In late 1994 , the Young family moved from their home in England to start a new life in Combermere, Ontario, and as the new year approached Pat , Carla and myself were about to experience our first Canadian winter.
After taking mum and dad on a sight seeing trip to Niagara Falls, they flew back home out of Toronto Airport on Jan 8.
So it was a busy time !
I was working at Pine Tree Wood heat making wood stoves, and one of my co workers, and good friends was a girl named Karen Laitela, who drove the companies flat bed delivery truck. She introduced me to her boyfriend Paul Mask, who was also a truck driver, and delivered lumber for one of the local mills.
With my past history of truck driving in England, we had a lot in common and the couple became family friends. I had my first and only experience of Ice Fishing when I joined them on nearby Lake Clear on Jan 14. I’m not really a fan of fishing, and this did nothing to change my mind !
There wasn’t much to do in the winter time, and watching the Pembroke Lumberkings hockey team was our main source of entertainment, when not hanging out at the ski slope. I’ve never skied in my life, and never wanted to ! , so I was happy to watch the others from the warmth of the bar.
I had started to miss my racing , and 1995 would turn out to be one year in my life where I attended very few races.
I’d seen a TV report about an Auto Show taking place at the Skydome in Toronto, so on Saturday Feb 18 , I took a drive down there. Toronto was about a three hour drive from Combermere.
While I was at the show, I came across a display by the Merrittville Speedway with a nice looking race car on their stand, which I discovered was a Dirt Modified.It looked good, and compared well to the European open wheeled oval racers that I was used to.
On Feb 24 my job at Pine Tree Wood Heat came to an end and I was out of work. The area we had chosen to live was a beautiful ‘picture post card’ part of the world, but employment was hard to find. After talking with Karen and Paul , I concluded that I needed to get back into truck driving, and started going about the process of getting a license. Karen still had all her books relating to the test from when she took hers, and kindly gave me a pile to read up on.
Just like my car license , the HGV license from England couldn’t be transferred. I had to take the test again. I found a driving school in Toronto and signed up for some training and driving test. I also had to attend a two day course on Air Brakes at the Sheridan College.
In the mean time, I went out for a few road trips with Paul and a couple of other truck drivers I’d got to know. On one of the trips with Paul we passed the Capital City Speedway at Stittsville near Ottawa. He knew I was a race fan and made a point of stopping off in nearby Perth at ‘Penny’s Pit Stop’. The promoter of Capital City Speedway was a lady called Penny Bell, and ‘Penny’s Pit Stop’ was a restaurant she owned. We dropped in for a coffee where I was pleased to pick up the 1995 Schedule Card with the coming seasons race dates.
Once I’d got started on the truck driving course in Toronto, I found it difficult. It was a big change for me after the many years of driving modern European trucks then having to adapt to the old fashioned, ‘antique like’ dinosaurs of North America. As you know, I’ve always had a high regard for American cars, but I’m afraid I can’t feel the same way about their trucks. It was like going back in a time warp, and it became obvious that the North American truck manufactures had a lot to learn from their Europe counterparts. I failed the test miserably , mainly I feel , due to the poor equipment I was using. Of course , the other factor was, I hadn’t been fully prepared. It had cost a lot of our savings and it was a worrying time for us.
The nearest border crossing in to the USA from to our home in Combermere was at Gananoque and on April 8 we decided to take a family day trip across to Watertown, NY.
It was about a two hour drive to the border. While wandering around Watertown’s Salmon Run Shopping Mall we spotted some info sheets and schedule cards for the nearby Can Am Speedway at Lafargeville, that we passed on our way there.
Watertown is just a 30 minute drive down I81 from the Canadian border, and the Lafargeville exit only takes about 20 minutes.
So, the trip to Watertown proved fruitful and I now had the 1995 schedule for another Speedway. ( You have to remember, that at this time the internet was in its infancy, and finding info via web sites, didn’t really excist )
Since getting laid off at Pine Tree Wood Heat, I’d been doing any job I could find, and was in constant touch with the employment office in Pembroke. They looked at my past experience of truck driving in England and agreed to sponsor my re-training. I was sent along to the Eastern Ontario School of Trucking at Carp ( near Ottawa) for an assessment and as a result, a training course was arranged.
On Sunday May 7 it was the opening day at the Capital City Speedway and we went along to take in the action. This then became the second Canadian track I visited, but unlike my first, the dirt Golden Lake Speedway, this one was paved. The cars that were racing were of the full fendered variety, and more akin to UK Hot Rod racing than to the open wheeled contact stuff I’d been used to.
One of the first things I noticed, ( as have, fellow British race fan friends that have visited me since) is the ‘over use’ of caution flags in North American racing. At first, it was hard for me to comprehend why a race should have to come under caution just because some guy happens to spin out. Over the next few years I would have to adapt my way of thought, and get used to it.
The week following Capital City Speedways opener, I started my truck driving course in Carp, and on May 12, I passed my AZ license in Ottawa at the wheel of an International tractor unit and a low loader ‘float’ trailer.
There were plenty of truck driving jobs being advertised so I now thought my unemployment problem would be solved, but it wasn’t going to be as easy as that ! Most of the companies were looking for experienced drivers and much to my disgust, they discounted the 20 years I’d been driving trucks in Europe.
The week after passing my test, I went out each day , looking for work, driving our Plymouth Reliant far and wide. Whilst on my travels I picked up a racing publication at a news stand called Performance Racing News. It was a newspaper format and carried reports ( among others) about Canadian Dirt Modified racing, and had photos of cars similar to that I’d seen at the Toronto show. I soon discovered there was a track at Brockville, and on Thursday May 18, I just happened to be in that area.
