Story and Photos by Ken Keating
If someone had told me in the mid sixties that I would be watching and being involved in some manner with the exciting world of Stock Car racing I probably would have said; “I don’t think so” however I have spent the last nineteen years doing just that at Western Speedway.
My first encounter with Stock Cars happened, during the mid sixties in the small town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. A car dealership, called Trefry’s Garage, employed me as a general handyman around this time which meant I got to jockey all sorts of cars, new and used, plus the Stock Car whenever work was required in the shop.
Trefry’s sponsored a 1947 Mercury 2 door coupe equipped with a V-8 Flathead Ford motor owned by Bob Brooks a well known photographer is Nova Scotia. This car turned out lots of power for its day and the suspension was tuned to stay in loose gravel. Our driver was a young man named Sandy Saulnier and blessed with lots of skill on the gravel track. He used the outside to his advantage and won most of the races he entered. There was a great rivalry between Trefry’s and Motor Mart, which was the General Motors dealership in our town. They sponsored a 1937 Chevy Coupe driven by Jimmy Hall and the car and driver were equal to ours. One of the rules was if you got behind a slower car, you could push him out of the way and go by. Everyone liked to watch this and Saulnier excelled here. The track was a dirt track built in the middle of an old gravel pit in a small village called Wedgeport and every Sunday afternoon the banks around the track were lined with spectators each bringing a lawn chair or just sitting on the banks. By the time racing was over you carried away as much dust and dirt on you as was on the track but everyone loved it.
On one occasion, Bob took the car, and Saulnier, to Annapolis to take on the best the Annapolis Valley had to offer. Sandy grabbed the checkered flag in the Trophy Dash again on the outside. Starting fifteenth and dead last in the Heat, he got trapped by a slower car. Using the rules at Yarmouth he put his bumper against the slower car, put the power to the Flathead and moved the car out of the way thus bringing a black flag. Someone neglected to inform Sandy this was not allowed at this track. This black flag also put Sandy at the end of the twenty-one car field for a twenty-five lap Main Event
With the drop of the green flag, Sandy began his move to the outside passing cars at his will. With five laps gone, he had already passed five cars. With twelve laps left Sandy was running eighth and still on the outside with large rooster tails of dirt coming from the rear tires. With every pass fans were beginning to cheer the onslaught put on by Saulnier against their hometown favorites. Three more laps and Sandy was up to third. Four laps later, Sandy stood on the gas and blasted into the lead to a standing ovation by the big crowd on hand. The fans did not sit down for the remainder of the race
After about four years racing in the pit, Bob Brooks, the promoter, thought it would be a good idea to build a new track inside the town limits at the Western Nova Scotia Exhibition grounds in Yarmouth. When completed the track was a 3/8-mile, high-banked oval with a dirt surface, lined with a metal retaining wall, and a large fence surrounding the whole track. It would hold twenty-three hundred race fans with not a bad seat in the house.
The races were moved to Saturday evenings and still the fans filled the house on most occasions. Saulnier and Hall continued their rivalry in the Modified Division and Stock Cars became the newest class bringing in new drivers and teams. Carmen Christie became another the fan favorite driving a 1957 Chevy in the Stock Car class. He was fast and good and walked away with the points lead his first year driving
The following year, Brooks had a three inch layer of asphalt laid around the speedway at a cost of $2,300.00 dollars which seemed to be a lot of money then. Of course, now the cars had to be upgraded and rebuilt for the asphalt. Brooks invited Stock Cars from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario to an invitational and we got severely spanked as the out-of-towners had cars set up and were used to racing on small high-banked ovals. Bob brought in a driver called Alan Christie already running Stock Cars and Alan faired well winning a lot of races and finished second in points.
Never standing pat, Brooks built a new Modified 1966 Studebaker powered by a 289 Ford Cobra motor. The car ran three wide slicks with a normal tire on the left front. Accelerating out of the corners lifted the left front and caused all sorts of problems for Alan. Hall, meantime, come out equipped with a turnbuckle that kept the tire down on the surface and he walked away with a Feature Event win. Brooks stormed into the shop asking a turnbuckle be installed on his car by the next race, as he did not like to lose
That year saw Alan dominate the field loosing only three Feature races. Carmen was still dominate in Stock Cars and fans began to whisper, “Put Carmen in a Modified and Alan in a Stock Car and they wouldn’t be as dominate”. These two drivers heard the comments and entered two cars, one for each class, the following year. When the dust settled the brothers were one-two in points in each class. They just had raw talent and superior equipment.
With his success at running the Yarmouth Speedway, Bob Brooks was approached to take over the oval and drag strip at Halifax. He envisioned a three-track association with Yarmouth, Halifax, and Riverside Speedway bringing all three tracks under one umbrella. If this was to happen, I was to be the liaison between Brooks and the three tracks. If one track objected, Brooks would run only Halifax. Unfortunately, for the Yarmouth track and myself, the latter was the case. The Yarmouth Speedway was bulldozed over and I moved on leaving my hometown for Manitoba in 1969. The sad part, no one looked after the track, the fans, or the drivers after the departure of Brooks. This was a superior venue with a solid fan base. The caliber of racing improved each year with better drivers, numbers, and classes in a relatively short period. Without the drive, knowledge, and commitment of Bob, the Speedway folded.
The irony of this whole story is Bob Brooks was a professional photographer, and a one time driver. Carmen Christie married one of my cousins and we shared racing stories then and some forty odd years later, I now pack a camera and still enjoy sharing and writing race stories and photos thus coming full circle.
If indeed I am at Western Speedway in 2012, it will mark the 20th year since I first saw races there. Over the years I have driven the pace car on several occassions but I had never driven a race car on the track. Just previous to my marriage, in 2002, my wife to be, some friends, and the track promotor opened the track and Brian Clutchey, a past Stock Car Champion, loaned his car to me to do a few laps around the Langford oval instead of hosting a regular bachelor party. I will never forget the rush, the trust from Gene and Brian, the support of my friends, and the photos from Barrie Goodwin. I did get around the track at a 21:07 before time ran out on a truly memorable experience.