Amateur Road Racing In Michigan - Three Institutions is a masters thesis authored by Richard Ranville, Jr. Some of the content below is duplicated in Ranville's work, but he offers more context, including rich sections on Grattan Raceway and Gingerman Raceway. It is certainly worth your time if you're at all interested in Waterford's history.
In the spring of 1958, OCSC members Bob Gubbins, Harry Barnes and Les Smith were attending another car club's meeting and struck up a conversation with driving enthusiast Ed Lawrence. Gubbins had an idea to put on a gymkhana on an unused 80 acres at the Oakland County Sportsmen's Club (OCSC). Together they put together a plan and Gubbins and Barnes approached the OCSC board to pitch the idea. The OCSC was looking for ways to increase membership and ended up renting the 80 acres to the Michigan Sports Car Club for $50.00. They bulldozed a 4/10 mile one lane dirt course on the property. What's a gymkhana? Each driver gets 3 start/stop events and 3 timed laps. In the start/stop events, they raced from point A to point B (marked with a chalk line). For every foot they stopped away from that chalk line, 1 second was added to their time. The timed laps were not run consecutively; they ran three individual laps autocross style. The first MSCC gymkhana event was held May 4, 1958 with a luncheon held at the clubhouse at the conclusion of the trials.
After that first event, the track was lengthened to 1.3 miles, graded and treated with chloride to control dust. On June 8th, the Corvette Club held their first event drawing 43 entrants. The first trials were held June 29th, 1958 on our new "Field Trials Course". After these successful events, OCSC President Ed Spicer saw this as an opportunity to bolster lagging OCSC membership. Spicer talked to Gubbins about the OCSC starting their own sports car club with a permanent facility on those 80 acres. Three gymkhana's, called the Pioneer Time Trials, were scheduled for summer and fall of 1958. The Pioneer Time Trials were designed to test the feasibility of such an undertaking. A sports car committee was formed to regulate use of the new course.
The first Pioneer Time Trials were held August 9th and 10th, 1958. With 60 entrants, club membership grew to over 80 members. Despite the chloride and clay treatments, these events were still very dusty and resulted in numerous complaints from the neighborhood adjacent to the track. The 2nd Pioneer Time Trials, originally scheduled for September 13th and 14th, were cancelled while a solution was worked out.
The solution was to form a corporation and find a way to accelerate plans to pave the track. With Barnes as the President and Gubbins seated as the Vice-President, 4000 recruitment letters were sent to area enthusiasts. They needed $12,000 to pave the one lane track. They offered notes of $250, $500 and $1000 to secure a loan for the track paving. Meanwhile, the OCSC leased the land to the newly formed Road Racing Corporation until October, 1962. By the last weekend of September, 1958, enough money had been raised and preparations began to pave one lane of the track. Paving started Thursday, October 9th and wrapped up Friday, October 10th at 4:00pm. Paving was complete on the 7510 feet long 12 feet wide track. On Saturday morning, the third Pioneer Time Trials were staged on warm pavement! Makeup runs were allowed due to the cancellation of the 2nd Pioneer Time Trials.
While the trials were the big event, the club remained very active and utilized the track as much as possible in an effort to pay off the loans needed for the paving. The track was formally named "Waterford Hills" in January of 1959. Practice was allowed on the first 3 weekends of the month at the rate of 4 laps for $1. Trials were usually scheduled for the 4th weekend of the month. During the winter months fund raising continued with the club holding winter runs on the track, Frostbite and Fireside ice runs on Townsend Lake and Lake Orion, the sale of fence posts for $10, a Sweetheart's Pit Stop dance and plans were underway to sponsor the International Auto Show all as a way to raise funds. Ed Lawrence was instrumental in setting up the club's sponsorship of the auto show. As a sponsor, we were given 5000 tickets to be sold for $1 each (50 cents off actual). We were to be allowed to keep the proceeds. That winter, on March 20, 1959, Ed Lawrence was tragically killed during practice for an endurance race at Sebring, Florida. The newly formed Oakland County Sportsmen's Road Racing Club sponsored the First Annual International Auto Show at the Michigan State Fairgrounds April 17-19.
