FRASER’S MOUNTAIN – “I don’t remember the banks being this high,” Bobby Allen remarks to Bob MacLean, as they stand on a stretch of old asphalt on Fraser’s Mountain.
A couple hundred yards off John Campbell Road, natural growth of close to 50 years has replaced a parking lot, a grandstand, and the quarter-mile track where serious drivers and Richard Petty wannabes raced every weekend.
Modified cars and pure street stock and even a Jalopy division, if you had four wheels, a roll cage and the guts to try it, anyone could enter.
“Two of three guys would put a couple hundred bucks into a car and take it to race,” said MacLean, who acted as a spotter at Mountain Raceway, while one of Simon Campbell’s big responsibilities was collecting gate proceeds – $1 a ticket, they remember – and chasing down the people who tried to sneak in to watch the races.
“Every weekend that it didn’t rain, we raced,” MacLean recalls. “That was always the hardest call – do we race, or don’t we?”
On one of the turns, there wasn’t much between the track and a steep bank (“the Widow Maker,” MacLean called it, as he peered over the edge) and the track itself was narrow, with barely enough room for two cars side-by-side on the straightaways: tough sledding when upwards of 20 cars would enter a race.
The year was 1966, and MacLean, Earl MacLeod and Simon Campbell got Mountain Raceway up and running, using land that had belonged to Simon’s father John. At first, drivers had to navigate a dirt track but within a couple of years, an asphalt surface would be added.
LADIES, START YOUR ENGINES
To give an idea of how informal the racing action could sometimes be back in the 1960s on Fraser’s Mountain, one of the popular features was Powder Puff Girls.
Women were invited out of the stands to come down to the pit area, literally borrow a driver’s car and race against each other.
“Some of them would climb into the car and get right back out,” says Allen with a laugh, remembering how he’d let a woman drive his race car on more than one occasion.
MacLean and Campbell were seated in Bob Allen’s office this week, at his car dealership on Westville Road.
The three of them passed around old scrapbooks, with yellowed newspaper clippings saved in a scrapbook by Allen’s first wife, along with advertisements and even a ticket to a season-ending banquet.
“It was hot, super-dusty and really dangerous,” recalls Allen of Mountain Raceway.
“The rules were very relaxed – if there were any rules.”
A “checker” would come around before the races to inspect the roll cages to ensure they were safe, but other than that, it was white-knuckle riding from start to finish.
While no one ever died at Fraser’s Raceway, there were no shortage of wrecks as the drivers tried to negotiate the tight track.
“I think that’s what most people went to see – the wrecks,” says Allen.
A regular winner when he drove stock cars, Allen had his driving career end after he suffered a heart attack at the age of 38.
Allen had been a racing rival with the late Dan Campbell – brother of Simon – but rivalries weren’t limited to the track: there was plenty of trash-talking in the stands, too, as many of the drivers had fans of their own (usually, but not always, their family and friends).
A good day would bring in around 1,100 fans, and Campbell remembers one race that had 1,600 or so paying customers, not including those who managed to evade the three security personnel that had been hired to patrol the outer fencing.
“That was the best racing I ever saw. It spoiled me,” Campbell says.
The track was one of many smaller ones that used to be scattered around northern Nova Scotia; Havre Boucher, Onslow, Colchester County and even an old track that used to be in Blue Acres in the 1950s and into the early 60s.
“Those were fun days, eh Bobby?” MacLean says.
But once the more modern Riverside Speedway opened in 1969, just outside Antigonish, those tracks slowly began to die off.
The track at Fraser’s Mountain survived for another couple of season after that, but interest declined dramatically and by the onset of the 1970s, it closed for good.