EPISODE # 31
In the summer of 1996 the ‘Young family’ moved from our rented accommodation in Combermere , Ontario to a house we’d bought in Maxville, so I could be nearer to my work base of Ottawa.
I was still working for Twilite Transportation on the dedicated run, hauling wood pulp to Ottawa from Espinola in the north of Ontario. By now , the Ford Aero Max had been replaced by a new Volvo. My shift pattern only allowed me to go racing every fortnight, so for the next few years, this particular fact, and personal changes to my life , limited the amount of races I could attend. With this in mind, episode # 31 of the ‘RETRO REPORT’ will cover both 1997 and 1998.
After more than a year, of driving up and down the Trans Canada Highway to Espinola, and being away from home for 7 days out of every 14, I began to look around for another job.
There was a local company looking for drivers to work out of their terminal in North Lancaster and I applied for a position. I got excepted, and on May 15, I left Twilite Transportation to drive for Direct Transport.
Although it was doing USA work, it looked likely, that I’d only be away from home , for a couple of days at a time and have the weekends off.
I took a weeks vacation before starting for Direct and was able to take in the Cornwall Motor Speedway opener on May 18 , Brockville Ontario Speedway on May 23 and the second Cornwall event on May 25. All three nights provided big wins for the O’Brien family of Kingston, Ont. Danny and Pat won both Features at the Cornwall opener, where as Danny won again at the B.O.S and a second at Cornwall.
I was back for the weekend and was at Cornwall again on June 1 to see Pat O’Brien take his turn for a win.
After a few trips , it became obvious , I wasn’t enjoying the new job , and started to regret my decision . After the third week of driving to the same area of the USA , I’d had enough !
By chance, I had to bring a return load back into Ottawa, so once unloaded , I drove straight to the Twilite/ Lavigne depot to see if I could have my old job back. I got the nod of approval, but still wanted to keep my options open.
My old friend Phil Foubister had since left Twilite and was working for a company out of Perth (Ont), by the name of Clark Transportation, hauling banana’s up from Delaware, so I rang them to get more info.
We’d planned a family road trip to the Finger Lakes area of New York to meet up with our friends the Mayhews, so on the way there, we dropped into Perth for chat with that company. After discussing the work , I concluded that my best option was the ‘devil I knew’ rather than the ‘devil I didn’t know’ so decided to rejoin Twilite the following Wednesday.
From Perth we drove down to the Gananoque ( Landsdown) border crossing to meet our friends in the Finger Lakes, south west of Syracuse. We booked in to the SUPER 8 Hotel in Auburn then met up in Skaneateles.
As well as doing the tourist thing , on Sunday May 15 we paid a visit to somewhere I was keen to see.
Located at the Cayuga County Fair Speedway, at Weedsport , and close to Auburn was the DIRT MOTORSPORTS Hall of Fame. It was a place I really enjoyed visiting where I was able to get up close to the famous Buzzie Reutimann # 00 Coupe that I’d seen pictures of , many years back, when living in England.
The Cayuga County Fair Speedway ran on Sunday nights and later that evening they had races scheduled. One of the early arrivals was top Canadian driver, Joe Plazek and his big race car hauler was parked in the Fairgrounds. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay in the area to watch the races that night.
I started back at Twilite on the Wednesday June 18 and resumed the regular seven days in fourteen shift pattern.
My next day at the races was on Sat July 5 when I went along to Frogtown to see Peter Mantha take the win.
We’d now been in Canada for over two years and had not yet made a trip back to England.
My cousin Ian Westlake was getting married in Ipswich on Aug 9 and of course we were invited. Carla and I decided to make the trip, where as Pat preferred to stay behind. On Tuesday July 29 , Pat dropped Carla and me off at the nearby Mirabel Airport for our flight with Air Transat to London’s Gatwick Airport .
( I digress, what a shame they decided to close Montreal’s Mirabel Airport for passenger flights, it was a lot nicer Airport than Dorval)
Once back in England, we stayed at my Mum and Dads place in Totternhoe, and while we were there Carla was able to do some horse riding with my sister Anne. We were conveniently in the UK for Aug 2 and the regular ‘first Saturday in the month’ races at the Coventry Stadium.
My old friend Mick Black picked Carla and me up from Totternhoe for a night out at my favorite English track. As normal the BriSCA F1’s were on the program, and many of my old friends were there. It was good to catch up with everyone and watch the racing in my usual spot, up in the front straight bar. I remember having a good chat with Willie Harrison that night.