In January of 1959, Harry Barnes built an 8x8 "Control and Observation Tower" which was erected in the infield across from our current start stand. Those plans started out as a raised platform to be used for timing and scoring. Electric was run to the tower which enabled it to power communications and a PA system. Three batches of several thousand "Dear Enthusiast" letters were sent out to thousands of prospects each time. They were usually accompanied by an invite to a time trial being held at Waterford Hills. Several driver's schools were also held at the track during the winter months! Despite these efforts, the 9 original members who'd guaranteed payment for the paving had to assist with the $1000 per month loan payment. Only 91 members had paid their $5 dues which were due the end of January of 1959.
By April of 1959, membership soared to 250 members. Despite the tragedy and minor setbacks, the club was now in full swing. In the spring, a series of time trials called The Marque began. They were a six unit series of time trials which classed cars according to car make instead of the typical engine displacement. Plans had to be enacted to deal with parking for participants both in and out of the paddock as well as the swell of spectators they now had.
By mid-summer, interest in the one lane, one car at a time trials was rapidly declining. In July 1959, the first "race" was held. It was an Australian Pursuit Race in which rules were modified to fit the one lane course. Since they couldn't pass, the "caught" car was flagged off the course and the pursuer was free to chase the next car. The club always intended to pave a second lane, but it was obvious they had to accelerate those plans to keep the club moving forward.
A plan was devised to raise $15,000 to pave the second lane of the track. A system of life memberships was devised and offered as a way to finance the paving. The memberships were offered in denominations of $100, $250, $500 and $1000 as investments to be repaid within 12 months. An anonymous donor, now known to be Alan Brendle, offered to put up securities in order to secure a loan to pave the track. The loan was secured and once again they took it down to the wire with the paving having been completed on October 9, 1959. The track was now 24 feet wide on the straights and 30 feet wide in the corners. On October 10 and 11, the Waterford Hills Inaugural Races were held. The races were named the Ed Lawrence Memorial Races. Bob Clift, racing a C Modified Corvette, won the first Ed Lawrence Memorial Trophy.
The 1960's started with the cancellation of winter ice runs due to lack of ice. They held slush runs on the track instead. Club race entry fees in the early 60's were just $5. The fledgling club was still very new at this whole business of club and race track management. Luckily, everything was so new, there were ample volunteers and the club was still growing at a very fast rate. In July of 1960, the Thunderbird Club of America dissolved due to discontinued production of the Ford Thunderbird. Those members joined en-masse providing an added boost to the membership roster. Those new members donated the Thunderbird Club Trophy which was awarded to the most improved novice each year. Around the same time that summer, the OCSC life members started an ambitious project to make 50 concrete picnic tables for use around the club (in case you ever wondered how old those picnic tables really were).
Safety was just now starting to come to the forefront. Corner stations now had communications, a PA system had been installed, privacy fencing installed and some primitive guard rail had been installed. An August 1960 copy of the Oakland County Sportsman magazine lists a homemade recipe to "fireproof your clothing". In response to broken wheels and a lack of aftermarket wheel availability they published a June, 1963 Oakland County Sportsman's article detailing a procedure to re-enforce steel wheels. It was basically a heat treat procedure. Luckily we don't have to rely on those procedures today.
They didn't have advanced life support ambulances back then so there was always a doctor on duty. These weren't emergency room doctors, they were typically general practitioners. Back in the 60's, the swamp was more like a pond. Up until 1968 or so, they had a diver stationed in a rubber raft in the swamp in case a car were to go into the drink. Then there was the VW Bus "fire truck". Sometime in the mid 60's the red VW bus was fitted with a container which held "Purple K". Now outlawed, this was a very caustic fire suppressing powder.
In the winter of 1961 the flagging and communications group was officially organized at Waterford Hills. Three F & C schools were scheduled. The first school had 50 students and the second had 103. The F & C schools were so successful, they became and remain a yearly event at Waterford Hills. By 1963, we had 128 registered flaggers and were averaging between 46-48 flaggers per event! We held 2-4 driver schools per year throughout the 60's. Each driver's school was turning out between 30-50 new drivers!
In 1961, the first miniature scale model of the track was made. A model like this one was used at Autorama along with several volunteered race cars to promote the club. 1961 also marked the addition of the Midget Road Racing Division to our ranks! Alan Brengle of San Diego, CA was identified as the mystery donor who helped the club secure the loan to pave the second lane back in 1959. Coincidentally, Mr. Brengle later helped a local California track and the SCCA fend off a lawsuit against road racing in California.
