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2003 RETRO

2003dddRICK @ the RACES (RETRO REPORT 2003)

Episode # 35

In the middle of 2002, I was asked to do some writing for Europe’s leading oval racing journal, SHORT CIRCUIT MAGAZINE and by the end of the year I was sharing the SHORT TRACK AMERICA column with assistant editor Paul Huggett.

SHORT TRACK AMERICA was the section they devoted to grass roots racing across the Atlantic, while Martin Clark, another ex pat Brit covered the NASCAR scene.

During the winter months between 2002 and 2003 , I did a couple of feature articles too . One was about former Spedeworth Superstox World Champion Geoff Goddard, who now lives in South Africa, and the another was about Renault’s place in oval racing history.

During the winter I also started getting involved in an ‘on line’ forum with a group of TRACKCHASERS. These were people like myself who found great pleasure in visiting new race tracks around the world.

I’d already met the worlds leading TRACKCHASER , Californian Randy Lewis, in person, when he visited my local Cornwall Motor Speedway back in 1999. Two other TRACKCHASER friends I corresponded with on the forum were the Pennsylvanian duo of , Area Auto Racing News, journalist , Guy Smith and the TRACKCHASER’S web master Will White.

2003aMy first racing event of the year was at Ottawa’s Capital City Speedway on January 12, for a Winter Enduro in the snow. 2003bAt this time the Capital City Speedway was operating under the name of The Ottodrome. The track changed ownership in 2002 and it’s new boss, David Melamed had decided to change the name.

Following some information I received from the TRACKCHASERS , I attended my first ever ice racing event on March 9, when I visited the Maple Grove track located on the frozen St Lawrence Seaway close to Montreal. 2003c 2003dIt was a whole new experience for me as I drove my Honda out onto the St Lawrence to watch the cars race around an iced oval.

At the end of the month, on March 29 , I went on my first racing road trip of the year, when I set off for the Big Block Modified, SUPER DIRT SERIES at the Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland. I’d visited this event the previous year, and was so impressed with what I saw, I wanted to do it again.

Alas things didn’t work out so well this time. Just as the cars entered the track for warm up laps, it started to rain, and the event got canceled. 2003eThat was a long way to go for a ‘rain-out’ !

Lucky for me, I had also combined this trip with a visit to see my daughter Carla,  who was now living just over an hour away from Hagerstown, in Baltimore. Once the racing had been called off , I made my way over to her place earlier than planned.

On my way back to Canada on April 1 , I dropped in to the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown NY where the Can Am Speedway’s pre season Mall Show was taking place.2003f

A couple of weeks later, I made a trip down to the Brewerton Speedway NY (April 18) where rain in the Feature, shortened the night.

There was a car show taking place in Ottawa on April 26 , so I went a long there for a look. 2003gAmongst Custom Cars and other assorted car stuff, the Ottodrome were displaying some of the Pro Trucks they were running.

On Sunday May 11, I made my first attempt to see some racing at the Utica-Rome Speedway NY. The weather wasn’t good as I traveled down through New York State, and after making a phone call on the way, from the Watertown area, I found out it was canceled, so had to return home.

Things went better for me when I attended the opening weeks races (May 17/18), at my local Frogtown and Cornwall tracks, but wasn’t so lucky the following week when both tracks rained out.

The weekend of June 6/7/8 was rain free, and I went along to Edelweiss, Frogtown and Cornwall. On the Saturday before Frogtown I even had time to attend a St Johns Ambulance first aid course in Cornwall organized by my employers. 2003hI was still working for PCY Dedicated Transport, on the Walmart contract.

As we moved into June, things started to get busy for me, when I took some vacation time from work and did a marathon of racing events.

First off, was on Tuesday June 10 when I traveled down to the Fulton Speedway NY for the 358 Modified Super Dirt Series. I remember this one quite well, as it was on this occasion I chatted with the great Jack Johnson, and he posed for a pic beside his car. 2003i

The race winner that night was Frank Cozee.

The following night I was at the Capital City Speedway (Ottodrome) in Ottawa for a regular weekly Wednesday night show where I saw their Pro Trucks in action for the first time.2003j

On Sunday night (June 15) , I was at the Cornwall Motor Speedway before an early morning start for a road trip south on Monday.

I set off from Maxville in the Honda at about 6-00 am and was down in Baltimore, Maryland visiting Carla by supper time.

On Tuesday June 17 , Carla joined me for one of her rare trips to the races.

There was a Big Block Modified Super Dirt Series event taking place at the New Egypt Speedway in New Jersey and that’s where we were heading.

