting for the 1964 season was on February 28. The
racers received a shock when Ernie Lieberman announced that the
CNE was dropping the Super Modifieds and going with Late Models
instead. The season was scheduled to begin less than a month later.
Opening day of the 1964 was on March 27. There were eighteen Late
Models in the pits and The Toronto Star reported that twenty
more were being built. Gerry Watson, driving a 1958 Ford, won the
first Late Model feature of the season.
The USAC Midgets rolled into the CNE for the 2nd Annual "Toronto
500". Officials learned their lesson from the 1963 race and
only started 24 cars in the feature. The race was won by Ray Elliott.
CNE regular Jack Cook drove a car owned by Jim Davies. He did not
make the feature but won the non-qualifiers' race.
year was dominated by Jack Cook in the Late Models and Pat Duke
in the Hobby Division. Both drivers won their respective points
track was repaved after the opening event of the 1965 season.
USAC Midgets were back on June 9, 1965. The 100 lap feature was
won by Ron Duman. Mario Andretti was on hand but did not make the
field. Mike McGreevy set a new track record of 16.42 seconds.
Model Divison - 1966, #47 Norm Lelliott spins,#39 John Shirtliff,
#9 Vic Parsons, #11 Ken Carroll, #37 Ross Howes.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Motorsport Hall
of Fame Archives
Cook continued his domination of the Late Model division, winning
the championship for the second year in a row. John Clapham was
the Hobby Champion. The 1965 season concluded with a 50-lapper won
by Cook. The event also concluded starter Ross Kennedy's career
at the CNE as he decided to devote more time to his business.
The 1966 season was quiet by previous standards. The USAC Midgets
did not return and the only special event was the season-ending
100 lapper (run in 2 50-lap segments).
and Vic Parsons both won more features than Jack Cook but Cook repeated
as Late Model Champion. Terry Dickinson won the Hobby Championship.
In late 1966
the shocking news came out that stock car racing at the CNE was
coming to an end. The track was to be replaced with a rubberized
track for track-and-field events. It was not a complete surprise
to promoter Ernie Lieberman though. Knowing that the end was coming,
Lieberman was investigating the possibility of racing midgets indoors
at The Coliseum during winter. Unfortunately, the track-and-field
announcements also included The Coliseum.
It probably should not have come as a complete surprise to Toronto
racing fans either. The number of race dates was dropping in the
final few years. In addition, the number of special events was reduced
each year until there were none in 1966. Finally, the crowds were
not as large as they were in the earlier years.
The closing of the speedway led to the formation of the Ontario
Amateur Racing Club (Vronos, Inc) better known as the Hobby Club
and now as the Canadian Vintage
The CNE drivers
were still not welcome at Pinecrest due to the fued between the
two tracks' management and so the stars of the Late Model era:
including Jack Cook, John Shirtliffe, Vic Parsons, Norm Lelliott,
Ross Howes, Doug Warnes, Howie Scannell and others ended up scattered
at the other tracks around Southern Ontario.