Taking delivery of the last Checker taxi to come off the production line on November 22, 1982, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. From left to right: Ken Langley, Paul Rimstead, and Garry Sowerby. (Source: Odyssey International Ltd.)

Story by Lisa Calvi; used with permission.

We had to help an old friend move this past weekend. That meant a trailer and truck and a 300-kilometre drive from Halifax to Petitcodiac, New Brunswick.

Then-Premier of Nova Scotia, John Buchanan, took a ride in the Checker taxi and allowed Nova Scotia’s first vanity plate to adorn Chubby’s front bumper. (Source: Odyssey International Ltd.)

The old friend is our 1982 Checker Cab. ‘Chubby’ was the last Checker Cab sold by the Checker Cab Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan before shutting down its assembly line and closing its doors forever.

Chubby Checker is being installed in the museum of the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of all motorsports in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

The ‘Green Growler’ of Walter Dunfield, just one of the gems housed in the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum. The ’55 Chevy, driven by Dave O’Blenis, held the track record at River Glade Speedway in the 1960s – getting around the ¼-mile oval at 15.9 seconds. (Lisa Calvi photo)

Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Incorporated was founded in 2003 by Ernest (Ernie) and Winona McLean. The Museum is a 10,000-square-foot, crisp and functional building in the village of Petitcodiac.

In the back office of the Museum after we arrive with the Checker, Ernie and Winona along with Paul Forgrave, founding member, recount how the project came to fruition.

A group of people got together and realized there was a need and a desire to have a Hall of Fame dedicated to motorsports, which has a long history in the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Ernie was adamant that the group have a building to house the treasure trove of artifacts stashed in the basements of drivers and aficionados all over the Maritimes. The Village of Petitcodiac welcomed the idea with open arms.

The stories kept coming in that office and I could have sat here all day.

During the 1960s, the nearby Scoudouc Drag Strip, according to Garry, who grew up practically alongside it, was just about ‘world-famous’ for the drivers and cars that would tear up the strip on a Sunday afternoon. The eardrum-popping noise, heady smell of exhaust and seducing speeds left the crowd of spectators itching for more.

It was these crowds that got Ernie McLean thinking: If these many people show up for an ever-so-brief flat-out race on a straight ¼-mile, how many would come to a real track?

Ernie fired up his digging equipment and plowed diligently on his tract of farmland in River Glade. At the time, he had a ‘day job’ at a local transport company but the construction of his track began to take him away from work more and more.

His boss called him in one day and said: Ernie, seems to me you’re more interested in that track of yours than you are in your job here. Ernie replied that he could probably make more money in hosting one single race than he could in a year’s work at the transport company.

His boss told him he’d better concentrate on that track. To this day, Ernie wonders whether he was fired.

But Ernie was right. The River Glade Speedway drew them in by the thousands over the years. It was the first asphalt oval speedway in the Maritimes. Ernie, besides racing himself, and his wife Winona, have done so much to promote and sustain racing, it’s no wonder they were asked to head up the drive to form the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Others involved in the realization of the dream are such storied racers, promoters and builders as John Chisholm who built Riverside Speedway outside of Antigonish, Rollie MacDonald, King Freight Lines, Frank Fraser, Fred and Larry Northrup of Toys for Big Boys.

Sponsorship and fundraising are what keep the Hall of Fame and Museum going. Fundraisers throughout the year include the recent Birthday Bash, an annual ATV Dinner and Draw, the Petty Auto Fest, a summertime car show that draws hundreds of classic and antique cars. The big fundraiser is the Induction Ceremony (November 17) which takes place every November and has been in existence longer than the museum, since 2006.

Chubby has just found a home at the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum, shown here with Garry (left), Paul Forgrave, a founding member of the MMHF (center) and Ernie McLean, founder and director of the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame and inductee of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. (Photo: Lisa Calvi)

Once Chubby Checker is safely ensconced in the Museum, we hit the road back to Halifax. The visit is too brief. There’s so much more to learn about the history of all facets of motorsports in the Maritimes. And the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum is the best place to start.

MMHF Editor Note: Garry Sowerby is among the 10 new inductees to be welcomed as members of the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2012 at a gala ceremony on November 17 in Moncton. More [here]…

Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Inc. is a registered non-profit organization with proceeds benefitting the preservation of motorsports heritage in the Maritimes. Our museum in Petitcodiac features historic displays year-round. Since 2006, more than 70 Maritime motorsports heroes have been inducted in the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame. To learn more about them, our museum or our organization please call 506.756.2110 or visit us online at www.mmhf.ca.

To learn more about the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame (MMHF) please visit the MMHF museum in Petitcodiac or visit us online at www.mmhf.ca.