It was early evening that I happened to be passing by the Speedway, so stopped in to take a look. I never expected any races to be taking place on a Thursday night, but got very excited as race cars started to arrive.
Back then, this track ran regularly on Thursday nights. Imagine my surprise when a race hauler turned up at the gate with the name ‘Buzzie’ Reutimann on the side. Could this be the same ‘Buzzie’ Reutimann that I’d heard about while I was living in England ? ( check out RETRO REPORT for 1977 http://www.rickattheraces.com/retro11.html , and the penfriend reports I had from the USA) .
When the hauler pulled up at the pit gate, I went to investigate and sure enough, it was the man himself. He was very approachable and a likable guy that found time for a nice little chat before he entered. Unfortunately, this, my first visit to the Brockville Ontario Speedway was unplanned and so I couldn’t stay for the racing, but I made a point to return as soon as I could.
Some of the trucking companies I visited showed an interest in me, but gave no firm offers, so for the next couple of weeks I kept traveling around handing out my resume.
On Friday June 2 , I called at the Larabee Trucking company in Cardinal (Ont) where I struck it lucky. After taking a road test, company boss Earl Larabee was willing to give me a chance. Their work was mainly delivering to the USA and we arranged that for my first couple of trips, I would accompany another driver to share the driving and learn the procedures.Their yard also happened to be very close to the 730 Truck Stop, which often had a Dirt Modified parked on the front.
At the weekend, it was time for me to go racing again and on Sunday 4 June I made my second visit to the Golden Lake Speedway.
The next day, I was due to start at Larabee’s and on Monday evening I joined Ragan ( the driver I was accompanying) on my first North American truck driving job.
We set off in an extended wheel based Kenworth, bound for Atlanta Georgia. This was a great experience for some one like me who had only been to the USA couple of times in the past. We traveled through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and on to Georgia. Once we’d unloaded in Atlanta , we had to drive to York, Alabama for our return load to Canada. We took a slightly different route for the return trip home and came back through Tennesee. We got back to our yard in Cardinal on Friday night and I was home in Combermere by 10-30 pm .
Like I said, this was a great experience for me, visiting ten different USA States during a working week.
On Saturday June 17 we went out on a family outing to the USA where we visited the Can Am Speedway at Lafargeville NY, to get our first taste of Dirt Modified racing. I don’t recall the winner that night, but came away with the knowledge that I’d now found my North American preference in car racing. Dirt Modifieds were the nearest thing, this side of the Atlantic Ocean to my beloved BriSCA F1’s.
For the summer of 1995 , I was kept busy on Larabees delivering such things as bottled water and beer to Orlando , Florida and Atlanta, Georgia, and then bringing back loads of produce to Canada. During that time I drove that same Kenworth, a Cab Over Peterbuilt or a GMC General.
On the weekend of 12/13 August we had some of our old stock car friends visiting us in Combermere. Pete and Laura Mayhew who we’d known for many years, had relocated from the UK to Morris Plains , New Jersey not long after we’d moved to Canada, so they’d arranged to drive up and see us.
On the Sunday while they were with us , we all drove down to Toronto’s Wonderland, where as well as taking in the attractions such as the new NASCAR ‘Days of Thunder” ride, a Beach Boys concert was taking place. This was the third time I’d seen my favorite band perform.
On Thursday 17 August I went along to the Brockville Ontario Speedway to watch my first night of racing there. Once again my ‘new hero’, ‘Buzzie’ Reutimann was in action , but it was local driver Rick Wilson who took the checkers.
While at Brockville I picked up a copy of the National Speedway Directory, a ‘must have’ publication for race fans in those days before web sites. This proved to be very useful in my quest to find other tracks where the Dirt Modifieds appeared.
Also at Brockville, I picked up a Schedule card for the Cornwall Motor Speedway, a track that I’d passed in my travels, but the geographic location and their Sunday night race day, had prevented me from attending.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, the F1 Stock Car Long Track World Final was taking place at Baarlo in the Netherlands on the weekend of 19/20 Aug where Ron Kroonder secured another win.
On September 10 the BriSCA F1 World Final took place at the Hednesford Hills Raceway, where Keith Chambers was the winner.
A week later on September 17 , the BriSCA F2 world Final took place at the Matchams Park Stadium, Ringwood for the first time. Manchesters Rob Speak was the winner.
After a summer of working away from home all week, the novelty of driving down south began to wear off . I started looking for another job where I’d be home more often.
My truck driving friend Phil Foubister from near by Palmer Rapids, worked on a dedicated contract hauling wood pulp from Ottawa to Espinola in Northern Ontario and that sounded like a better option than being in the USA all week. He put me in touch with his boss, Peter Winder, who also happened to be a ‘Brit’ ( from Penrith, Cumberland) and I was soon taken on.
I started working for FLY Transportation at the end of October driving a Ford Aeromax. The shift pattern suited me well ! During a two week work cycle, I would work Monday Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the first week, then Wednesday and Thursday on the second week. It basically meant that every other week, I’d get a three day weekend off. I could now look forward to attending a lot more races.
On December 4, Mum and Dad flew in from England for a pre-Christmas visit and on Saturday 9 December we took them out in our Pontiac Parisienne for a drive down to Watertown NY, That proved to be an interesting trip!
It turned out to be my first experience of the ‘lake effect’ of the area when there’s a winter storm. This part of New York suffers badly when it snows, and while we visiting Watertown we got ‘dumped on’ by a big storm . In the short space of time while we were inside the shopping mall, over a foot of snow came down , which did not relent.
Mum and Dad flew back to England on December 11 as we prepared for our second Christmas in Canada. As the year came to an end , my grand total of race meetings attended, was only four, the least I’d done since 1965.