PETE BICKNELL GOING INTO DIRT MOTORSPORTS HALL OF FAME
BY DAVE ROBERTS
When Pete Bicknell first got into a stock car in 1973, he never thought about what type of success he would have…both inside and outside of the cockpit.
Bicknell, 56 of St. Catharines, Ontario, has been nothing short of spectacular through his long racing career, which will continue on for the 2012 season.
Pete will take his 2012 election into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame as a sign that his life in racing has been much better than he would ever have dreamed of.
“I never even though of these things when I started racing,” said Bicknell in a recent telephone interview. “All I really wanted to do is race. Going into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame is a great honor. There are a lot of great drivers and individuals in there.”
To most of us, there was never any doubt. The surprise might’ve been that he’s headed into the Hall while he’s still an active driver. With the age 55 and over rule installed by DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame executives, he was a sure fit. Few of the current DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame members did make the list while as an active driver.
When Pete begins the 2012 season, it will be his 40th season as a competitive racer.
“Never really thought I’d do 40 years,” laughs Bicknell. “The time passes so quickly. I’ve had a lot of success.”
That might be a serious understatement. Pete has three DIRTcar 358 Modified championships. Three Syracuse Super DIRT Week 358 Modified Championship as well as a pair of 320 Modified wins in the early 1980 at the Syracuse “Moody” mile.
Locally in the Western New York/Southern Ontario region, he’ll be remembered as the most successful racer of his time. Merrittville Speedway (21 championships); Ransomville Speedway (11 championships); Humberstone Speedway (10 championships) and at Weedsport Speedway where he picked up a 358 Modified title. Pete has surpassed 430 career modified wins.
It’s unlikely that any local racer will ever surpass what Pete has accomplished.
In addition to that, Pete has become one of the more accomplished car fabricators in North America. With shops in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, NY and North Carolina, Bicknell Racing Products has been able to reach out to all forms of auto racing. The Bicknell Race Cars are sold all over the northeast and even go as far as Australia and if that’s not enough, Pete and co-owner Randy Williamson purchased Merrittville Speedway in 2003…which they still own to this day.
Up until he got into a Late Model in 1973, Pete and his brother Art were consistent followers of the Merrittville Speedway.
Pete’s first racing experience was at a young age with go-karts.
When Pete first started racing stock cars, he made his living as a local mechanic. While his first four years in racing were in a Late Model, he moved into a modified in 1977. At that point, the Late Models were showing lower counts and were dropped from the area in 1978. Bicknell’s first of many championships came in the 1970’s when he was the Humberstone titlist. Humberstone was non-DIRT sanctioned until 1981. In 1980, he beat a stellar field at Ransomville Speedway for his first championship here. Bicknell did the trick with a 320ci motor under the hood and showed that consistency was the best was to win a title as he did the trick without a feature victory.
“At that time, we were allowed to use those drag tires with the smaller motor. That was the difference.”
Pete also took his show on the road winning twice in 1981 and 1982 at Syracuse when the 320 event was only 20 and 30 laps in length. He was also starting to be a regular competitor with DIRT and it’s traveling small block series events and continued to travel up until last season when a back injury stopped the St. Catharines racing star from his racing chores just after Labor Day Weekend. It would also be the first time that Bicknell would miss Syracuse in better than 30 years.
Winning 21 championships at one track is just amazing. His first at Merrittville Speedway was in 1984. It sparked a seven year run through 1990 where he would take home the track’s top prize. He again started up a five year run beginning in 1993 until 1997. He was virtually unbeatable at his “home track” and ran the place as he “owned” it…so to speak. At Ransomville Speedway, Pete had a streak of three in a row from 1990-1992.
His success at Syracuse started up again in 1998 when he would win his first of three straight at the Syracuse Mile during Super DIRT Week. While Bicknell was well known for his high rate of success to that point on the racing surface, the Syracuse wins provided a large stage and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
The one thing Pete didn’t ever expect to do was own a race track and when the opportunity existed it happened very quickly.
