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1990 CNE Bud Stocks

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The classic era of racing in Exhibition Stadium on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds in Toronto began in 1952. Drivers like Ted Hogan, Norm Brioux, Jimmy Howard, Harvey Lennox, Wallie Branston, Norm Lelliott, Howie Scannell, Jack Cook and many others became local stars. Huge crowds of up to 19,000 came to see these drivers rub fenders each week. Unfortunately, the track closed at the end the of the 1966 season to make way for a Centennial track-and-field meet.

The stock car racing did not return the next season and for the next few years Exhibition Stadium was the home of the Toronto Argonauts and later the Toronto Blue Jays. The only racing to be seen was the annual Molson Supercross in the 1980's. In 1989 Skydome opened and Exhibition Stadium sat unused as the Argos and Blue Jays moved to the new stadium.

The City of Toronto and Exhibition Place Board of Governors looked for something to fill the stadium once again. Racing seemed to be the ticket. It made sense; all the required infrastructure was in place. The only thing needed was the track itself. The facility would be very unique in that it would have:

  • a 17,000 seat, covered grandstand
  • paved, well-lit pit area
  • well-lit track surface
  • large concession facilites
  • large, modern washrooms (at least by race track standards)
  • located in the middle of a city of over 2 million people
  • large, instant replay scoreboard
  • huge parking area
  • on public transit lines

It seemed like a sure success. Well, read on and find out what really happened.

The City of Toronto approved a one-year program with conditions for the second and third years. A telephone line was set up for residents of Parkdale to make complaints (insert ominous music here).

About $600,000 was spent preparing the facility. Because of the positioning of the uncovered grandstands the track was egg-shaped. Turn 1 and 2 were sweeping and turn 3 and 4 were very tight. The track was 1/3 mile long and 75 feet wide. It was completely flat, except for a 3-inch elevation on the outside for drainage. Labatt was signed on a sponsor and using their Budweiser brand name the races became known as the "Exhibition Place presents Bud Stocks". Other sponsors were Player's Ltd, Chrysler Canada, Sony Canada, Becker's, Coca-Cola and The Toronto Star.

Regular racing featured CASCAR Late Models on Thursday nights and the Can-Am Midgets and Hobby Club (now known as the Canadian Vintage Modifieds) on Sunday afternoons. Regular admission was set at $8 for adults, children under 12 were free. Special events included the CASCAR General Tire Super Series on May 26 and back again on Oct 6. Also scheduled were an Enduro (run to Delaware rules) on July 1, Monster Trucks on September 2 and a demolition derby on August 26. The Pro-Four class was added part way through the year. Also added later was an American-Canadian Tour race.

It was originally announced that the races would run rain or shine in the tradition of the earlier CNE racing. This proved to be unfeasible with the state of race cars in 1990 and this idea was dropped before the season started. One event did run in the rain though and that was the Enduro. Being run under Delaware rules, the cars had to have windshield wipers. The 250-lap Enduro was won by Ron Book. The Enduro featured nineteen year-old Brad Corcoran who finished in the top 5. Brad later moved up to Late Model and was Mosport champion in 1999 and 2000.

Kerry Micks takes a CASCAR Late Model victory
photo courtesy of Ernie Pothier

The first CASCAR General Tire Super Series event was on May 26, rained out from the week earlier. A huge field of 53 cars showed up for the Budweiser Triple 50's. Dan Shirtliff set the fastest qualifying time. The cars were split into two semi-final 50 lap races with the top 12 cars from each moving on to the 50-lap final race. Don Mallat and Rob Neely won the two semi-final races. In the 50-lap final race Mallat and Jack Monaghan battled for the first 30 laps but Mallat pulled away and led unchallenged to the end to take the win. Monaghan finished second and Neely took third. There were about 2,500 fans in attendance. The Super Series cars were posting mid 16 second lap times.

The American-Canadian Tour for Late Models rolled into the CNE for a 100 lap on August 25. Over 8000 specatators watched Ralph Nason take the victory. Kevin Lepage was the early leader but he spun onlap 32, handing the lead to Nason who led the rest of the way.

The General Tire Super Series returned to the CNE on the weekend of October 5-6. Saturday saw the qualifying and heat races while the triple-50's were run on the Sunday. Rob Neely and Dan Shirtliff won the 50-lap semi-final races. Don Mallet took the lead on lap 5 of the 50-lap final and battled with Randy Latour for most of the race. Latour passed Mallet for the win on the back straight of the last lap when Mallet slowed to avoid Dave Whitlocks's hood that had come off his car. Mallet finished second and Rob Neely was third.

Jason Shaw dominated the Hobby Club by winning 8 features and the points championship. Other feature winners in the Hobby class included Gary Elliott, Al Haringa Jr, Bruce Lindsay, Dave Bentley and Ray Hughes.

