Humberstone Speedway of Yesterday & Today
The history of Humberstone Speedway.
As many may know the racetrack we refer to today as Humberstone Speedway, was founded and built by John Puhl. We must note though, he originally had 3 partners. But within 3 race seasons he was the sole owner. He owned 100 acres which he farmed and worked full time at the Robin Hood Flour Mills. Getting permits to start such a business back then was not an easy task. But John’s Wife Hazel gathered over 100 signatures in favor of the track and 20 against. The quarter mile track was built on is 15 acres of John’s farm. He paid those who helped with a cheque from the Flour Mill. They built bleachers, canteens, washrooms and a control tower. Although a couple events were run in 1957, Humberstone International Speedway ran their first full season in 1958. They first ran the “A” Class, V8s and the “J” Class which was a Hobby Class. A ¼ mile track record was broken at the time. Within 1 month, Bill Torrisi broke the record and was still racing at Humberstone in 1984. Don Ledingham, Jay Chernish, and Gordy Wilson who rolled his #66 racer on July 4th of 1960. The first All Canadian Championships were held in 1959 was the brainchild of Chernish. The popular all day event even saw Chernish capture the 100 lap “A” Class.
The All Canadian also saw Jeno Begolo compete in the Bugs Bunny #16 ride which was later inherited by Son Jimmy and Grandson Brent. Geno and Jim have an All Canadian Championship to their credit. Jimmy’s win was his first Modified feature ever. By 1961, George Treanor, Stan Friesen and Harold Sonnenberg were regulars. In 1962, racing for the first time in Ontario was held on a Sunday. In 1964 Humberstone was renovated with the West End bleachers which were completed in 1965. In 1966, the Sportsman Class was added. 1968 had the debut of the Mini Stocks. In 1970 the rough and tumble Late Models boasted with talented local drivers, Terry St Amand, Bob Webster, along with Don McGinnis, Jim Borget and many others visiting regular from Western New York. The Puhl Family brought in Guest appearances, The Famous Stunt Man “MAD CANADIAN” Ken Carter was a close friend of the Puhls, the also had All Canadian Champion guest appearances by Canadian NASCAR Star Earl Ross who did gain a NASCAR Win and a 2nd. Ross turned a couple hot laps with his Carlings #52 racer to excite the fans! Also brought in was Drag Racer “Jungle Jim Liberman”. When he fired up that drag car, Wow did those Stands Vibrate By mid 1970s, the Late Models boycotted for more pay which brought their demise to the Pt Colborne Speedway. This exit also saw the birth of the 318 CID Modifieds. It was this class which helped earn Pete Bicknell the nickname “Mr. Smallblock” who went on to beating the best of the 467 cubic inch Mods, of Ransomville and Merrittville of which there were many. Also, Mid 70’s had the debut of the Bomber Class which was a 6 cylinder fun class which later became the highly competitive Pro Stocks. We also saw the rebirth of the Mini Stocks. The Mini Stocks had a good cross of local Dirt racers along with some of the pavement Minis from Cayuga which was dominated by VW Bugs, Toyota’s and Mini Coopers. They later became the Mini Modifieds which soon out priced themselves and were history in the early 80s. Bill Dominey was the glue trying to keep the Minis together but when Humberstone had to stretch out to Central New York tracks for a low paying beginner class, this brought their demise.
In 1982, John and Hazel handed the ownership over to the Sons Jim and Bob and they brought back the Modifieds. By season end of 1984, the original tower and canteen were brought down and replaced with the current VIP Tower which stood head and shoulders above any track at the time. 1984 also was the Inaugural season for Humberstone in the DIRT organization. At the end of the 1987 season, the Puhl’s seeked a new owner for the Speedway and Fort Erie Businessman Ron Duplantis purchased the speedway which he would operate for the 1988 and 89 seasons. He was unable to return the speedway to the success of the 1970’s which ran very successfully during the early 70s with just the Limited Sportsman and the Late Models.