Following the 2002 season, Merrittville Speedway was up for sale. An outside interest was ready to purchase the property but admitted that it would be given three years to make a profit. If it didn’t, it might become something other than a Saturday night stop for the local race cars. This was a frightening thought to Southern Ontario race drivers and fans. When the outside interest couldn’t come up with the dollars to buy Merrittville Speedway, Pete and Randy Williamson stepped right in to make sure that local racing was to stay in place for many years to come at Merrittville Speedway. Immediate improvements to the facility were made. The facility is a real showcase to local racing fans and one of the biggest entertainment fixtures in St. Catharines.
Pete’s family is heaving involved in the business as well. Pete’s wife Nancy is busy with the track’s fabrication and parts business as well as the race track. In fact, it was Pete who took Nancy to Merrittville for their first date. His oldest daughter Erica is Merrittville Speedway’s General Manager and has done a fantastic job in that position since they took over the track in 2003. Pete’s two other daughters Kristen and Darlene are also involved at the race track
Starting the 2011 season, Pete was ready to make a full run at the Mr. DIRTcar 358 Modified Championship. Unfortunately, a back injury kept him at his local weekend stops of Ransomville and Merrittville Speedway. Despite spending much of the season in pain, Pete never missed a night at either track. He won the Merrittville title while finishing third at Ransomville, despite having the opportunity to win the championship on the final night.
Pete will continue his effort at both Ransomville and Merrittville. However, he’ll run just selected series events that are close to home.
In addition to his election to the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame, he’s also a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame and the St. Catharines Sports Hall of Fame.
While he continues to compete and build race cars, Pete Bicknell is already a legend in the sport of short track racing. Giving us all a show and imforming the younger drivers out there that he can still whip a race car around the race track.
I hope those watching are also paying attention and learning as well.
The traditional DIRTcar All-Star Weekend returns Sunday, May 27, with the annual DIRT Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Weedsport kicking off the activities. Then the action moves down the road to Rolling Wheels where the first of two Super DIRTcar Series events for Big-Block Modifieds highlights the evening. DIRTcar Sportsman Modifieds and DIRTcar Stock Cars, along with the popular Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club, make a great Memorial Day Weekend event.
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Click DIRT Hall of Fame and Classic Car Museum for more information on the Hall of Fame.
DIRTcar All-Star Weekend Schedule of Events
Noon – Will Call Opens at Rolling Wheels Raceway
2:00 pm – Hall of Fame Ceremony – Weedsport, NY (Only necessary staff present)
3:00 pm – Competitor Pits Open – Hauler Parking – (Scott Fremouw, Track Staff, Pit Gate Staff)
3:30 pm – Inspection Opens / Draw Begins
4:30 pm – Fan Pit Opens
4:30 pm – Grandstand Gates Open
4:30 pm – Music Starts
4:30 pm – Hall of Fame Autograph Session
5:15 pm – Hot Laps (following order)
Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club
Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series
DIRTcar Stock Car
6:00 pm – Track Preparation if necessary
6:15 pm – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series Bilstein Time Trials
6:45 pm – Opening Ceremonies including Anthems/Hall of Fame Inductees
6:55 pm – DIRTcar Stock Car Division Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – DIRTcar Sportsman Qualifying Races (8-laps)
Immediately Following – Midstate Vintage Stock Car Club Qualifying Races (6-laps)
7:45 pm – Super DIRTcar Series Re-Draw
Immediately Following – DIRTcar Sportsman B-Main (if necessary – 8-laps)
Immediately Following – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series B-Main (if necessary – 10-laps)
8:15 pm – 8:30pm – Track Preparation / Autograph’s under-the-grandstand (Heat Winners)
8:35 pm – Midstate Vintage Car Club Feature (2) – 12 laps each
9:05 pm – DIRTcar Stock Car Division – 20-laps
9:25 pm – DIRTcar Sportsman – 30 laps
9:45 pm – Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series – 66-laps