Before going to the races, we took time out for some quality time together beside the sea at Ocean City. 2003k2003l 2003m 2003n 2003oIt was my first time visit to the New Egypt track, it was very impressive, and the winner that night was Alan Johnson. 2003p

After the races we returned to Carla’s place in Baltimore for the night.

The next day I left Maryland and headed off towards another new track.

The Super Dirt Series had a mid week date on Wednesday June 18 at the Big Diamond Speedway in Pennsylvania. 2003qI arrived around midday at Minersville, the nearest town to the track, and killed a bit of time until the races got started.

Once again the big race was won by Alan Johnson.

2003t 2003r 2003sWhile visiting these new tracks I was pleased to be able to see such great racing legends as Billy Pauch, Kenny Brightbill and Doug Hoffman in action for the first time.

After the races I drove up as far as the Flying J Truck Stop, at Gibson PA where I slept over night in the Honda.

The next morning ( Thursday June 19) I drove the short distance to Binghamton NY where I’d arranged to meet up with a friend. Binghamton is the home of retired fireman and race fan Don Shelley who I’d met at the Can Am Speedway back in 2002 . 2003uI’d done an article about him and his unique street legal Dirt Modified for my SHORT CIRCUIT MAGAZINE column. While I was at Don’s place , he took his ‘FireMod’ down the road for me to do a photo shoot.

After lunch, I followed Don in his motor-home, to the Utica Rome Speedway at Vernon NY where a 358 Super Dirt Series race was scheduled for that night.

Alas, on our arrival at the track , we discovered the races had been rained out. Instead of moving on, we stayed over night in the motor-home, before bidding farewell the next morning.

My agenda for Friday Jun 20, had two ports of call . My first stop, was at Weedsport NY where I revisited the Dirt Hall of Fame and Museum.( My first visit was in 1997).2003v

From Weedsport I traveled along I 90 towards Niagara Falls where my evening engagement was at the Ransomville Speedway NY.2003w It was regular Friday night dirt modified show, and this was my first time visit to the track. I was quite impressed. One thing that really sticks in my mind, was the low ditch along the front stretch, between the race track and safety fence. 2003xRansomville was top driver, Danny ‘the Doctor’ Johnson’s local track and it was joy to watch as he used much of that front ditch to gain momentum.

Once the races were over I crossed the nearby Niagara Falls border point, back into Canada and drove to Kitchener , Ontario, where I’d be staying for a couple of nights.

I’d made a friend,  on an internet dating site and she’d offered me accommodation . On Saturday June 21, the both of us went along to her local track, The Flamboro Speedway, which was another first time visit for me.  2003ykkIt was a paved track with their own variety of racing divisions. I quite liked their Vintage and Modified races.

On Sunday June 22, I left Kitchener soon after breakfast in the direction of home.

Well, almost home ! Because before heading to Maxville, I dropped in to the Cornwall Motor Speedway for the regular Sunday night show.

Laurent Ladouceur’s youngest son Lee, won the Modified feature that night.2003aa

After a week on the road I returned home to Maxville on Sunday night, but my marathon of racing events wasn’t over yet, as the 358 Super Dirt Series had just arrived on my patch.

On Monday Jun 23, I drove up to Autodrome Granby where Brett Hearn took the checkers, then I was at Brockville on Tuesday where Tim Fuller got the win.

The following Sunday (June 29) it was the Big Block Super Dirt Series at Cornwall where Billy Decker took the checkers.2003ee

The next day (June 30) was a holiday Monday with a 100 lap Canadian Dirt Series race at Autodrome Edelweiss. I was there to see Steve Poirier get the win.

During July , I went to the following, Cornwall (July 6) , Autodrome Drummond (July 7), Cornwall (July 13), Granby (July 15) , Cornwall (July 20) .

On July 21, Mum and Dad flew in from England for a two week stay, where they’d planned to attend Maxville’s Highland Games.

As well as this, I took some time off from work to take them up to Quebec City. My good friend Debbie Howes joined us on this day out, where we checked out all the tourist spots. 2003bbI remember us walking up the steep hill from the waterfront to the Plains of Abraham, the site of the historic battle, where the British troops ousted the French, way back in the countries deep past.

I was at Frogtown on Saturday August 2, and Cornwall on Sunday August 3, before taking Mum and Dad back to the Toronto Airport on Monday for their return flight to England.

From Toronto I drove down to the Niagara area where the Merrittville and Ransomville Speedways were holding back to back 358 Super Dirt Series rounds. I stayed overnight in the area and saw Alan Johnson take the wins at both.

