Story and photos: Ken Keating
March 2, 2014, Langford (ISN) – A milestone was reached on March 1st as the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame & Museum celebrated it’s thirthieth Anniversary with the Induction of six new Pioneer Awards and six new Inductees at the Eagle Ridge Community Center in Langford BC.
The long time voice of Western Speedway, Rocky Horne, opened the event with several fans, drivers, and past Hall of Fame Members in attendance along with several displays of photos, trophies, and race cars for all to see.
Long time voice of Western Speedway, Rocky Horne. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
The Pioneer Awards are presented to individuals who have made outstanding contributions, have provided services, or have shown exceptional dedication to the sport of Auto Racing. The presentation of these Awards began in 1993 and today were presented to Jeff Roscoe representing Island Bakery, Sherrie Epp, a long time sports reporter with the Times Colonist; Robert Hunter, a well known race photographer in the Pacific Northwest; Vitra First Ladies Award accepted by Eileen Currier and Barb Jay; Joe Poulin, and Bob Powell rounded out the Awards for 2014.
Fans in attendance. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
The six new Inductees included:
As a teen growing up in Vancouver, John Copp took an early interest in racing often sneaking off to the old Digney Speedway in Burnaby. He decided to race in 1951 and prepared a 1929 Pontiac, alas, his racing career ended before it began because he was unable to get his parents to sign the permission slip. Twenty years later, a chance meeting with Roy Haslam and Denny Rand, started a long active relationship with the racing community. John became involved sponsoring Roy’s 67 Chevelle through Garden City Auto. He also sponsored other drivers notably John Forsyth and Billy Price. The Garden City name was well known during the 70s and 80s, not just through Stock Cars and Open Comp cars on and off the Island, but Garden City Nights as a lap sponsor at Western Speedway. When Roy, Terry, their crews, and families travelled off Island, John took his family along too competing at over twenty tracks in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the U.S. (Washington State, Oregon, California, Nevada, & Minnesota) The teams returned with many first place finishes and Championships setting some track records that still stand today. Their accomplishments made John very proud. Although he liked travelling to new tracks, he enjoyed competing at home at Western Speedway most, especially during the IDC Series and the Canada 200.
John Copp. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
John liked everyone to enjoy the racing but always strived for the best in competition. That’s just what it was the night he put “The King” Kershaw in the old black Camaro and Roy in the new white Camaro. A great fan draw, good competition, and a fun night of racing. There is a continued relationship today with many of the friends John made during those racing years. They remember an approachable, yet imposing man, with a strong handshake and long thick cigars. After Garden City Auto became Garden City Suzuki, John found a new avenue of racing. For two years he supplied his son Steve and Roy with Suzuki 4 X 4s and they competed in the Boomerang 250 off road in Nanaimo bringing home 1st place trophies in their class. Although he thinks the stairs in the stands have become longer and steeper over the years, you may still meet John at Western. He goes to watch his grandson Trevor race Go-Carts or Hornets and Steve driving Stock Cars or Late Models. His Induction was accepted by his son Steve as John was unavailable to be there.
Hank Neilsen(M) with Dave Smith & Gary Madden. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
A multi-talented member of the racing community, a driver, car builder, mechanic, and dyno tech; Joe MacMurchie’s journey spans almost 60 years. He grew up around automobiles, his father had an automotive business and they were the hobby of his friend and neighbour Lamont Brooks. Joe started with road racing, this was on dark country roads, at night, in cars he and Lamont put together. An apple box for a seat, no exhaust, no lights, only the moon and stars to navigate by. Pretty scary stuff. Graduating from that to ¼ mile drag racing on the old Bamberton cement road in the 50s and then the new strip the Quarter Milers Club acquired in ’67. Joe used a ’53 Olds, a Model A, a ’68 and a ’69 Camaro(SS396).
Joe MacMurchie. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
In 1968 things changed, he was a mechanic for Lamont at Westwood when that fateful crash took the young Victoria driver’s life. Joe was devastated vowing never to be involved in racing again. For a few years that was so but when Roy Haslam needed a mechanic and partner, he went after Joe persuading him to help. Together they built and ran the car for one season. Joe caught the bug once more. He left Roy to build and race his own cars. For a number of years he ran several classes, Sportsman, Superstock, and even one year of NASCAR. Joe crewed for, raced with and against such notable drivers as Lamont Brooks, Bob Low, Dave Copper, Roy Haslam, Neil Montgomery, Jack Jeffries, Gary Kershaw, Dave Smith, Rick O’Dell, and Don Dowdy.
Joe’s father, a VITRA tech man, was the driving force that got the infield scales at Western Speedway. Joe helped install them. Years later when there were disagreements at the track and the scales were going to be torn out, Joe stepped in, had them carefully dismantled, and transported to his property where they were stored until Tony Mortel needed Joe to be a tech man for the IDC. Joe agreed as long as they would reinstall the proper scales he had kept. (How he wished he had asked them to engrave his dad’s name on those scales when they were reinstalled.)
