Mosport’s Bulova Championship Series 1972-1976
For six years, (1971 to 1976) Mosport was the home of a remarkable pair of racing series for Formula Fords (FF) and small sedans. The Bulova Championship Series provided Mosport with in-house racing in support of the major events like Can-Am and the F1 Canadian Grand Prix and it gave many budding drivers a chance to participate in some of the best racing ever seen in Canada in front of huge crowds of race fans. And, given this success, this semi-pro series helped attract sponsors for many of the drivers and it helped consolidate a racing industry in Canada that has continued to today.
Actually, the series was called Shoppers World in 1971 and only involved the FF cars that year. But even then the sedans ran in tandem with the FFs. Formula Ford was created in 1967. It used a simple single-seater chassis powered by an essentially stock Ford Cortina GT engine. Back then you could buy a competitive FF complete with engine for under $5,000. This was such a good racing formula that this stable series continues in essentially the same format today (It’s hard to find a 1972 Cortina GT engine these days). The recent Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal had about 40 FFs compete in a support race.
Mosport’s Harvey Hudes and Pete Chapman noted the popularity of the FF class and invented the special in-house Mosport series and sold the idea to Shoppers World (a pair of shopping malls in the Toronto area) for 1971. Graham Potter, a Mosport employee, put together an organizing committee under the name Motor Racing Partnership made up of volunteers from about ten different CASC regional clubs. There were seven rounds per year, a combination of support races at the major pro events and stand-alone race weekends.
Even in the first year, the entry list was enormous. At the 1971 Canadian Grand Prix there were 61 entries and the practice of having two heats to determine the qualifiers for the final was established. With so many competitive drivers in closely matched cars in front of a Grand Prix crowd, the racing was intense, even in the heats. In the final on Sunday morning, the race had barely begun before a tragic accident claimed the life of driver Wayne Kelly and left others seriously injured and the race was red-flagged. Shoppers World subsequently withdrew their sponsorship of the series.
New Englander David Loring, who was racing in Canada because he was too young to race under SCCA rules, won the 1971 championship. He used this as a springboard to try his luck racing in the UK the following year. Loring seemed to have tremendous potential as a race driver but his later career, though marked by reasonable success, never seemed to live up to the huge promise of his early days in FF in Ontario.
In 1972, Bulova signed on as sponsor of both the FF and the sedan series and their sponsorship continued until the series wound down at the end of 1976. For 1973, a $7,500 Driver to Europe award for the FF champion was added. It was the result of an arrangement between Mosport and the CASC Ontario Region clubs. The clubs would provide a security force of club members called (Dave) Perry’s Merry Men patrolling the fence line and keeping things calm among the campers at the major events and in return Mosport would kick in money for the scholarship to England. This meant that from 1973 on the FF champion would have, with the $2,500 championship prize money, a total of $10,000 in awards at the end of the season. In addition, there were a number of sponsor contingency awards which sweetened the pot for competitors – an almost unheard of innovation in this level of racing.
Unfortunately, it has proven very difficult to conduct research on the results of the races and the championship years. I believe that the late Mosport historian Bob Brockington had organized all this material and that it passed on to the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame archive after his death. The old CMHF fell into decline and became unable to pay its bills and the archival material went into boxes in storage. There is a new group operating under a slightly different name – Canadian Motorsports Heritage Foundation – but they are struggling to get off the ground and all the archival material is still in boxes some place out of my reach.
I have been able to compile the list of FF champions (see box) but have only very fragmentary information about the sedan champions.
I am fairly certain that Gord Lowe (Mini) was the sedan champion in 1973 and that Paul Lambke (Datsun 510) was champion in 1974 (and perhaps Lambke was champion again in 1976 driving a Datsun 710). Other names that figured prominently in sedan racing include George Comacchio (Fiat 124), Peter Schwartzott, from Niagara Falls, NY (Datsun 510), Peter Clare and Mike Cleary (Mini), the BMW drivers Werner Gudzus, Slim von Engelbrechten, and Klaus Bartels, Geoff Foster (Mini, Honda Civic), George Maxwell (Datsun 510), and Lee White (Pinto)
With such huge entries of FFs, there are many names to recall. In addition to the champions listed, the roster of FF greats included John Scratch, Brian Stewart, and Gary Magwood.
I have attempted to talk to many of these one-time Bulova drivers, but unfortunately after all these years, a number of them are no longer with us. Here are some of their stories.
The Ferret was a very successful Canadian-built FF racer. It was so successful, legend has it, that the designers of the very successful Swift FF toyed with the idea of buying one to try to discover its secrets. Fred Wilken, a garage owner in Hanover, Ontario, was the driving force behind the small-town race car operation. John Scratch, a teacher in Goderich who had been introduced to racing with a visit to nearby Green Acres was one of their ‘name’ drivers. Engineer Alec Purdy, who had been in a partnership with Brian Stewart servicing race cars, moved to Hanover to work with Wilken. It took him a year but eventually his revolutionary Ferret Mk IV came into its own in 1976.
