CNE Speedway 1952-1966

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The Beginning

While 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 away.

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 first time.

Buffalo-based 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 plug problems.

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.

Wallie Branston - 1953

The 1953 season opened on Friday, April 3 with 16,275 fans in attendance and 52 cars in the pits.

The NASCAR 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.

Tommy McClure was named Race Director in the off-season between 1953 and 1954. He replaced Harley Morden who was focusing on Speedway Park.

The 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 prohibited.

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.

The question of Sunday racing was raised again in the spring of 1954, but again the idea was shot down by City Council.

Starter Ross Kennedy 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.

The 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.

A pre-season practice session was held on April 2, 1955 and over 3000 fans turned out to watch.

Ross 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.

The "Circuit 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.

uring 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.

Ambulance 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 straight.

The Modified Division

Tom Cuzzilla
Photo courtesy of Tom Cuzzilla, Jr

Almost 14,000 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.

NASCAR returned 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 article.

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.

Throughout the 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.

CNE officials 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.

Modified 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 CNE.

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 30.

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.

Harvey 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.

The 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 International.

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.

The year was dominated by Jack Cook in the Late Models and Pat Duke in the Hobby Division. Both drivers won their respective points championships.

The track was repaved after the opening event of the 1965 season.

The 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.

Late 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

Jack 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).

Norm Lelliott and Vic Parsons both won more features than Jack Cook but Cook repeated as Late Model Champion. Terry Dickinson won the Hobby Championship.

The End

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 Modifieds.

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.