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Stock Car Racing in the Kawarthas: 1967-1970


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The late 1960's were a busy time for race fans and racers in the Peterborough / Kawartha area. There were up to six tracks operating in the region at the same time with two more just outside. There were many new tracks built in Ontario during this time-period but the Peterborough area seemed to get more than their share of new tracks.

The Kawartha-Area Tracks

Apsley Acres Speedway - dirt track located north of Apsley on Highway 620
Bell City Speedway - 1/4 mile dirt track located on Highway 507 at Selwyn
Cedar Circle Speedway - dirt track located on County Road 6A, between Bridgenorth and Lakefield
Island Raceway - 1/2 mile dirt oval, located on Hiawatha Road, 4 miles west of Keene Sandy's Speedway - 1/2 mile dirt track located just east of Douro on the Douro 2nd Line
Westgate Speedway - 1/4 mile paved track located on Sherbrooke Street west of Peterborough (now known as Peterborough Speedway)

Just Outside Kawartha

Ganaraska Speedway - dirt track located in Kendal
Seymour Speedway - dirt track located in Hoards Station


1967

Westgate Speedway opened for the first time on Sunday May 28, 1967. Feature winners for that opening day were Don Greer in Late Model and Rich Harris in the Hobby division. Many Pinecrest regulars were in attendance that day including Vic Parsons, Phil Zampino, Gord Dolphin and Ray Gullison.

Wheelspin News reported that the track was built at a cost of $70,000. The original owners were John Plunkett, Bob Boynton, Harley Coons and John Van De Bor, all from the Peterborough area. Wheelspin News also reported that the track was "the first in Canada to use a soil-cement base, 18 inches deep and surfaced with two-and-a-half inches of asphalt".

Don Beckford (#26) spins while Gary Coppins (#44) and Doug Warnes (#90) go by on the outside at Westgate. This photo appeared in Wheelspin News and was credited to Waymark.

There was a large Pinecrest influence in the first year of operation. In addition to the large contingent of Pinecrest regulars, former Pinecrest announcer Woody Howard was the Westgate track manager and doubled as announcer. The pits were located in the infield, also like Pinecrest. The track ran the same Late Model rules as Pinecrest as well.

Only a week after Westgate's opening, Bell City Speedway opened on Sunday, June 4. The track was built on the farm of Roy Bell. Bell City ran three regular divisions: 6 Cylinder, 8 Cylinder Flathead and 8 Cylinder Overhead. Powder Puff races were occasionally run as well.

The proceeds of the June 4 event were donated to the local Kinsmen club. Keith Brown, Member of Parliament for Peterborough, was on hand for the opening ceremony. Bell City had lights so regular racing began on Saturday, June 10 at 8:00pm.

Westgate hosted a 75-lap International on August 13. It drew some of the top Late Model drivers in the province including Norm Lelliot, Doug Warnes, Jack Cook, Jim Hallahan, Vic Parsons, Earl Ross, John Clapham plus Americans Ed Howe and Bob Sennecker. Lelliot won the race.

Sandy's Speedway became the third track in the area when it opened on September 3. The track was located on the farm of Sandy Carlow. Since Sandy's ran on Sunday afternoons and Bell City ran on Saturday nights, it gave the dirt track racers a two-track mini circuit. Both tracks ran the same classes and as such, there were a lot of drivers that ran both. There were no grandstand at Sandy's; spectators sat on a hill.

Westgate Hobby divison drivers Terry Dickinson (#64) and George McLeod (#22). This photo appeared in Wheelspin News and was credited to Waymark.

A week later, on Sept 10, Island Raceway opened and now there were two dirt tracks running on Sunday afternoon. The location of Island Raceway is a little unclear. I was told by a reader of my site that it was located on an island in a curve on the Otanabee River. The name of the track would suggest this location is correct but an advertisement in the Peterborough Examiner states: "Located on Hiawatha Road, 1/2 mile south of Old Keene Road, 4 miles west of Keene." No mention of being on an island. The track ran the same classes as Bell City and Sandy's Speedway. It was a short, four event season for 1967 at Island.