That year, Scratch and Purdy dominated FF racing with their Ferrets. In the end, Purdy won the Bulova title and Scratch won the Ontario Region and the national titles. Purdy stayed with Wilken for about eight years but they only managed to produce about four Mk IVs. Scratch continued to race until 1982 and is still an enthusiastic race fan. Purdy eventually moved on to a varied career as a race engineer with Brian Steward’s Indy Lights team and the Nissan GTP team among others. The Nissan move took him to California where he lives today in semi-retirement.
In 1973, Danny Burritt was driving a Titan as part of Brian Stewart’s entourage. He won the championship by a slim margin over Luke de Sadeleer and won the first Driver to Europe money. He went to England and had a good year but he found the competition was very tough. In those days the race events were single day affairs which gave a newcomer little or no chance to practice before the race. “If we could qualify for the final (after the heats) it was almost like a win,” he recalled.
Burritt returned to Toronto and ran the 1976 season until he wrecked the car at the Grand Prix. He moved on to work for Brian Stewart as a mechanic and then to John Powell with the Mosport driving school. He is now working for Toronto-based Multimatic’s racing effort.
De Sadeleer was living in London when he took up racing in a Formula Vee in 1971. In 1972, at the wheel of a Hawke, he won the first Bulova championship. He moved to Toronto the next year to work for his mentor/sponsor Gerd Schwarzkopf. In 1974, he drove a Titan and won the Bulova title and the Ontario Region title. He passed on the Drivers’ scholarship which was woefully inadequate to support a year of racing in England, so runner-up Rod Bremner went in his place.
Dave White won the championship in 1975. Like de Sadeleer, he decided that he could not afford to do the year in England, so the money reverted to second-place Nigel Gough. The racing tradition continues with White’s son Matt who has won the FF championship three times.
Gary Magwood is a familiar name in Canadian motorsports. He actually did not run many of the Bulova races having moved on to compete in Formula B/Formula Atlantic (which became the formula for the national championship). But he had already established his racing business Race Equip and he sold about 15 FF cars to other competitors and provided support service to about half of those entries. He said, “This was some of the finest racing I have ever seen in Canada. I was always staggered by the intensity of the races.”
Early on, George Comacchio was the front runner in his Fiat 124 sedan. Later, the BMWs were very competitive. But Paul Lambke in his Datsun 510 came to the fore, winning the sedan title in 1974 and he remained dominant until the end of the Bulova Series. Another formidable contender was Peter Schwartzott, an American from Niagara Falls who also ran a Datsun 510 in those days. Schwartzott says that his first ever race was at Mosport in 1962 in a Triumph TR3 and that he always considered both Mosport and Watkins Glen to be ‘home tracks’ for him. Schwartzott continued in the sport, driving mostly smaller cars in many of the IMSA and SCCA series that developed later. When I talked to him in July, he had been racing at Watkins Glen the day before in Peter Jr.’s Honda Civic.
George Maxwell, father of racing champion Scott Maxwell, also drove a Datsun 510. It never looked like much to me, but now he has admitted that they got an ample supply of racing parts, suspension, bodywork, etc. directly from Datsun’s American racing arm, Pete Brock’s BRE. Schwartzott also confirmed that Datsun provided major support by providing SCCA-legal parts to competitors like him.
Earlier this year, Lee White, who is now the head of TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Toyota’s racing effort in America, approached me and volunteered that he had once raced a Pinto in the Bulova Series.
In those days, White was based in Oshawa, Ontario and one competitor remembers him as fast but having trouble finishing races. Another spoke of valve failures probably from an over-aggressive cam design. Clearly, if that was the case, White eventually perfected his skills, later managing Jack Roush’s racing program and, after that, landing the TRD job on the basis of his reputation as an ‘engine guy’.
Early on, the Minis were dominant in the smaller-engined sedan classes. Gord Lowe, Geoff Foster, Peter Clare and Mike Cleary were some of the Mini front-runners. Later on Foster switched to a Honda Civic and put the Minis in the shade. A race program from 1976 stated, “The big surprise has been their performance of Geoff Foster’s Dalt’s Honda Civic in C sedan. As well as winning the class in the last race, Foster...finished the day by taking a strong second overall, beating many of the B sedans.”
The early 1970s era was a high point in the history of auto racing in Canada. There was solid fan attendance at the big races at Mosport and all the local media paid attention – even to the national Formula Atlantic championship and the semi-pro Bulova Series. No doubt support for the local races benefitted from the almost total lack of television broadcasts of race events – you either read about it in the local newspaper and your favorite racing magazine or you went to the race track. It was not unusual for race fans to make long distance treks to attend live racing. The Bulova Series made an important contribution to racing and the burgeoning racing industry in those days, and with Mosport celebrating its 50th season of racing this year it is worth remembering this remarkable racing series.