Sports Car

in Western Canada
Tom Johnston


High-octane gifts for race fans of all ages
Books, videos and models sure bets $3,000 print signed by Schumacher

— Norris McDonald, The Toronto Star Dec. 11, 2004
I admire people who can do one thing really well. The widow of a friend of mine, a newspaperman, summed up his career thusly: “He was the best at what he did.” Then there are those amazing individuals who can do more than one thing really well. I'm not talking about people who are jacks-of-all-trades, because chances are they're not very good at any of them. No, I'm talking about people who are terrific multi-taskers — world-class surgeons who are excellent teachers, for example.
Which brings me to Tom Johnston, a Winnipeg guy who made good. Johnston started as a student draftsman at Keen Engineering Co. Ltd. in Regina in the early 1960s. Before he finished at Keen, he was president and CEO and won the federal government's annual Award for Business Excellence in 1990. Not bad for being good at one thing.
But Tom Johnston was good at something else: he was also one of Canada's best, all-round motorsports personalities. Over a 35-year-period, he drove, designed, built, did the mechanical work and entered race cars in more than 300 events across North America. When he wasn't in the cockpit himself, he prepared and entered cars for drivers of the stature of Ross Bentley and Frank Allers. In fact, Allers won the 1990 Canadian Formula Atlantic championship in one of Johnston's cars.
In 2000, by which time he'd been inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame because of his racing accomplishments, Johnston was levelled by a stroke. He couldn't walk. He fought back to health by doing something else really well: he researched and wrote a book, Sports Car Road Racing in Western Canada, which has been published in time for Christmas.
Which brings me to the reason for this column. It's the holiday season and time for gift-giving. If you would like to surprise your sweetheart with a book on auto racing, or a DVD, or a souvenir of a particular car or driver, my purpose today is to tell you where you might go to find it, as well as to give you a reasonable idea of how much it's going to cost.
With that in mind, let me say right off the bat that Tom Johnston is a wonderful racing historian. He has done his homework — boy, has he done his homework. As part of his project, he visited all the western Canadian road racing circuits known to exist, including ones that have long been abandoned.
And although the book mostly covers the period of the sport after the Second World War, he takes us right back to the beginnings — a road race in Winnipeg in 1904. There are pictures galore, many in colour, and the book covers everything from the circuits (Westwood, Edmonton International, Gimli) to the drivers (Bob McLean, Greg Moore) to the cars (Milligan AC Bristol, Gemini Formula Junior).
And although the book is primarily about sports-car racing, Johnston also pays homage to the guys out west who only turned left. Pete Henderson, the first Canadian to race in the Indianapolis 500, and Billy Foster (who nearly everybody thought was the first Canadian to race in the Indy 500) are among drivers featured here.
This is a beautiful coffee-table-size book and retails for $120. It is available from Granville Island Publishing: toll-free 1-877-688-0320.

Book chronicles old western tracks
— Steve Mertl, Edmonton Sun, October 29, 2004
Click here for review.

Book captures wild west racing history
Airstrips played key role in early days of auto speed
— Gordon McIntyre, Vancouver Province, July 22, 2004
The words jump off the page.
"It drove like a pig," the local builder of the Ioco Wise Special said in an excerpt from the June 3, 1968, edition of The Province beside a photo of the car exploding in bits of metal and rubber after a crash at Westwood.
The book is called Sports Car Road Racing in Western Canada by West Vancouver's Tom Johnston and, suitably, it appears 100 years after the first road race held in the West, in 1904 at Winnipeg.
Just published, it's a beautiful 404-page coffee table book with 700 archival photos, 50 of them in colour, and interesting tidbits about tracks, many long gone, from Winnipeg to Vancouver Island. It took Johnston two years to research, including visiting long-dead tracks across the West.
"People think Billy Foster from Victoria was the first Canadian to race in the Indy 500, in '66," Johnston says, pointing out one of the sundry nuggets to be found in the book. "But the first was Pete Henderson of Fernie in 1916.
"And Tim Gee from Whitehorse is the only Canadian to win a main event in the World of Outlaw sprint car races. He did it twice."
The photos give the book a historical feel. The trivia gives it warmth.
Other gems uncovered by Johnston include how many race tracks of the '40s and '50s started out as airstrips to train Second World War pilots and the story of the U.S. Army officer who told Sports Car Club of B.C. volunteers helping organize a race at Fort Lewis: "If that red light come on on top of that pole, get the hell off the runways!"
While a significant number of the book's pages are devoted to B.C., the Prairies get their due, too, not surprising given Johnston grew up in Regina.
"There was probably as much racing in the Prairies in the 1960s as there was in B.C., Ontario or Quebec. It was a real hotbed," he said while sitting on the front porch of his home on a quiet cul-de-sac in West Vancouver that belies the organized chaos of his rec room, which houses six of Johnston's race cars and a museum of other race memorabilia.
"The book could have been 10 times bigger, but I had to stop somewhere."
Born in 1941 in Winnipeg, he was 20 when he entered his first of 300-plus races he'd take part in as a driver, car designer and builder, and team owner.
A mechanical engineer, he moved to North Van in '69 and went from student draftsman to president, CEO and principal owner of Keen Engineering.
He sold the business in '99, hoping to race again, but suffered a stroke in 2000 that left him unable to swallow or walk for a time.
"It took me a while to get over that," said Johnston, who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1998 and is a lifetime member of the SCCBC.
When he was able to get around again, still with a limp, he visited all the Western road-race tracks, active or abandoned, that ever hosted events.
The book has four parts:
- Tracks that used to exist, the six operating now and 40 that never got off the drawing board;
- Johnston's racing career;
- Drivers and "other interesting personalities";
- Home-made racing cars, of which Johnston built several ("I tried to be nice — I say some are marvels of engineering and ingenuity, others less so.")
There are 1,200 books in print, each numbered and autographed. Nos. 0 (the author's proof) and 1 belong to Johnston. No. 2 resides at the Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Granville Island Publishing. $120. Available at bookstores, Wilkinson's Automobilia, Hall of Fame,