After the 89 season Humberstone Int’l Speedway was sold again to Former racer, Al Wagner and his Wife Edith. The Wagners felt the track needed a fresh start and a new name which became Gasport Int’l Speedway which was located between Gasline and Port Colborne. Many innovations took place under the Wagner regime such as the Pure Stock Trophy class, The Mod Stocks, Outlaw Stocks which was a cross between the Pro Stock and Street Stock classes which brought in almost 30 cars per week paying $300 to win. Many Championship Tours came in such as Sportsman and Pro Stock events as well as Sprints and Mini Sprints. Many successful promotions tried such as, early admission discounts, $1.00 food at the Canteen along with drivers memberships which covered the drivers admissions as long as they were competing. The Speedway Mustang Pace Car was raffled away and won by a Ft Erie patron. A Cow, yes a Cow was also raffled away. The Wagners operated Gasport Speedway until the end of the 2003 season.
Running a 5 division Speedway along with holding down full time jobs became more than they could handle for the Husband and Wife duo. So after 14 fine seasons the speedway became dormant for the first time since it’s opening in 1957. Many rumours circulated about the speedways future and possible new ownership. Asphalt racer Gord Bennett attempted to purchase the 3/10 mile track but funds could not be secured. This also ended the 19 year Announcing at the Speedway of Veteran Kenny Hangauer who enjoyed working under the 3 different owners.
The 1990’s saw car owner Pete Cosco as a competitor. Pete made his debut in 1995 but had been involved in racing as a sponsor first then as an owner. Pete’s list of drivers included Harry Sittler, Don Mc Ginnis and the late Trevor Wilkens. Driving the Cosco Haulage sponsored Machine,he had done it all!! Sponsor, Owner, Driver, or so he thought…. His semi retirement from Stock Car racing was short lived. After the 2004 season, Pete had decided he was getting out of racing for the time being. That was September and by November 10th Pete bought what we now know as The New Humberstone Speedway. Pete along with Wife Linda and partner Dennis Giancola made the first order of Business, renaming the track back to it’s original name. No time was wasted in reviving racing at the track after previous Owners Al and Edith Wagner halted Racing after the 2003. This led to the tracks first year off since the track opened It’s doors. 2500 tri-axle loads of clay were excavated on site from the pit area were used to reshape the track with 15 degree banking in turns 1 & 2 along with 20 degree banking for turns 3 & 4. This would create a surface wide enough for racing 3 wide around the 3/10 mile oval. Renovations took place also in the main canteen area, restrooms, offices along with the gutting of the 2nd floor storage area which is now a 2nd floor Lounge for all to enjoy. They have replaced 90% of the wiring and 95% of the water system along with a brand new grandstand PA system which includes a low power FM transmitter at 89.9. This season will see another year of repairs and renovation. Plans included front chute fence will be raised 5 feet higher along with catch cables for added safety of fans and racers. The parking lot will also see much attention. Humberstone Speedway celebrated it’s 50th year in racing in 2008. With dedicated fans and racers, Humberstone is once again the Sunday Night place to be.
2009 Pete and Linda brought in NASCAR Stars Rusty and Kenny Wallace, Dave Blaney,and Jimmy Spencer as they competed with the Modifieds while Rusty was the Guest Commentator for the night in a race won by Pete Bicknell. The popular NASCAR drivers held a Prerace autograph session with fans and Media. 2010 brought Michael Waltrip to Humberstone alsdo proved popular but these NASCAR visits proved costlier with less than expected results
2011 came along, A few bad nights of weather along with some other circumstances General Manager Bob Davidson and the Cosco Family made the bold move to try Friday nights. This brought out Holiday Doubleheaders for the first time for the 3/10 mile speedway. The feeling was many families were staying home as Sunday was a day to be home with family. Also part of the switch to Fridays and fill the void of Sunday 358 Modified shows from time to time would be to join in with FASTRAK for a new Crate Late Model class which would struggle the first season with car counts in the 3-4 range with the exception of a fine tour event for a Holiday Sunday Doubleheader. This proved to be very popular and the folks from FASTRAK were also impressed with their first trip to Canada. This venture also saw Canada’s First ever FASTRAK Champion Darren Peters which Humberstone was very proud of. The Humberstone Banquet made the big move from Welland to the Americana Resort and Water Park in Niagara Falls and proved to be a first class move.
