‘Chubby’ Checker finds a home

We had to help an old friend move this past weekend. There was a trailer and truck involved and a 300-kilometre drive from Halifax to Petitcodiac, N.B.

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

Chubby had been hanging out in a friend’s yard out in the countryside since being evicted from our storage bunker with the rest of our fleet.

It’s a dark and stormy night (of course) when my husband phones me from the road on his way home from Toronto and says: “Meet me out at Chubby in an hour. I’ll unload the trailer, load up the Checker and we can head straight back to New Brunswick.”

I say: “But, Hon, you haven’t been home for three days. Shouldn’t you come home and we can make a day trip out of the drive tomorrow?”

But since one of our favourite places to spend time together is in the cab of a truck rolling down the highway at night, Date Night it is.

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

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. It took some time to come to fruition as Ernie and Winona, along with founding member Paul Forgrave, recount in the museum’s back office after we arrive with the Checker.

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 throughout the Maritimes. The Village of Petitcodiac welcomed the idea with open arms.

The gathering in the office takes longer than expected because the stories keep coming. I could have sat there all day.

I’ve heard lots of stories about the nearby Scoudouc Drag Strip from my car-loving husband. During the 1960s, the drag strip in Scoudouc, outside of Moncton, 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 this many people show up for an ever-so-brief flat-out race on a straight quarter-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.

Sponsorship and fundraising are what keep the Hall of Fame and Museum going. Fundraisers throughout the year include the Birthday Bash, this year taking place Oct. 14, to celebrate the third anniversary of the museum. There’s 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 which takes place every November and has been in existence longer than the museum, since 2006.

Once Chubby Checker was 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.

Visit the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum website for more information: http://www.maritimemotorsporthalloffame.com/index.html

Chubby Checker, the 1982 Checker Cab that Garry Sowerby, left, bought when the company shut its doors, was the last one sold from the Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. Chubby has just found a home at the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum, shown here with Garry (left), Paul Forgrave, founding member of the MMHF (centre) and Ernie McLean, founder and director of the Maritime Motorsports Hall of Fame and inductee of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.

Photograph by: Lisa Calvi, for PNG