"Book chronicles history of racing and profiles outstanding drivers since 1900."
If you want to splurge on Dad this Father's Day and if he's an auto racing fan, you might want to take a look at Sports Car Road Racing in Western Canada, a new, exhaustively researched book by local writer and former sports car racing driver Tom Johnston.
The book chronicles the history of sports car racing at tracks in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., with plenty of photos of our own Lower Mainland former and current tracks and coverage of the never-ending controversies surrounding where racing facilities should or should not be located.
Johnston discusses his own racing career and profiles outstanding Western Canadian drivers from 1900 to present, unearthing details such as who was the first local driver to race in the Indianapolis 500 (Peter Henderson of Fernie, in 1916 and 1920).
The book, two years in the making, is clearly written and features nearly 700 archival photos, both colour and black and white, most of which have never been published before.
There are also reproductions of news stories, several from the Vancouver Sun.
The 409-page book includes a thorough index and glossary of racing terms.
Vancouver Sun, Friday June18, 2004

You have in your hands the best book ever written on Canadian road racing. Race driver, sports prototype designer and builder, race team owner—nobody knows the heyday of Western Canadian sports car road racing from the inside like Tom Johnston. He focuses on the 40-year period, from the 1950s to the late 1980s, that was a golden age of Canadian motorsport, a period that produced Formula One’s Jacques and Gilles Villeneuve and champ car ace Greg Moore atop a pyramid populated by hundreds of weekenders racing the cars they drove to the track.
A highlight is coverage of Westwood Racing Circuit (1959–90), one of the most spectacularly-sited sports facilities in the world and, as Johnston puts it, "a fabulous, much loved track," to those of us who spent our Sundays there, worshipping at the outdoor cathedral of speed. To anyone who remembers Charlie Godecke airborne at Deers Leap in the Bert ‘Get Your Rear Into Gear’ Laakmann Porsche 911, this book will be a memory-laden treasure.
— Sean Rossiter, journalist, author of The Chosen Ones: Canada’s Test Pilots in Action, and former owner of the late G.B. Sterne’s championship-winning Morgan Plus 4

Tom Johnston tells stories of early racing with detail, passion, and humour. The readability of this book impressed me and brought feelings of actually being involved in early racing in Canada. Johnston provides an eye into the window of racing at the club level — a level many of us can relate to. Stories within stories keep the reader entertained, while his historical detail provides a solid backbone for the book. The research is extensive, including tons of historical photographs, documents, facts, and personal insights, presented in a manner which is well organized and comprehensive.
A witty, informative read and a formidable book that anyone interested in early racing would treasure as part of their collection — whether they are from Western Canada or not!
— Ted Wilkinson, pro rally driver, founder and owner of Wilkinson’s Automobilia,

I have had a look at the book and to say that it is the finest work I have seen on Canadian motorsport is an understatement . . . it will be a #1 in motorsport reads for 2004. He has managed to produce what I hear so many have attempted. An interesting history on our sport. While it focuses on the West it leaves a huge gap for some easterner to fill on this side of the Rockies. The challenge is out, the bar is high. Well done, Tom.
While the Villenuve book by Allan Deleplante and the Moore book were on one person, this book covers the whole Western Canada race scene. It is filled with little anecdotes so you can pick it up and read in little bits which is the way I enjoy a book. It might take longer but is more enjoyable when finished. I highly recommend it.  
— Ed Moody, Corner 2 Literary Society, Mosport. Member of the Canadian MotorSport History Group

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