2012 would also see a huge improvement in the FASTRAK Late Models and the class also made huge strides with some nights with 12-14 cars as many locals made the popular switch with Kenny Winfield joining along with Adam and Dean Ferri becoming regulars. Don Spiece made a return after several years off. The FASTRAK tour returned to Humberstone and the tour produced an impressive field of 26 cars taking the green in the 30 lap main. With only 2 brief cautions and a race that brought FASTRAK Regular Max Blair to the victory lane and kept the fans on the edge of their seats. It also saw 2nd year racer, young Jorden Peters gain his first Championship by a narrow margin. Mini Stock Champion Kyle Pelrine made it 2 championships in a row.
For 2012 Humberstone Speedway also produced the MR DIRT-CAR Sportsman Champion in Cody McPherson. The Sportsman Tour kept the fans on the edge as Brother Tyler McPherson picked up Tour wins at Ransomville and Merrittville and the fans would wonder could he make it the sweep of the Niagara stretch of the Tour?? Yes he did in a race that started with many yellows but settled down after the restarts would go single file. Track Owner Pete Cosco would become a 2 division car owner and would see both of his rides win the 2012 All Canadian Championship 50 lap wins with Adam Ferri Late Model and Chris Steele gaining the 358 Modified win.
Up next will be the 2013 season and some more changes are on the horizon. The big change was the return to Sunday nights. Some personnel additions were made and exceeded expectations. Clint Geoffrey returned to Humberstone while continuing at Ohsweken and Merrittville Speedways on the Microphone but not just on the Mic, Clint has taken over as the Raceday Events Coordinator to oversee all activities. Steven Petty Holland Speedway PR director joined the Humberstone Family as the New Humberstone PR Director, adding Music and assisting on the PA system, also joining in as the lead Announcer was WGR Racing Show Host Dave Buchanan. Dave is also lead Announcer at Lancaster Speedway and Ransomville Steve and Clint all have a wealth of knowledge were well received by all. And the Big News as in BIG BLOCK MODIFIEDS making a return after over a 20 year absence. And return they did! The Big Block count did not meet expectations but the fans were treated some very clean racing with little or no damage which can happen in short track racing. Dale Planck made Humberstone his Sunday night home which propelled him to the top 5 in DIRT-CAR point standings in the Mike Payne owned Modified. Rob Ledingham also made a return to racing in the Late Model Class and gained a championship while showing Son Colton how it’s done. Local Modified racer Erick Rudolph made Humberstone his Sunday Night home and earned the DIRTcar 358 Modified title proving we have some of the best racers locally and can compete anywhere. That was backed up locally as Sportsman racer Brad Rouse claimed the DIRTcar Sportsman title making many of the locals proud!!
2014 brought further changes with the dropping of the Modifieds which did not produce the revenue necessary for their continuance. The Humberstone Late models in 2013 were a mixture of rules that also did not get the results the speedway was hoping for. 2014 the Speedway came in agreement with “RUSH” Organization and it did result in some very close racing each and every Sunday night. Both the Mini Stock and Pro 4 Trucks continued with their brand of close racing and Sam Pennacchio had a VERY strong season with the Pro 4 Trucks. And tho he did gain 8 wins, none were of the runaway variety. Sponsorship was brought in and the Humberstone VIP Suites were renamed The “PC WORKS VIP SUITES” and through the sponsorship, New speakers were placed in the suites removing the FM radios used for the last few seasons.
Sunday racing came to a crash halt in August when Speedway Owner Pete Cosco passed away very sudden which was unforeseen. He passed at the age of 60 years old. He was a very dedicated man to his family and racing which he will leave forever as his legacy. His passing left everyone from Family, Staff, Race teams and Fans in a state of shock. Pete’s legacy would live on through Wife Linda!!! The Annual Trevor Wilkens Memorial Sportsman Tour was also held in combo with Pete’s honour. Erick Rudolph proved 2013 was not a fluke by repeating as the 358 Modified Champion.