Bell City had a great first season. The car count was usually 60-80 in the pits and there were crowds of 3000 and more on many nights. The highlight of the season was the Canadian National Dirt Track Championship on September 16. The event attracted 3500 fans and 73 cars in the pits in all classes.

The Bell City Speedway 6 Cylinder points champion was Fred Dunford. Dorothy Northey was the Powder Puff champion. The newspaper did not report on the champions in Flathead or Overhead.

Westgate's first season wrapped up on October 9 with Doug Warnes as the first Late Model champion. Terry Dickinson won the most features in the Hobby division.

Sandy's Speedway's season ran later than any other track in the area. It was originally scheduled to end on October 29 but the drivers asked track owner Sandy Carlow to extend the season by a week to November 5.



1968

Westgate driver Don Lee.

Westgate kicked off the 1968 season on May 11 as the first track in the area to open. The season opener was a Peterborough Kinsmen Club charity event. The Kinsmen took over as ticket staff and corner flagmen. All the proceeds from the event went to the Kinsmen. The drivers donated their winnings and only raced for trophies.

Westgate had some changes for their second season. The race night was switched to Saturday night. This eliminated the Pinecrest drivers as Pinecrest also raced on Saturday. The focus was now on the local drivers. The track added a 6 Cylinder division and renamed both of the regular divisions. The Late Models were now called the Overhead division and the Hobbies became the Flatheads.

Apsley Acres Speedway had its opener on May 18. It ran on Sunday afternoon putting it in direct competition with Sandy's Speedway and Island Raceway. It appears that Apsley only ran one class. The feature winner on the first day was Jim Kelly. Apsley did not get much coverage in the Peterborugh Examiner in terms of results or ads but it seems to have only operated in 1968. Some of the drivers mentioned were Jim Reddick, Gary Shewan, Doug McCaw, Jim Moore and Rick Mann.

Tragedy struck Westgate on July 8. During the Powder Puff race, the leader came out of turn four and lost control. She slid over the embankment protecting the infield pit area and landed in the pits, striking Chris Hurley of Agincourt. Hurley died at Peterborough Hospital that night.

Bob Moxon was the 1968 Westgate Overhead points champion while Claude Harness was the 6 Cylinder champion. The newspaper did not report on the Flathead champion at Westgate.

Cedar Circle Speedway joined the Kawartha-area racing scene on August 25, becoming the sixth track in the area. It also ran on Sunday afternoon thus having a situation where there were four dirt tracks running within the Peterborough area. Cedar Circle's first season was a short one: only two weekends. There were no points champions named.

The big event of the Sandy's Speedway 1968 season was the Canadian Dirt Track Championship on the weekend of September 7-8. Qualifying and eliminations were on Saturday and racing on Sunday. The events on Sunday were late getting started due to traffic that was backed up in both directions on the highway as over 4400 fans streamed in. Each class paid $300 plus a trophy to win. The 6 Cylinder class started twenty four cars in the feature. Claude Harness was shown the checkered but a check on scoring indicated that Doug Morris
was the actual winner. John Maracle was the fast qualifier in the 8 Cylinder Flathead divsion. He started on the pole and led the whole way, lapping the entire field. Many Westgate regulars came for the 8 Cylinder Overhead division but the winner was Joe Coons, a Sandy's Speedway driver.

The Bell City Speedway Flathead division was dominated by John Maracle who won about half of the features in 1968 plus many heats and semis. At the end of August the other drivers demanded that Maracle's engine be torn down. The tear down occured the following morning and it was found that Maracle's engine was legal and actually 13 cubic engines under the maximum. Neil Finney was the top runner in 6 Cylinder but there was a good mix of feature winners in Overhead. Dorothy Northey and Karen Eaton took the majority of wins in the Powderpuff division.

Bell City Speedway held their annual Dirt Track Championships to finish out the season. The points champions were not named in the newspaper.

