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Mehlenbacher Family Honored at Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame Ceremony

Two generations of Mehlenbachers were honored at the 7th annual Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame Inductees Gala, which took place in front of a full house at Lamborghini Montreal in Kirkland, Quebec. A total of 16 nominees were inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, with the gala celebrating their accomplishments and contributions to the sport of drag racing.

The Mehlenbachers joined an elite group of Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame inductees, past and present, that includes racers, mechanics, crew chiefs, engine and chassis builders, track promoters, announcers, track officials, photographers, journalists, and sponsors. 

“I am thrilled, but I am also extremely honored for my father and the Mehlenbacher family to receive this recognition. It is a very special tribute to me and my family,” said Bruce F. Mehlenbacher. “I would like to convey my heartfelt appreciation and thanks to John Scotti and Bob Aubertin, on behalf of myself and the Mehlenbacher family, for honoring my father and me. This induction into the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame is a great honor.”

Several members of the Mehlenbacher family were in attendance, including Andrew and Bill Mehlenbacher, and Bill accepted for his father on behalf of the family. “My father is very deserving of this award as one of the pioneers in the sport of drag racing. Many of the members of the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame and those in attendance tonight would not be where they are had it not been for our father, Bruce A. Mehlenbacher and our grandfather L.B. Mehlenbacher. Their dedication and promotion of the sport was second to none,” said Bill Mehlenbacher. “On behalf of my father and our family, we thank you for this distinction.”

The Mehlenbachers family history of drag racing began in 1948, when L. Bruce Mehlenbacher purchased a 375-acre parcel of land in Kohler, Ontario, to add to the family’s farming operation. The property included an emergency landing strip built by the Canadian Government during the Second World War.  In 1954, with the cooperation of the Ontario Timing Association, there was some racing at the track in Kohler, and 1955 saw the full operation of the drag racing facility. Things were simple and low-tech in those days, as cars were driven to the track or towed in makeshift trailers. 

During the 1960s, the track was recognized as Kohler Dragway, Super Boss Dragway, and Cayuga 1320 Dragway. It was operated by several individuals throughout this time but always managed under the watch of the Mehlenbacher family. Throughout that period, the track received both NASCAR and NHRA sanctioning, the prominent North American race governing groups.

Throughout the heavy muscle car days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mehlenbachers leased the facility, and the dragstrip became one of the most prominent facilities in Canadian drag racing. The first NHRA Division 1 Winston World Championship Series Event (WWCS) was held at the now-named Dragway Park in 1971. A year later, the Mehlenbacher family took full control of the track, operating all aspects of the venue.

Throughout the next 12 years, Dragway Park grew in stature, and a full card of National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) class racing ran every season. Each year was highlighted by the very popular and extremely successful NHRA Division 1 Winston World Championship Series event in May. 

During that time, many of the biggest names in the sport attended events at Dragway Park, including “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney, Bob Glidden, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Joe Amato, Ronnie Sox, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, “Jungle” Jim Liberman, “Dyno” Don Nicholson, Ed “The Ace” McCulloch, Raymond Beadle, Connie Kalitta, Gary Beck, “TV” Tommy Ivo, Frank Manzo, Frank Hawley, Billy Meyer, Roger Gustin, Wally and Barbara Parks and, of course, “The First Lady of Motorsports” Linda Vaughn.  

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A highlight of this time was Shirley Muldowney receiving her NHRA Top Fuel license on Easter weekend at Dragway Park in 1973. The three drivers who signed for her Top Fuel license were “TV” Tommy Ivo, Connie Kalitta, and “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Bruce Mehlenbacher Jr. signed as the Dragway Park Track Official. The Mehlenbacher family era of Dragway Park continued until 1984, and the drag strip continues to operate today under the name of Toronto Motorsports Park.

The Mehlenbacher family and Dragway Park collected several awards throughout the years, including the NHRA Northeast Division 1 Dragstrip of the Year in 1982, NHRA Division 1 Bracket Finals Team Champions in 1976 and 1983, and the NHRA Management Excellence Award in 1983. Bruce A. Mehlenbacher was named NHRA Northeast Division Man of the Year in 1973. Bruce A. and Joan Mehlenbacher were then inducted into the Legion of Honor by Darwin Doll in 2010 for outstanding contributions to our drag racing heritage.

To highlight an already impressive family history in the motorsports industry, the Mehlenbacher family (L. Bruce, Bruce A., Joan, Bruce F., Holly, Barbara, Bill, Andrew, Julie and Kelly) was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 1998.

The Mehlenbacher family’s passion for racing involvement didn’t cease at Dragway Park in 1984. It continues in the present day with Bruce F. Mehlenbacher. After working as Track Manager at Dragway Park for ten years, Bruce became the General Manager of Bob Slack’s Cayuga Speedway for eight years, from 1985 to 1993. He would manage the day-to-day operations of the Speedway, which presented short-track championship stock car racing at its very finest, a trademark of the track. The goal was to provide motorsport fans with the best “Specials Only” racing format, which was obtained through major sponsorship support, from companies such as Labatt Breweries, Molson Breweries, Castrol Oil, Player’s, General Motors, General Tire and McKerlie-Millen Auto Parts Stores.  Quality was the name of the game at Cayuga Speedway, and for race fans, competitors, media, and sponsors alike, the Speedway offered one of the most professionally operated motorsport facilities in North America. 

In 1991, Bruce co-founded Promark Motorsport International with John Massingberd, which produced Raceline Motorsports Television on TSN, Raceline Radio Network on Telemedia, and Snowtrax Television on TSN and Outdoor Life Network. The ever-popular Sled Ed was a highlight of this period. Raceline Radio Network is now in its 31st year.  It is hosted by Erik Tomas and still airs weekly year-round.  

In 1998, Bruce also founded JAJ Entertainment, acting as an independent consultant for motorsports and general entertainment clients. The business specializes in graphic design, hero cards, image creation, internet and web marketing and strategic web development, media management, photography, public relations, special event management and logistics, and sponsorship development. He continues to manage this company today.

Among other ventures in the early 2000s, Bruce worked with motorsports drivers in roles such as public relations for Frank Kimmel, the most successful driver in ARCA history, and also Carl Spiering Motorsports. Bruce also became Executive Director of Development for Fastline Motorsports, Team Manager for Northern Force Racing and Executive Director of Development with Tara MacLeod Racing.

In 2003 and 2004, Bruce served as General Manager of Roger Gustin’s AutoStar Productions Inc., producer of the Super Chevy Shows. It was the world’s largest drag race/car show series and featured nitro coupes, jet cars, wheel standers, and exhibition vehicles.

Bruce then founded the Pro Modified Racing Association (PMRA), Quick 32 Sportsman Series, and Pro Bike & Sled Series (PBSS) in 2004 and serves as their Director of Operations to the present day. The three series have toured several Canadian provinces and U.S. states, presenting a complete package of drag racing action, with excitement for the fans and close competition for the teams.  Fans are treated to the PMRA Pro Modifieds, known as the “world’s fastest doorslammers,” the full-fendered cars and dragsters of the Quick 32 Sportsman Series, and the two-wheeled motorcycle and snowmobile action of the Pro Bike & Sled Series. These race series draw a large number of competitors and continue to thrill spectators at events in Canada and the USA.

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These inductions will also be celebrated at a special Open House for the public on Thursday, November 30, at Shelly’s Family Dining in downtown Kohler (the home of Dragway Park) from 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm, where several of the CDHF Inductees will be present.

This story was originally published on November 6, 2023. Drag Illustrated

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