Those roots became personal close to 30 years ago when I married Janice Lynn Uhl, who’s father Kurt was already a major player in the dirt track stock car racing landscape in Niagara, first as a car builder and mechanic, and then as a track owner and promoter.
My Father-in-Law was a big wheel in the sport I loved. Handy indeed.
On Friday April 9th, after a short courageous battle with kidney failure, Kurt Alfred Uhl of St. Catharines completed his tasks on earth in his 81st year with family and friends at his bedside at The St.Catharines General Hospital.
The deep sadness over his departure is soothed as we remember Kurt’s unfailing kindness, generosity, sense of humour, huge laugh and a love for the good things in life.
And one of those things in life he loved was racing on clay ovals with the co-ownership and operation of Merrittville Speedway in St.Catharines, Canada’s oldest and longest operating dirt track, and Ransomville Speedway, a short hop across the Niagara River in Ransomville NY.
Merrittville opens their 65th consecutive season of operation this month. Ransomville’s history traces back close to that total, so Kurt’s role in their longevity is well documented, as Uhl and his long time friend, the pre-deceased Stan Friesen operated Merrittville and Ransomville simultaneously for 13 years in the 70’s and 80’s, keeping the gates wide open on an international scale.
Kurt was born in 1935 in Waldheim Saskatchewan, with his family moving to St.Catharines when he was 6 years old.
Out of Thorold High School, Kurt entered the automotive trade and opened his own business, Ace Alignment in 1966 in St.Catharines.
Shortly after, with their friend Neil Sharp, Kurt and Stan joined the burgeoning Niagara stock car racing scene, campaigning late models and sportsman coupes and coaches with great success at Merrittville Speedway, Humberstone Speedway and Speedway Park.
After leaving the racing to younger hands, Kurt and Stan’s ownership of Merrittville and Ransomville came into major prominence when they joined Glenn Donnelly’s fledgling DIRT of Western New York sanction, designed to align Canadian and American Dirt Modified, Sportsman and Late Model rules and administration.
The Uhl-Friesen racing empire doubled in size in 1972 with the acquisition of Ransomville Speedway in the small upstate New York town of Ransomville, a short drive from Niagara Falls NY.
The Uhl and Friesen families played a critical role in this history as the wives and children were counted on to help run the speedways, working the concession stands, selling programs, and helping to maintain the tracks’ racing surface.
The kids grew up at the family tracks. I arrived on the scene in the 70’s as co-announcer with the late Gordie Wilson at both facilities. Miss Janice started in popcorn, graduated to hot dogs, then as a race official and scorer in the towers and that’s where we met.
They sold Merrittville in 1981, with Kurt relinquishing his involvement with Ransomville 6 years later.
The Friesen family carried on Ransomville ownership, with patriarch Stan Friesen passing away in 2012.
Late last year they sold “The Big R” to Buffalo interests.
Kurt’s departure to join his pal Stan at that great big dirt track in the heavens officially closes the Uhl-Friesen era of dirt track racing in Niagara/Western New York.
But Uhl’s influence in speedway operation is still prevalent. His track prep and detailed organization of speedway administration methods are still being used.
Ace Alignment remains a vital Niagara business thanks to Kurt’s guidance and vision.
He worked hard and he played just as hard.
Parties and laughter meant everything to Kurt, and “The Colonel’s” laughter will echo in our hearts forever.
“Now he belongs to the ages….”