Island Raceway did not get as much newspaper coverage as the other tracks so known information is pretty slim. The track closed after the July 14 races, although the reason is not clear. It was reported that the closure was due to track repairs but another report blamed it on road repairs. The track re-opened on August 25 with a Figure 8 track for extra excitement.

The newspaper did not report any of the points champions at either Sandy's Speedway or Island Raceway.

1968 Newspaper Ads


1969

There was no sign of either Sandy's Speedway or Island Raceway in 1969. Sandy's Speedway closed after owner Sandy Carlow was killed in a farm accident. It appears that this unfortunate accident happened between the 1968 and 1969 seasons. It was reported that Island Raceway closed due to low car count and few spectators. The decision to not open for 1969 must have been made between seasons. Apsley Acres disappeared as well. It may have shut down during the 1968 season as the newspaper ads stopped appearing part way through the year.

Westgate driver Paul "Zippy" Zimmerman. Photo appeared in Wheelspin News without acceditation.

A drivers' strike hit Westgate on May 24. The Overhead drivers refused to unload their cars due to a dispute with track management over the payout. The drivers were demanding $100 to win the feature. The track had been paying $50 to win. When the management refused to cave-in, the Overhead drivers headed for the exit. Track manager Harley Coons caught the drivers before they left the property and negotiations ensued with $70 being settled on as the feature win payout. The track also agreed to pay out to seventh place instead of fifth as they had been.

The rest of Westgate's season saw plenty of action on and off the track with accusations of rough driving, driver suspensions, pit fights (that sometimes included fans) and complaints about the quality of the clean-up crew and the flagging.

Westgate Speedway's points champions were Earl Parsons in Overhead, Dave Lynch in Flathead and Art Robinson in 6 Cylinder.

Bell City added a new grandstand for 1969. The Flathead division was again dominated by John Maracle who won the majority of features including a string of eight weeks in a row. Bell City shutdown for two weeks during August. The newspaper ads for August 30 said, "Grand Re-opening tonight by drivers' request. See the drivers race on a complete new surface." Each week Bell City awarded the "Red-X" trophy to the driver winning the most points each night.

The 1969 Bell City Speedway points champions were Bill Trude in Overhead, John Maracle in Flathead, Myril Hepburn in 6 Cylinder and Roberta Windover in Powder Puff.

The Cedar Circle reports in the Peterborough Examiner were very brief so not much information coud be gleaned from them. Like Bell City, the top driver of the night was awarded the "Red-X" trophy. Cedar Circle added lights at the end of August and ran one Saturday night before switching back to Sunday afternoon.

The 1969 Cedar Circle Speedway points champions were Joe Coons in Overhead, Bill Martin in Flathead, Dave Mercer in 6 Cylinder and Pat Peconi in Powder Puff.


1970

Earl Parsons down the front straight at Westgate. Photo appeared in Wheelspin News without acceditation.

Bell City Speedway was paved for the 1970 season. They added Wednesday night racing in addition to their regular Saturday night program. Corner two was torn up during the season opener on May 18 which caused the first scheduled Wednesday night race to be cancelled. The track was fixed for the next Saturday but it appears that Bell City gave up on Wednesday nights fairly quickly. There were no results reported in the Peterborough Examiner and a newspaper ad on June 5 simply stated "Saturday night".

In May, Bell City track manager Terry Heard announced they were adding a new, "Fun Class". The Fun Class would have a claim rule of $100. Heard stated that many of the drivers in the current classes were spending between $700 and $1500 on their cars. The new class was an attempt to get new drivers involved.

Bell City had a July 1 special event scheduled that included the regular classes plus a CMA sanctioned motocross event. It appears to have been rained out. The last Bell City event that appeared in the Peterborough Examiner was a July 21 stand-alone event featuring The Hell Drivers. There were no more ads and no more races results in the paper so it seems Bell City Speedway shut down in July. A Wheelspin News article covering the August 1 races at Westgate refers to Bell City as "now defunct".