Once again the years went by life, family, work, got in the way, racing wasn’t so important until the WILROC Sprint Cars needed a tech crew. Joe was called on again this time though, after a short stint with WILROC, he teamed up with Neil and Jeff Montgomery and the #33 crew. He truly enjoyed those years travelling the Northwest Sprint Car Racing circuit.
Joe is taking it a bit slower now, no more races. He still goes to the race shop hanging out with Neil and plays with the engine dyno. He really likes that piece of equipment. Its his favourite toy. Peter Wille asked Joe if he would mind helping with the new dyno machine he purchased. Guess where you will probably find Joe?
A twenty year involvement with racing on Vancouver Island began when Dick Miller sold chips in the stands at Western Speedway in the early 1950s and ended when he retired from the executive of MIARA. Dick’s progress into racing was slow and steady. He worked as part of the pit crew for Frank Dyer in 1955 when Lamont Brooks drove. Again in 1956 he crewed for Lamont Brooks. 1957 was the year Dick crewed for the #98 car driven by Billy Foster. His final year on a pit crew was with Frank Dyer when Brian Wilson drove the car. Brian became the racing Champion that year. The experience Dick gained during the 50s helped speed things up for him and in 1963 he graduated to driver racing the Nanaimo – Victoria circuit. He placed 4th in his rookie year with Roy Haslam as his Crew Chief. Travelling between Victoria and Nanaimo, in 1964, Dick won 28 Trophy Dashes, (10 in a row) driving his orange #4 1949 Ford.
Ken Svendsen. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
Trying to gain some insight into what made him so successful, Rick and Digger O’Dell would climb the mountain at Western Speedway to watch Dick’s racing techniques. In 1964 Roy Haslam won his first race driving that #4 car in the Mechanic’s Race in Nanaimo. Before one race that same year in Nanaimo, Dick loaned Ross Surgenor his spare radiator only to go out and damage his own radiator. He was far enough ahead in points he just sat out the Main Event. Ross went on to win the Main Event (his first in Nanaimo). Dick finished the season as the 1964 Stock Car Champion. Then he finished 7th in overall points.
Neil Montgomery, Dick Miller, Norm Cox. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
The first Billy Foster Memorial Race, at Western was also the first and only rollover for Dick. It happened when a car exiting the pits spun him out of control and he proceeded
to do the Western roll. Changes came after his work transferred him to Nanaimo in 1966. He continued to race, but it was in Nanaimo. Here he won a number of Main Events and Dashes driving cars for several Central Island teams including Skip Hallgarth, Bobby Courser, and John Green. Subsequently he retired from racing at the end of the 60s but served on the executive of MIARA until 1972. Dick continues to live in Nanaimo. He’s still driving only it’s for Purolator so now he doesn’t put his foot into it as much as he used to.
Hank Nielson was 19 when he arrived from Nanaimo from Copenhagen, with his family in 1951, he had already completed his apprenticeship as a mechanic and machinist. Soon after arriving his father, brother, and he began operations of Mountain View Service which was a very successful business for many years. Encouraged by Ray Pottinger in 1952, Hank put his skills to work building a race car. He began racing at Shearing Speedway in 1953 on the newly paved track in a 1934 Ford. One night, in his first year racing after winning the B Main, he was invited to race the A Main which he proceeded to also win. Hank helped put Nanaimo on the racing map by winning a number of Main Events and Trophy Dashes against many Victoria drivers; some rather notable ones like Digger O’Dell, Dave Cooper, Ray Pottinger, and Dick Varley. Over the years Hank built his own engines and cars using his experience to improve performance, reliability, and finish races. The heating problems of the flathead Fords was solved when Hank and others removed fins from the dual water pumps restricting flow through the thermostat housing.
Hank Neilsen. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
When the new Western Speedway dirt track opened in Langford, Hank raced at both tracks although within a year the Shearing track closed leaving Western as the place to race. It was here Hank discovered a weakness in the spindles on his 1934 Ford which caused him to loose a couple of wheels, the result was, a rollover that put him in hospital for two weeks with a severely broken arm. True to the racing spirit, he worked out the problem, then returned to race with a stronger truck axel. Hank was obviously fearless because that wasn’t his only rollover and he has several Rollover Crests to prove it. Some were sponsored by Bing Foster s Clothing and Speedway Motors.
The mid 50s saw Hank, Wally Illott, and a few others, devoting time and effort to successfully have the Grandview Bowl built in Nanaimo. They were instrumental in forming MIARA where Hank served on the Executive. In the mid 50s, on the newly paved Western Speedway with Phil Henry flagging, Hank held the first track record (at least for a short time since he was first to time in) Hank was narrowly edged out of first place in 1955 by Dick Varley in the 100 lap Championship Race at Western. He went on to win many races in both Nanaimo and Victoria as he drove several more of his 1934 Fords until 1960. The Ford retired that year but Hank didn’t, he drove, when needed for several drivers, including Nibbs Anderson, Ray Pottinger, and Red Burke. Hank could jump into a car when the driver was unable to make a race, drive the car competitively keeping them in the points and managed to win a few more races along the way. Retired now, Hank still lives in Nanaimo.
