Norm Ellefson flew into Toronto from Spokane, Wash. (via Minneapolis) last weekend to be inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame (photos, report on page 26 of Saturday’s Wheels section).
The one-time supermodified and sprint car driver (my kinda racer) talked about the days in the 1960s when he drove on the amazing, but long-gone, Canadian-American Modified Association (CAMRA) trail that ran on speedways from Edmonton in the north to Phoenix in the south and over to Salt Lake City and Victoria, B.C., east and west.
The talent in that series was mind-boggling and I had a grin from ear to ear as Ellefson rhymed off the names of legends he raced against — all of whom either made it to Indy or had a good shot at the “Champ Cars” at one time or another:
Tom Senva and his brother Jerry Sneva, Eldon Rasmussen, Billy Foster, Cliff Hucul, Dick Simon, Jim Malloy, Art Pollard, Ed Kostenuk, Roy Smith (before he went to stock cars and Daytona), Ken Hamilton (Davey’s dad), Frank Weiss and on and on.
“I lived in Edmonton and would have to drive a thousand miles to go racing and then have to turn around and drive a thousand miles home,” he said. “I moved to Spokane so I could be in the middle.”
We got talking about how big-time racing has always been a money deal — you either had to have deep pockets yourself or an angel writing cheques.
“I had a chance to go to Indy with Rolla Volstedt (a Canadian-born American Indy car owner who took Foster to the 500 in 1966 and Janet Guthrie a decade later), but he told me he wanted me to pay him $2,500 first. I said I didn’t have that kind of money (average income for a working man back then was maybe $6,500) so I didn’t get to go. Billy (Foster) came from a racing background — his father and grandfather both raced — so he had connections who put up the money and he got his chance.”
We laughed about how the California drivers nudged the mid-western Americans out of their rides at Indy. The Midwesterners (Pat O’Connor, Johnny Thomson, Tommy Hinnershitz — those guys) would race for 40 per cent of the purse plus expenses. The Californians — Bill Vukovich, Roger Ward, Parnelli Jones — came along and said they’d only take 20 per cent plus expenses, so guess who got to race?
"Not much has changed," said the winner of major races in Victoria, Edmonton and a huge Labour Day sprint car showdown at the state fair in St. Paul, Minn.
“I had a lot of fun and made a lot of friends,” Ellefson said. ‘Racing was good to me.”
Now, I have to make a public apology.
Two weeks ago, in this very column, I said that if anybody purchased tickets to the Hall of Fame gala as a result of reading my column, I would introduce them from the audience as I am always the emcee.
So eight people bought tickets. I was supplied with the names. I then got carried away trying to be Mr. Entertainer and completely forgot about those people and my promise to them. I was reminded at the end of the evening but by then it was too late.
I shrugged it off but when I got home and my wife asked how the evening had gone, she was aghast. “They spent a lot of money,” she said. “You should be ashamed.”
She’s right. As a result, I want to say, today, to the following people, that I am really sorry.
If Fritz Haefele, Margarete Haefele, Peter Haefele, Shirley Haefele, Linda Jachtschutz, John Jachtschutz, Bev Gordon and John Klecker should attend the gala next year, I promise to introduce them then.
Meantime, I'm confused (Part 2).
Caterham used to be Lotus, but now it's Caterham. Renault used to be Renault, but now it's Lotus. Lotus is supplying engines to a dwindling number of IndyCar teams but they're not really Lotus engines, being built, as they are, by John Judd and Jack Brabham. In short, there are just too many Lotuses to keep straight - or Loti, as I imagine the plural to be.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport) unveiled its new logo this week in advance of the Victoria Day SpeedFest Weekend presented by Castrol Edge on May 18-20 that will kick off the 2012 racing season there.
The feature race that weekend will be the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series opener — Scott Steckly, defending champion — with support from the Trans-Am Series, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, Formula cars and the Canadian Touring Car Series.
“We wanted the new logo to reflect our new partnership with Canadian Tire as well as incorporate the historical aspects of the park with use of the track outline,” said Myles Brandt, President and General Manager of the facility.