Cedar Circle Speedway added a Mini-Stock division for 1970. The class started out small with only three cars entered for the first few weeks. They were up to six cars by July and the class grew slowly all summer. Bernie Rae dominated the Mini-Stock division in the early weeks.

Cedar Circle started the season racing on Sunday afternoons at 2:00 but switched to
Friday nights starting on July 3. This was a summer-only change as they went back to Sunday afternoon beginning on August 30. Car counts appeared to be an issue in 1970. In addition to the previously mentioned Mini-Stock class, it was reported in the newspaper that the August 5 races had 11 cars in the 6 Cylinder, which was "more than usual". Further, on August 7, the 8 Cylinder Overhead feature was cancelled because there weren't enough cars that were in racing condition by feature time.

The Cedar Circle Speedway points champions for 1970 were Terry Kyle in Overhead, Bill Martin in Flathead, Keith Payne in 6 Cylinder and Bernie Rae in Mini Stock.

Westgate Speedway was sold to Brian Aitken of Toronto in April. Aitken held a pre-season drivers' meeting that left the drivers optimistic that the track would be managed better than in previous years. It was promised that the drinking and fighting would be stopped and violaters would be punished.

Aitken's resolve was tested early in the season. Tiny Walker was suspended for one year due to an on-track incident with Fred Glanville that saw Glanville's car wrote off. This incident led to a pit fight that saw Ron Robinson being kicked out as well. Walker was allowed back after only a few weeks by a vote of the drivers. Robinson was back racing by the end of July as well.

Westgate hosted a 60-lap International for Diamond class cars on July 29. Barrie Speedway drivers took four of the top six finishing positions including winner Jim Vitkil. Another 60-lap Diamond Invitational was held on August 26. This time it was won by a Westgate regular, Gord Wallace. Both Diamond Invitationals were run on Wednesday nights.

Westgate 1970 Points Champs
(Left to Right): Dave Lynch, Hobby Division; Ron Robinson, 6 Cylinder Division; Art Robinson, Diamond Division

Aitken had a rough first year as owner of Westgate. In addition to the previously mentioned suspensions, Earl Parsons and Art Robinson were given a one-week suspensions for rough driving on August 29. There was a Diamond class drivers' strike on September 5 over the suspensions to Parsons and Robinson. A meeting was held the following week but it was reported that it solved nothing. Zippy Zimmerman usually wrote the Westgate article for Wheelspin News and he never held back in his thoughts. In his season wrap-up article he mentions a number of issues: illegal cars being allowed to race, over-use of the black flag which led to single-file racing because everyone was afraid to make a move, constant shuffling of the officials including 5 different starters and a general lack of maintenance of the facility. Furthermore, he discusses the poor attitude of management toward the drivers. He claimed that track management referred to the drivers as "small town bums". The drivers were told that they weren't needed and the track could "import" drivers from out of town.

Although Bell City closed and some of the drivers moved over to Westgate it appears from the newspaper reports that the car count wasn't great at Westgate either. When car counts were mentioned in race reports the average was around twelve in each class.


It All Came Crashing Down


The 1970 season was the end for the first era of multiple tracks in the Peterborough area. Bell City closed early in the 1970 season and Cedar Circle did not open for 1971. Out of the six tracks that were operating in 1968, only Westgate survived to see a 1971 season. Zippy Zimmerman's Wheelspin News column in May 1971 discussed the demise of the tracks. There was a rumour that several parties wanted to purchase the Bell City Speedway property, with one wanting to turn it into a "hippie haven" (it was 1971, remember). Zimmerman mentioned that there were rumours of threats of lawsuits relating to Cedar Circle.

Westgate would have the market to itself for almost twenty years. The opening of Mosport Speedway, north of Bowmanville, in late 1989 and its first full season in 1990 impacted the track (re-named Peterborough Speedway by this time). It took another hit in 1999 when Kawartha Speedway opened, much closer to Peterborough than Mosport but running on a different night.