Since the age of 15, Ken Svendson has been involved in Auto racing. A 1949 Ford Stock Car was his first racer built with the help of Jalopy driver Jack McClelland in Ken s father s service station at Chase River south of Nanaimo. Being to young to drive himself, he recruited Bob Raynor to perform the duties. Once old enough and over the next 47 years, Ken drove race cars in a number of classes, on many circuits including B Modifieds, Super Modifieds, Claimers, Island Super Stocks, Old Timers, and Sprint Cars. Racing every track, on Vancouver Island including Grandview Bowl, Western Speedway, Saratoga Speedway, and Cassidy Speedway. Travelling to tracks across B.C. and Washington State garnering many impressive finishes. In 1975 he won the MIARA Super Stock Championship and 1979 he captured the Strawberry Cup.
Ken Svendsen(M) with Dave Smith & Rob Horne. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
After hanging up his race suit and helmet permanently he spent the next decade as a co-owner of a Sprint Car that raced on both dirt and pavement. Ken s commitment to auto racing is unmatched. His involvement has included sponsoring other racers and an open door policy to assist many competitors in an array of classes. Often one would see a competitors race car in the shop along with his own. He always made visiting racers in all classes, feel at home and tried to accommodate their specific needs, sharing his own resources at no cost to those visitors. To this day he willingly offers advice or takes on projects to share his extensive knowledge with new competitors. With his long racing career, competitiveness, and desire to lend a helping hand to fellow racers his talents have often been untouchable, whether it was engine building, chassis fabrication, or fixing a set-up that resulted in a competitive advantage for himself or any of those he has assisted over time.
Ken s ingenuity for repairing broken parts or sweeping the shop floor to enable the assembly of a race engine has saved numerous racers from elimination. Ken has contributed tremendously to the sport of auto racing on Vancouver Island. In the eyes of many of those who have received his assistance, Ken is one of the local greats. When the green flag drops on a new race season you will probably see him in the stands at local events.
Norm Wilcox first experience racing was in the early 60’s riding down Miller’s Hill in a homemade go-cart built by Harvey Chipper. He began crewing in 1963 on a car owned by Frank Dyer. One of his first jobs on the race car was to put heads on the old flathead Ford. Norm and Roy Haslam put them on “backwards” while driver Dick Miller, who was under the car putting in the trans, fell asleep. In 1968 Norm and Gary Kershaw built the beautiful #21 Mallock and Mosely 55 Chevy. They had three goals for the season: win the Championship, win the Billy Foster 100, and win the Best Appearing Car Award. What a year, they won all three.
Kershaw moved up to the Superstock Class in 1969 so Norm teamed with Billy and Charlie Price. They bought Gary’s car and with Billy in the driver’s seat proceeded to tie Mel Marshall for the Championship. The Price / Wilcox team moved to Superstocks in 1970 running the 55 Chev finishing the season third in points. The next year the car was rebodied with a 1964 Chevelle, again Billy drove getting 6th place in points and they won the Best Appearing Car Award. Continuing for one more season the Price / Wilcox combo ended the ’72 season in third place. Norm’s interest had changed by 1976, the old ’30s and ’40s Stock Cars became his focus. Within a couple of years he was rebuilding the first of several Old Timers. The #1 Coca-Cola car, that had been driven by Bill Halliday in Nanaimo, was purchased from Dean Cramb. Norm rebuilt the car and Gary Kershaw was the first to drive it at Western. The next year the Old Timer Racer Club was formed. Over the years Norm built four more Old Timers selling them to Fraser Carmichael, Dave Smith, Mike Currier, and Wayne Townsend.
Norm Wilcox. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
Norm comes up innumeral ideas, some have implemented for the betterment of the racing community on the Island. His best by far was in 1983, he thought “the auto racing community should have a Hall of Fame”. He asked a friend who agreed. They found a few more interested race enthusiasts and in 1984 a Hall of Fame committee was formed, that same year they inducted the first seven members into the newly formed Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Western Speedway. In 1984 Norm started the 7/11 Race of Champions for former Western Speedway Champions.
Thanks, in part to Norm, each year new Inductees get a blue jacket with the Hall of Fame Crest emblazoned on it. Their pictures are in the programme at the Induction ceremony. After each Induction each person is interviewed to give their reaction to their Induction. The newspaper insert, in the Times Colonist about the Hall of Fame Ceremony that too is Norm’s idea. Fifty years and counting Norm is still active in the racing Community and is an advisor to the Hall of Fame Committee. You can find him many race nights at the Speedway greeting people who drop in to check out the Hall of Fame Museum.
Trophies on display. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
We are genuinely honoured to induct Ken Svendson, Norm Wilcox, Dick Miller, John Copp, Hank Neilson, & Joe MacMurchie into the Victoria Auto Racing Hall Of Fame & Museum.
Vantreight Farms restored #7 Sprint Car. (Photo: Ken Keating, Illusions Photography)
The afternoon concluded with Appreciation Awards given to Rocky Horne for his support on the mic and Glenn Parfitt for his long standing support with the sound system and music plus a luncheon and an opportunity for all to relive the great sport of auto racing and to celebrate the history of the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame & Museum.