Timing the races - by Al Howlett

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In 1953 street racing by car enthusiasts was becoming a problem and hot rod clubs started forming throughout the country to combat the illegal and safety issues. Most towns and cities had one or more clubs to bring organization to the “Hot Rodders” and promote safe driving. The Hot Rodders themselves with sometimes help from local law and city officials, formed the organized clubs. To this end, it was recognized that safe and organized locations were needed to allow the racers to compete. The Commonwealth Air Training plan of World War II, had left many surplus air bases around the country with paved landing strips that could be used for safe racing competitions. Edenvale, an auxiliary field located near Wasaga Beach, was one such location.

Gray Yanocko of Toronto, a pilot and aircraft mechanic who was flying his war surplus Cessna Crane, was aware of these landing fields. Gray was a car enthusiast and a member of the Toronto Rod & Custom Club. The club had tried running some races on an unopened portion of the 400 highway. Gray and others were aware that this was not a satisfactory solution for drag racing. Gray had been landing his plane at the Edenvale airstrip to visit the future Mrs. Yanocko, who lived in nearby Collingwood. He later made arrangements to use Edenvale for drag racing in 1953 with the help of several interested car clubs.

A meeting was organized in Toronto by the Toronto Rod & Custom Club and chaired by Gray Yanocko. Other clubs from around the area were invited to attend, to discuss the needs and requirements of operating races at Edenvale. It was noted that equipment such as weigh scales, safety equipment and advertising would be needed. The participating clubs were requested to pay 50 cents a month per member to help with the expense of the operation. Some of the clubs offered to provide equipment and help. Galt Strokers said they would supply fire extinguishers and a location sign. Others said they would supply trophies for class winners.

At his home on Doweling Avenue, Gray commenced building the speed trap equipment and testing it on the street in front of his home. Back in those days, before all the fancy electronic transistors, almost everything was mechanical. When you went in to a gas station you drove over air hoses attached to a bell in the station, that signaled your arrival to the attendant, for gas. Gray had some of this equipment and an old 78 rpm Gramophone player.

Gray Yanocko said he would provide the timing equipment for the speed at the end of the established ¼ mile distance. A flagman would start match races between two cars and an appointed spotter would determine the winner at the ¼ mile. It was not established at this time what the classes would consist of as no one had much idea as to what types of cars would race. This led to some surprises at subsequent races due to the resourceful response of those who entered. Some of these were Bob Hayward and Dick Paterson from London with Bob’s GMC powered rail. This could well have been the first rail dragster in Canada.

The turntables were operated by a wind up spring drive and a governor controlled the rotation speed. Gray adapted start and stop magnets activated by the air hoses to the underside of the metal turntable and calculated marks on the table to indicate time/speed. After this had been tried at Edenvale, Jim Watson a member of the Galt Strokers used a calculating machine at the Royal Metal Company office to create improved charts for the speed results.

That was the way things were done in those days, imagination and innovation were the keys to many things being accomplished in an inexpensive manner. I think that this device was used at Kohler on at least one first race, but of that I am not absolutely certain.

Interestingly enough this equipment still exists (2007) in unknown condition in the collection of the late Gray Yanocko’s family. It is my hope that this equipment can be preserved to remind a newer generation of how things were created by mechanics with limited resources for a (timely!) need.


Update; August 2015

Mike Yanocko and family cleaned out the collection of the late Gray Yanocko of Collingwood and uncovered the long stored timing equipment. They donated the homemade timer to the East London Timing Association and me so that it can be preserved for the historical value it presents. We would like to thank Mike & family for their generous donation so that others can see the work and thought that went into building something to fill a need by Hot Rodders over 60 years ago.

The timer was home to many families of mice over the years and is not in working condition. My son Chris cleaned it out and shot these pictures. It was powered by a 12 volt battery and has an electric window motor (?) to wind up the spring drive. The charts that were created to arrive at the speed have not been found.

Just in case you “young un’s” are wondering how a winner was determined between two cars at the finish line - a human spotter would send the information back to the start line by a magneto telephone. I helped build these so many years ago using discarded equipment from the Ailsa Craig Phone Company.

I hope you enjoyed this article!