As 2015 came Linda Cosco’s Daughter Tanya and Son In Law Bob Davidson took over the speedway operations with Linda overseeing the track while continuing to run Cosco Haulage making for a 24/7 hour work week. Adding to the businesses, you can add the mix Son Dylan’s competing in the Sportsman class along with Jordan Cosco Bob’s Dad Barry the longtime Successful multi track starter was the main wrench behind Dylans racing. Linda’s ownership of the Speedway continued very successfully. Through 2016 and 17 Bob and Tanya continued running the track but as of the end of 2017, Linda turned the reigns of the Speedway to Dave Bitner who was Grandson of the original owner John Puhl and Dave was a very hands on with the race night program and continued the 5 classes of racing at Humberstone with Pro 4 Trucks, Mini Stocks, Thunder Stocks, Late Models and Sportsman. It was this time Ohsweken Track GM Clint Geoffrey coordinated a 5 track common rules package for Ohsweken, Brighton, Southern Ontario, Merrittville and Humberstone in the Mini Stocks and Thunder Stocks. Many nights it was All Star Racing with Humberstone having the Rush Late Models and DIRTcar Sportsman. Bitner added some shows paying $1,000 to win for every class and those shows along with the continuance of the All Canadian Championships drew huge fields in every class with the exception of the Pro 4 Trucks.
In 2019 the plan was to combine the Pro 4 Trucks with the Mini Stocks. This combo would also take place at Merrittville and this would start in 2020.
2020 and what a year this turned out to be! As the Spring Mall Shows were set to take place, the Covid 19 Corona Virus Disease began in the month of March and has continued through the completion of the year. 2020 Bitners plan of a Modified Tour race was thrown away as now fans were not allowed at the many Speedways. In what would turn out to be normally a Mid Season, the tracks were given the ok to run races with no fans as long as the race teams were Socially Distant in the pits and Humberstone became the first track in Ontario to hold races and with Sponsorship and an increased entry fee, races in the various classes competed for $1,000 to win and drew very good car counts including the regular divisions along with the Ohsweken Sprints of both the Crate Sprints and the 360 Sprints. By August the laws changed allowing for 100 fans in the stands in family groups only but must wear masks and remain socially distant. The racing at Humberstone as well as other tracking in Ontario were broadcast free of charge through the Ohsweken team called Gforce TV team of Clint Geoffrey, Greg Calnan and Adam Ross. Multiple cameras were used and very professional broadcast took place. There were nights extra shows taking place the same night and Single video cameras were used along with Merrittville Announcer Jonathon Howe filled in due to the USA – Canadian border closers.
Following the end of 2020 Linda Cosco decided running the Speedway was enough, the Lease she owned of the New Humberstone Speedway was sold to successful Engine Builder Terry Vince of ERD Engines who will take over the Lease and operation of the Speedway dropping the “NEW” and just calling the track Humberstone Speedway. Terry’s aim is to bring the speedway up to the standards of the needs of todays race teams and fans. His ambitious plan is to showcase the Speedway’s historic past. With Vince now at the helm of the track he has also called upon former Track Owner Al Wagner and Former Racer Terry Huffman to assist in what will make 2021 the Speedways 63rd year of operation. Doug Leonard has been named the Race Director and Doug brings a wealth of experience to the speedway.
Many Changes and improvements have taking throughout the entire property and will continue and a Huge unveiling will take place when the 3 day All Canadian Championships commence. Humberstone now has a brand New Website www.humberstonespeedway.ca courtesy of Greg Calnan at www.imagefactor.ca. Brand New LED Lighting has been installed along with upgrading the Sound System, a New pitroad entry, upgrades to infield guard rails for better drainage, plus an enlarged warmup track for the Sprint Cars. But even more upgrades to the 3/10 mile facility.
“MAKE YOUR RACE DAY A FAMILY FUNDAY WITH RACING AT HUMBERSTONE SPEEDWAY”