It was about this time of the year that I was once again contacted by my stock car friends back in England. The BriSCA F1 World Final was coming up in September and they were looking for a suitable Canadian representative.

In 2001, I’d arranged for Laurent Ladouceur to make the trip, so asked Laurent who he thought would be a good choice for this year. We both agreed that Smiths Falls, Ontario, veteran, Dave Heaslip would be a suitably qualified candidate so I went about, asking him.2003cc

I’d been close to the Heaslip team for quite a while, since getting to know his friends and family who I sat with in the Frogtown Grandstands.

Dave was interested, and just as before, with Laurent’s trip, I put the organizers in touch and let them sort out the rest.

During August the 358 Modified Super Dirt Series was in my area and I saw Brett Hearn win at Drummond (Monday August 11), Matt Sheppard win at Edelweiss (Tuesday August 12) while at Frogtown (Wednesday August 13) Alan Johnson took the checkers. 2003ddIt was during these races I witnessed the young Stewart Friesen in action for the first time, in his # 10 Team Crush Motorsports ride.

I was at the regular shows at Cornwall (August 17/24) and Frogtown (August 23).

I must mention at this stage, that during my visits to Frogtown, as well as the Heaslip Team, I’d also got to know track photographer Mike Watts quite well.076_76 (Large)

Mike and his wife Jane ran the Speedways Track Shop and I’d become one of his regular customers buying the Gater and Area Auto Racing News publications they sold.

On the Sunday of the Labor Day weekend, I was at the 358 Super Dirt Series Race at Cornwall, that was won by Matt Sheppard.

The next day was the holiday Monday so I drove down to Rolling Wheels NY for the Big Block SDS race, but unfortunately that turned out to be a wasted journey. Rain caused it to be called off shortly before the start.

The following weekend I was at the Brockville Ontario Speedway on Friday Sept 12, where Steve Paine won the 358 SDS race.

On Saturday , Sept 13, I set off in an attempt to add two more tracks to my portfolio.

That night there was a Big Block SDS race at the Canandaigua Speedway NY.  Also on the program were the Mid State Vintage Mods which were quite appealing to me. Unfortunately half way through the show, it started to rain and the night was lost. I slept in my tent before heading to my next track on Sunday.

Sundays plans involved my third try at seeing some racing at the Utica-Rome Speedway, as my previous attempts had been thwarted by rain.2003ff

It turned out to be third time lucky, and I was there to see Brett Hearn take a 358 SDS Victory.

The following weekend, Saturday September 20, it was the BriSCA World Final at Coventry and Dave Heaslip was over in England with his good friend and long time crew man Jerry Michalicka.2003mm Jerry and his wife Marion were among the friends I’d got to know while watching the races at Frogtown.

Dave and Jerry were staying in Leicestershire where they had the use of the spare Mark Woodhull car. That was nice, because Mark’s dad Nev was an old friend of mine from my racing days. 2003llUnlike Laurent, on the previous visit of a Canadian , Dave had the opportunity to race at another track, the Kings Lynn Speedway, prior to the big one at Coventry.2003hh 2003ii

2003jjThe World Final race was won by Peter Falding, while the unfortunate Dave, got planted in the fence.

When Dave and Jerry returned to the Ottawa Airport, a group of us were there to meet them. 2003nnWe all then went out for supper at a restaurant on Bank Street.

The BriSCA F2 World Championship in 2003 was held at the Smeatharpe Stadium near Taunton on Sept 14 and was won by Barry Goldin.

During the rare occasions when I was at home in Maxville, with no racing to go to , I’d occasionally be found having a beer or two in the nearby King George Hotel. One night when I was in there, I started a conversation with one of the locals, who turned out to be a race fan like me.

Little did I know, that Roger Aubin, who lived within walking distance of my house , was just as interested in Dirt racing as I was. His wife Marie, was the sister of Dirt racing legend Marcel Lafrance’s wife. and Stephane Lafrance, a present day top driver, (son of Marcel) was Rogers nephew.

From that chance meeting in the bar of the King George, Roger and I became close friends and our first trip to the races together was on Saturday September 27.

He joined me in the Honda on a first time visit to the Adirondack Speedway near Bremen NY . It was a fairly new track that had recently opened up, not far from Watertown NY.