One of the big highlights of 1961 was the visit of English Formula One driver Sir Stirling Moss on Oct 1. He'd just run the first Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport the day before and accepted an invite to visit Waterford Hills prior to a lecture he was giving at the Masonic Temple that night. In an address to the paddock following his touring laps, Stirling was quoted as saying, "If you can go fast at Waterford, then you can go fast anywhere."
We provided him with a brand new Chrysler 300 in which to drive three dignified, orderly laps around the track so he could be seen by his fans. Perhaps some folks nowadays don't remember Stirling Moss, but in the 60's he was, maybe, the greatest Grand Prix driver alive.
Stirling Moss began his parade laps. Thirty minutes later, we had to flag him down to get him off the track. He loved it. Unfortunately, nobody thought to put a watch on him, but he was sure having fun. The fellow who loaned us the 300, however, was having a stroke.
I've always had a feeling that what Moss really wanted to do that evening was to go down to the clubhouse for a few beers and some wild stories, but his people drove him away for his lecture and the day ended.
Some months later, he had a bad crash in Europe and retired from racing.
By the fall of 1962, all of the original 18 investors were paid off as were all of the life members. The lease was up for renewal in October, we were the Oakland County Sportsman's Club's single largest membership and we had a full schedule for 1963. Needless to say, the lease was easily renewed.
In 1963, Waterford Hills was really taking off! There was the first serious talk of adopting the FIA or SCCA rule structure so OCSRRC members could race at other tracks and so we could attract more drivers to our events. In May of 63, plans were announced to build 100 bleacher seats with tickets for those seats to be sold at a cost of $1. If the seats sold out, there were plans to build an additional 500 seats. The swamp paddock area was graded for additional paddock space due to large entry counts. In August of 1963 a flagman was injured in a wreck. Plans were immediately announced to add chain link fence around the entire track for the safety of workers and spectators.
Racing through the streets of this Lake Erie island was a particularly popular sport in the early 1950's. Sports car racing was in its infancy then and organization/communications were well below today's standards. Since no one could go home, Saturday night became a while revel, aided in part, by the free tours of the local winery.
The town fathers felt this debauchery was too much and in 1956, decided to switch the emphasis from road racing to the more genteel sport of yachting. To their surprise, those gentlemen with their blow boats turned out to be more rowdy and greater imbibers than the road racers!
Thus it was, that in 1963, local stalwart Ed Houlehan and two friends from the Cleveland Sports Car Club persuaded the island to return to the manly art of road racing. At this time, Ed was our chief starter, so not unnaturally, he recruited workers he knew and trusted. Except for the scenery and the course layout, the event would have passed for one of our own weekends, not a strange face anywhere. Alas, 1963 proved to be the final race. The promoters had done such a magnificent job of publicizing the event, that controlling the crowds proved to be an impossible task. Several close calls between spectators and race cars on the same piece of road at the same time resulted in the sanctioning body withdrawing their approval for future events.
By the fall of 1963 trouble was looming. The surrounding neighbors were becoming discontent with the frequent use of the facilities and the noise associated with it. In a Jan 1964 Oakland County Sportsman's article, it was pointed out that the subdivision was "not strongly pursuing their lawsuit". During the fall of 63, the corporate members had been mulling over the idea of dissolving the corporation, but in January of 64 it was announced they had decided to stay on board to continue financial support of the track. So, there continued to be two boards overseeing operations, a corporate board overseeing financials and a club board overseeing club activities.
By spring of 1964, the Oakland County Sportsman's Club, the Oakland County Spotrsman Road Racing Club and some of our neighbors entered into a consent judgment which greatly restricted the time of year, number of days and hours of operation which the track can be used. This judgment is still in effect today and is strictly adhered to. Strong warnings came down ensuring the membership adhered to these rules. Track access was not tightly controlled the way it is today. In the "some things never change column", warnings also went out about signing the insurance waiver when entering the paddock. The penalty for being caught was expulsion for you and the car you're associated with.
On a brighter note, the first phase of the new tower construction was now underway. It included restrooms, a snack bar and storage. There was also a proposed catwalk for the starter from the north end of the building. Future plans included a 2nd and 3rd floor for timing and scoring and race control. The August 1964 SCCA race resulted in a record 4400 spectators over the course of the weekend!