Can-Am Midgets
photo courtesy of Dave Balych

Feature winners in Can-Am Midget included eventual points champion Dave McKnight, Andy Mackereth, Ken Lorenz, Dave Balych, Arnie Bray, Norm Eberschlag, Jim Johnstone and George Gilbert. Midget lap times were in the low 14 second range.

The CASCAR Late Models saw the appearance of some drivers who later moved to the Super Series. Feature winners included points champion Jason Latour, Dan Shirtliff, Howie Scannell Jr and others.

By all accounts, the racing was very good in all divisions. The promoters did very little advertising though and as such, crowds were very small. There were sometimes less than 1,000 fans in the stands. Advertising was increased as the year went on and the crowds got larger, ranging between 3,000 and 6,000 fans.

In the fall of 1990 plans were being made for the 1991 season but there was trouble brewing. The races had lost money and some residents of Parkdale had been complaining about the noise. In the spring of 1991 the City of Toronto refused to allow the races to continue and stock car racing at the CNE was dead again.

Well, not quite dead yet. Racing at the CNE had one more fling in August of 1997. You don't remember it? Of course not; no one knew it even was happening. It was called "Extreme Motorsports" and was to run each day of the 1997 Canadian National Exhibition. There were to be Can-Am Midgets, Legends Cars, a vintage stock car group as well as a celebrity race using the Legends cars. The Midgets pulled out citing the unsafe nature of the track preparation. There was no advertising at all. The only mention of the event was a one liner in the CNE visitor guide giving it the same coverage as fiddle players and hog judging. Extreme Motorsports didn't even finish the whole Ex - it was cancelled part way through. And then, stock car racing at the CNE was truly dead.

Editorial

As I write this article in the fall of 2003, 13 years have passed since these events occurred and my blood pressure still goes through the roof thinking about what could have been.

Given the advantages of the facility listed above, the CNE should have been a huge success. It should have become the premeire oval track facility in Canada.

First of all, the noise issue should have been tackled pre-emptively. Mufflers should have been mandated from the start. From my understanding, most of the cars did not have them.

Second, there should have been an intensive, year-long advertising campaign. There was some publicity in the spring but then nothing for a while. People have to be constantly reminded. If it was marketed properly, the crowds would have been larger. Larger crowds mean happy sponsors. The races would have made money and the sponsors would have pressured the City of Toronto to renew for another year.

Some of the complaints seemed to stem from a bias against racing rather than any reality. One complaint was the increased traffic brought to the area. Huh?!! There were only 3,000 - 6,000 fans there most nights and about 1,000 people at times. For years the Blue Jays had crowds of 30,000 - 50,000 and no one complained about that traffic. There were less than half as many race days as there were baseball games as well.

If things had gone correctly further years would have a fore-gone conclusion. Here's what I would have done if I were in charge:

Once the facility had paid for the original cost I would have knocked down the uncovered grandstand. This would have allowed the track to be reconfigured to about 3/8 mile. I would have also added banking and moved the scoreboard to the back straight. The new config would have been a more traditional oval. These changes would have opened up the space to be used for other, non-racing uses. Money could have been spent to keep the covered grandstand up to date. The CNE Board of Governor's would have been happy because it would be a money-maker and would become a multi-use facilty.

But no one asked me back in 1990 and now there's nothing. It there had been a 1991 season, would there have been a 1992 season and on, up to 2003? Would we be planning the 2004 season right now? Once the Molson Amphitheatre opened in 1995 all the CNE concerts left Exhibition Stadium and it sat empty and unused until it was demolished in 1999. The land is now a parking lot most of the year except during the CNE when it becomes part of the expanded midway. So the answer to the original question - yes, I think we would be looking forward to the 2004 season at the CNE.



Photos courtesy of Dave Balych
Photos courtesy of Ernie Pothier

 

1990 Bud Stocks Points Standings
CASCAR Late Model
1
Randy Latour
587
2
Wayne Keeling
561
3
Dan Shirtliff
553
4
Kerry Micks
529
5
Mark Dilley
507
Hobby Club
1
Jason Shaw
651
2
Don Shaw
551
3
Ray Hughes
546
4
Dave Elliott
543
5
Murray Timms
541
6
Ron Shaw
525
7
Gary Elliott
516
8
Wayne Varley
515
9
Doc. Arnold Roper
492
10
Mike Podd
482
Can-Am Midget
1
Dave McKnight
2594
2
Ken Lorenz
2511
3
Andy Mackereth
2435
4
Steve Kosa
2377
5
Charlie Dirosa
2348
6
Wayne Turnbull
2308
7
Keith Dempster
2219
8
Jim Johnstone, Jr
2177
9
Bob Crawford
2161
10
Dave Balych
2067
Pro Four Canada
1
Ken Wright
1219
2
John Teune
1088
3
Don Henderson Jr
1045
4
Keith Steingart
1039
5
Dave Hodgkinson
1019
6
Mark Lowenberg
995
7
John Verney
970
8
James Czajowksy
948
9
Mark Walker
898
10
Tim Young
885