Unfortunately on our arrival, the races had been canceled, as rain was in the forecast. It must have been a premature decision, because it was nice and dry when we got there and began chatting to track staff. With no racing taking place , the track worker we spoke to let me take the Honda around the track for a lap !2003oo

Since getting involved with auto racing media work, I’d started to take a lot more photos to compliment my articles. I’d attended many of the Super Dirt Series races , and during the year had got to know DIRT MOTORSPORTS media man Tom Skibinski , so offered him a selection of my shots for the SUPER DIRT WEEK souvenir program. He eagerly accepted my offer, and he asked me to pass them on to Gary Spaid who was compiling it. I managed to catch up with Gary before the rain out at Rolling Wheels on Sept 1.

The Media work I’d been doing, was enough for me to gain credentials for SUPER DIRT WEEK and this was going to be my first visit.

At this time, the traditional ‘kick start’ to SUPER DIRT WEEK was the big Victoria 200 race at the Fulton Speedway, that took place the weekend before. 2003ppI was there to see Alan Johnson take the win.

After the race I returned home to Maxville for a couple of days, before heading south again.

I left home at midnight on Tuesday Oct 7, and drove to Mexico NY , where I slept in the Honda. After a good breakfast at the Mexico Truck Stop , I arrived at the the New York State Fairgrounds ‘Moody Mile’, that’s home for SUPER DIRT WEEK by mid morning.

On arrival I was pleased to find that many of my pics were used in the official program.

2003qqAt lunch time , I attended the traditional Media Conference, and just happened to be sitting next to James Beachy, the owner of the all conquering Pillsbury Doughboy Team, that Alan Johnson was driving for.

James caught a glimpse of the SHORT CIRCUIT MAGAZINE I’d taken with me, and when he realized I was a ‘Brit’ , he introduced me to another ex Pat.

This was top photographer Alex Bruce, originally from Scotland, now residing in St Catherines , Ontario. From that day Alex and I have been good friends.

After the Media conference I found a spot for my tent, and got the camping gear set up.2003ss

The Thursday of SUPER DIRT WEEK is traditionally a race night at the nearby Brewerton Speedway , so I took the short drive there to see Tim Fuller get a 358 SDS win.

Once back at the Fairgrounds, it was party time at the infield bar.

On Friday I shared my time between the on track happenings at Syracuse and the 358 SDS race at Rolling Wheels in the evening, that Alan Johnson won . After Rolling Wheels it was back for more partying at the Fairgrounds.

Saturday was the first of the weekends big races, and the place started filling up with fans. There were plenty of other attractions to see, which included my friend Don Shelley’s Fire Mod as well as the Miss Motor Motorsports Bikini photo shoot at the Area Auto Racing News booth.

The big races of the day were the Turning Stone Casino 150 for 358 Mods and the Salt City 100 for USAC Silver Crown Sprint Cars. 2003uuMatt Sheppard was the 358 winner , 2003yy2003vvwhile JJ Yeley took the Silver Crown race.

I was back at Rolling Wheels that night for some Pro Stocks and Sprint Car racing, before returning to the fairgrounds for more partying.

2003tt

Sunday October 12, was the final day of SUPER DIRT WEEK with the climax being , the Eckerd 200 for Big Block Modifieds. 2003xxBefore this, the Pro Stocks had their big race of the year, a 20 lapper that was won by Jamie McGannon .

2003zz 2003aaa2003bbbThe Eckerd 200 provided Alan Johnson and the Doughboy Team of Elaine and James Beachy with a great win to cap their very successful year. The Victory Lane celebrations were over by around 5-30 pm and I was soon heading back up I 81 towards Canada.

My racing year wasn’t over yet, and the following week I was out on the road again adding another new track to my list.

The Fonda Speedway NY was holding back to back 358 and Big Block SDS races on Saturday and Sunday , October 18/19 and I was there for my first time visit.

Fonda is one of the most famous tracks in American racing history, and I was glad to finally add this to my list. Pat Ward, won Saturdays 358 SDS race, but unfortunately Sundays Big Block race got rained out. While at Fonda , I had a chance to talk to the young Sportsman Driver, Jessica Zemken, and get some pictures for a Short Circuit article I was doing.2003jjj

My final road trip to the races for 2003 was on October 25/26 when I once again drove down to the Eastern States Weekend at the Orange County Fair Speedway at Middletown NY.

My friend Roger Aubin , from Maxville was regular visitor to this one and went down in his motor home each year for a few days with his friends. 2003ccc2003ddd2003hhhMy work schedule didn’t allow me enough time off , to accompany them , so drove down in the Honda and met up at the track. 2003ggg2003fffSaturday’s 358 SDS race gave another win to Alan Johnson, where as the 200 lap Big Block race on Sunday was won by Bobby Varin. 2003iii2003eeeOnce the racing was over, I drove back to my home in Maxville, to begin my long winter without much racing.