On Tuesday (Aug 5) I met up with my old friends from the American Auto Club (AAC) at their monthly meeting at a pub in Whipsnade.
I also took a short drive down to Eaton Bray, the next village to Totternhoe to meet up with my old racing partner, Brian Holmes. He was still active on the race tracks and was currently racing a ‘Formula 2 type’ stock car at the Alwalton Track near Peterborough. While at Brian’s, I had a chance to sit in his race car. (Brian sadly passed away in 2012)
On Saturday Aug 9 we travelled over to Ipswich to attend the wedding of my cousin Ian, then on Sunday I went along to the Brafield Stadium where I met up with more of my racing friends. They included, Brian ‘the Duke’ Bedford and Robin Shaw.
On Wednesday Aug 13, I returned to Canada and was picked up by Pat at Mirabel. Meanwhile, Carla stayed on in England for another week.
Over in the UK it was BriSCA World Final time, with the F2 race taking place at Cowdenbeath in Scotland on Aug 30 , and the F1 race at Bradford on Sept 27. Rob Speak got yet another win in F2 event, while John Lund got his sixth gold top at Bradford.
As 1997 came to an end , so did my marriage to Pat.
In December, she would be moving to Baltimore, Maryland to start a new life in the U.S.A. Carla who by now, was almost an adult, would join her mother early in the new year to complete her education in Maryland.
Mum and Dad flew in from England on Dec 29 to spend the New Year holiday with me,
The new year didn’t start off good for me , as I went down with a bad dose of the Flu. While taking a few days off work to recover, a major event in Eastern Ontario’s history took place.
As I went to bed on Monday Jan 5th an ice storm was raging through out the night. My sleep was disturbed with the crackling noise as the limbs and branches on the trees in my garden were breaking under the weight of the ice.
In the morning we awoke to no electric power, and it soon became obvious we weren’t the only ones effected . The ice storm had hit much of Eastern Ontario, Quebec and northern New York bringing down hydro electricity poles in a large area. There wasn’t going to be a quick return to normality.
Mum and Dad were still visiting me , which turned out to be fortunate. The basement in my house relied on a sump pump to stop it flooding. With no power, the pump wouldn’t operate, so Dad and I had to take it in shifts to empty the reservoir every four hours. The pump that supplied the tap and toilet water was also out of action, so buckets of water from the reservoir were used to do the flushing.
It was going to be a long time before electricity workers could restore power and generators were in big demand and hard to find. The storm never effected the Combermere area , ( where we used to live) and Klaas and Brian Staal ( Pat’s Uncle and cousin) managed to get hold of a generator for me to loan. They drove three hours to my place on Saturday morning (Jan 10) with it and hooked me up.
The army were stationed in Maxville helping out with the servicing of generators and clearing the fallen trees. An ‘Emergency Food Kitchen’ and beds for those who needed them, was set up in the Curling Club. This became our eating place where daily updates on the emergency were issued.
Mum and Dad flew back to England on Jan 12 and the following day I returned to work. Power still hadn’t been restored so I arranged for neighbors to baby sit the generator while I was away.
The storm had been a major disaster and electricity workers were drafted in from all over North America. We had a team from West Virginia working in the Maxville area, and eventually on Friday 23 Jan we got our power back. Eighteen days after the storm took place, I had electricity again, and it was time for the big clean up to begin.
One good thing to happen during the days following the ‘Ice Storm’ was the demolition of the disused Maxville Railway Station, that had been an ‘eye sore’ right next to my house. It had been left standing long after it came out of service, and the potential fire hazard remained , while the so called historic preservationists fought to keep it. While Maxville locals were preoccupied dealing with the ‘ Ice Storm’ the demolition crew moved in and knocked it to the ground. I watched, with a big smile on my face’ as it came down.
As a single man again, I needed to get out and meet people, so joined a bowling league in Cornwall . I also started to enjoy ‘new country’ music and on my Saturday nights when not working, I would visit the Zumas road house on St Laurent Blvd in Ottawa.
On Wednesday Feb 4, I went along to the Ottawa Auto Show held at the Congress Centre. It was mainly a ‘new car ‘ show but there were a few things there with a racing interest. I got to sit in the former Mario Andretti Indy Car.
I was an early arrival at the show, and unaware to me at the time, the first few people through the door were presented with Ottawa Senators NHL tickets. Since I’d been based in the Ottawa area, I’d become a ‘Sens’ fan so went along to see their game against the New York Islanders on March 18.