In 1965, the BOD appropriated money to widen the track 6 feet, but it was never actually scheduled and sadly the paving never took place. Around the same time frame, there was serious talk about sports car courses at Boblo Island on the south end of the Detroit River and Pine Knob (a couple miles up the road). The Boblo project was slated for late 1966, but the Pine Knob project was bogged down with technicalities. By the mid 60's interest in sportscar racing was peaking. One August 1965, Oakland County Sportsman magazine article recommended that the reader take a trip to Mt. Clemmens Speedway to compare their show with our dwindling spectators. An argument that can still be heard in the paddock today...
Joan Lawrence Voltmer was still running timing and scoring for us. Joan set up the first timing and scoring school in the spring of 1965. She announced they had a new procedure which was tested in September of 1964. This procedure ensured that all cars were timed on every lap. If a car approached a lap record, a "supervisor" ran a second stop watch in a backup roll. In other news, FM WEBX will cover the races live and there's a possibility of coverage on WWJ - TV50, and on the Motor Racing Review radio show on WABX. The Clarkston Jaycee's would be returning to run the hilltop concessions again. Concessions had been installed in the early 60's. The concession stand was a small white log cabin like building with dirt floors. It can be seen in the area of Bluff Bend before turn 3.
By 1965, growing pains were starting to be felt now in our class structure and rules. Car classes were, for the most part now, the same as SCCA. Many sedan drivers were now griping about the new roll cage rules. They argued those rules shouldn't apply to Waterford Hills because the speeds weren't high enough to warrant such protection. In June, someone actually proposed running all formula cars under a claimer rule. Cars would be classed according to value and the entire car could be claimed. This proposal excluded the Formula Vee's. That proposal was denied.
In 1967 plans were underway to add the 2nd and 3rd floor to the tower. Thankfully, the SCCA was now starting to take driver safety much more seriously. December rule changes required driving suits and socks to be made of nomex or approved material. Gloves were to be made of nomex or leather. Also on the radar were new fuel tank standards, accessory gas caps and 3 figure roll cages! Needless to say, this was seen as a huge problem in the paddock. It was estimated that it might cost $110 for such clothing!
March 1968, the club announced the formation of "well trained, uniformed grid stewards... an area of track management which has, to date, been sadly neglected." At the OCSC clubhouse, the new bar addition was almost complete. The old bar in the basement will be made into a game room with pool table. That area is known today as the life member room.
Waterford has always been a popular track with Canadians in general and the London Automobile Sports Club in particular. Many enduring friendships have resulted and because of their hospitality, Waterford drivers became regular competitors at Harewood Acres, a 1.9 mile converted WWII air force training base near Jarvis, Ontario. The $12 entry fee included trophies and a buffet dinner which no doubt added to the attractiveness.
In 1968, London and Waterford decided to jointly organize a 2 1/2 hour night race at Harewood as a supplement to the Ontario Motor Sports Club's regular weekend races. There was discussion on whether or not to put the Harewood race on. Citing cost for both the club and for the members who will participate in the race. Also citing dangers associated with having all cars on track at all time in the dark. They were mostly referring to the speed differentials.
Despite the safety discussions, the race was set up. At 9:30pm, the green fell on a modified Le Mans start (buckled in car engine off) and at 12:00 the checkered flag fell on the Brizenka brother's Porche 906. The lighting was horrible so scoring the races was very difficult. The format was repeated in 1969 with Ludvig Heimrath in a Porsche emerging as the winner. Shortly thereafter, the land was sold to the Texaco oil company for a tank farm and alas Harewood Acres was no more.
The end of the 60's started with an unusual complaint from within. A ladies race had been cancelled due to low turnout. Seven women showed up, but the minimum required was nine. Ladies did not race with the men back then, but they did race. Safety improvements continued with plans for even more guard rail. Standing starts were discontinued around the 1969 time frame. The starting positions were staggered, but inevitably someone always stalled or broke an axle. The next car would swerve to get around which resulted in many banged up race cars. SCCA had also gone to rolling starts around the same time for the same reasons. In October of 1969, a constitution was proposed to unite the two governing boards. Because we were a corporation, there was a corporate board and a club board. These were the first steps towards renaming the club and changing our corporate status to non-profit.