On April 6 my sister Anne and nephew William flew in from England for a visit. Carla was now living in Baltimore so the three of us drove down to Whitney Point near Bingampton NY to pick her up. This was a mid way point, between Baltimore and Maxville that we used for meeting up on her trips back to visit me.
It was a busy time for me, with my brother Chris also making a visit on April 24.
On May 13 mum and dad made a return trip,and on the weekend of May 22/23/24 we all drove down to Baltimore to see Carla. My Plymouth Reliant was getting a bit ‘tired’ for long journeys so we rented a car and stayed in a motel a few miles away from Carla’s new home in Catonsville, Maryland.
Mum and Dad flew back to England on May 28, and a week later on Friday 5 June I went to my first race of the year.
I visited the Autodrome Edelweiss at Cantley , Quebec for the first time. It was a DIRT MOTORSPORTS sanctioned track and the Dirt Modifieds were in action. Edelweiss was a great little track located in the Gatineau Mountains, about a twenty minute drive north of Ottawa. I don’t recall too much about that night but my records tell me that Pat O’Brien was the winner.
I decided to miss out on the racing for Saturday June 6 to attend my bowling banquet, but was at the Cornwall Motor Speedway on Sunday to get my first taste of Sprint Car Racing. The ESS group were there while the Modifieds took a night off.
I was back at my local Cornwall track again on June 21 for the SKOAL SUPER DIRT SERIES. This was won by Watertown, New York’s, ‘Barefoot’ Bob McCreadie.
My job still prevented me from going to the races every week, so it was a fortnight later that I was back at Cornwall to see Danny O’Brien take a win. I’d been over the International Bridge to the Frogtown Speedway, the night before, but that had been cancelled due to rain.
A day off on my shift pattern, allowed me to revisit the Capital City Speedway in Ottawa on Wednesday July 8. They were trying to introduce open wheeled IMCA Modifieds which were more appealing to me than the full fendered Late Model stuff they normally ran.
Normally when I did a weekend work shift, I finished too late for the Cornwall races, but there was a 358 Skoal Super Dirt Series race on July 26 so I made a big effort to be done early. I got there in time to see Tim McCreadie take the win, Danny O’Brien get runner up and Brett Hearn third.
On Monday July 27 I drove down to Whitney Point NY , to pick up Carla who was coming to stay with me for a few days during Maxville’s Highland Games ‘long weekend’ .
(Whitney Point, New York, is a location, between Maxville, Ont and Baltimore MD which we used as a place to meet, for Carla’s trips back and forth to see me)
I took Carla back to Whitney Point on Sunday and was back in Canada in time for the nights races at Cornwall. Danny O’Brien won this one.
On Aug 14, I went along to Edelweiss for the second time, and saw Rick Wilson take the win.
On Tuesday Aug 18 , Frogtown had a SKOAL SUPER DIRT SERIES RACE and I was there to see Brett Hearn get the checkers.
I was working the following weekend , but once again managed to get finished in time to dash straight to Cornwall for the Sunday night races. The feature was won by Todd Burley.
The following weekend was a busy one , where I attended, Brockville on Friday ( 4 Sept) won by Todd Stewart, Can Am Speedway on Saturday ( 5 Sept) won by Mike Perrotte, and Cornwall on Sunday ( 6 Sept) that was won by Danny O’Brien.
Rob Speak retained his title at Swindon.
A week later at Coventry, Frankie Wainman Jnr got his first ‘gold top’.
While that was taking place in England, I was getting my racing fix at Brockville on Friday Sept 18 and Can Am on Sat Sept 19. Alan ‘AJ Slideways’ Johnson won at the B.O.S while Dale Planck was the Can Am winner.
As the racing season came to an end my winter weekends away from work were often spent in Ottawa at Zumas. I was there on Halloween night when Jo Dee Massina was appearing. She’d had some big hits that I liked ( including ‘Heads Carolina, tales California’ ) so I really enjoyed her show.
On Monday Nov 9, I was back in Ottawa to take my Canadian Citizenship exam. With Canada being part of the British Commonwealth and HM Queen Elizabeth being the head of state, I was in a good position to have duel nationality. This is something I wanted !
My year ended with a trip back to England to spend Christmas with the family. I flew out of Ottawa Airport on Dec 22, bound for Heathrow London, while Carla flew in from Washington two days later, on Christmas Eve. The trip gave us a chance to catch up with family and friends once more.
Originally , I’d hoped to attend some racing at the Stoke Stadium ( Newcastle under Lyme) on Sun Dec 27, but that event was cancelled for some reason.
I returned to Ottawa on Tuesday Dec 29 and was back at work the next day.