Penticton Speedway is hosting its biggest event each year this weekend with the Gordy Mannes Memorial, sponsored by Underwriters Insurance, which has been the event corporate sponsor for more than 10 years. They have helped the Speedway grow this event for the city of Penticton. The event attracts 25 to 30 cars from around the province to compete in the Street Stock Invitational, which along with the Hornets class, opens on Saturday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. Sunday Aug. 5 features Hornets, the Street Stock Invitational and the Hit to Pass Eve of Destruction.
"When we decided to have a memorial weekend, it was an easy decision to name it the Gordy Mannes Memorial,” says Speedway owner Johnny Aantjes. “Gordy was the most successful driver at Penticton Speedway through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. As a driver, he was the guy everyone wanted to beat, he won more championships than anyone. He also was involved with building cars, helping others, and there was also a period of time that he managed the track - he has done it all. Gordy was known to work hard and play harder, a tradition that lives on at the Speedway.”
How good is the competition in the Gordy Mannes Memorial Weekend?
“You better have a good race car. Let’s put it that way,” says Dick Parker, a close friend of the late Mannes. “There is a lot of cars that come from out of town. There is some very fast cars. For spectators, it’s probably the best race of the year. That’s what Gordy liked, a good race. I’m sure he’s looking down on us smiling when that race is on.”
Parker says this is an excellent race to honour the legendary driver, who came to Penticton with his wife Ange from Langley in the early 1970s. One of the last cars he built has been making it onto the podium again with Joe Cornett-Ching behind the wheel.
Two years ago Cornett-Ching restored the Street Stock car. Seeing it sitting at the Speedway, he talked to Aantjes about it and purchased the car from him. The owner of A.N.J. Automotive, a sponsor of the Penticton Speedway, restored it in all of Mannes’ colours, including the number fonts, with 43 The Legend on the hood.
“It’s pretty neat,” says Cornett-Ching of the driver he idolized. “Last year on the Sunday night, we won the Gordy Mannes race with it. It was a over-emotional victory. My partner Peter Gilchrist, who passed away a month ago (June 7), he was very good friends with Gordy. He was in victory lane. He was crying. Put Gordy’s car back on the podium on his memorial race. It was very special.”
Parker remembers that day, adding it was hard to see dealing with a person he raced with most of his life and he’s gone and his old car winning the race.
“It is nice to see. It is emotional,” he says.
Parker raced Mannes hundreds of times, adding “He was the top driver, there’s no doubt about that.” He described the Speedway legend as very competitive and didn’t lose very often.
Cornett-Ching thought Mannes approach was pretty cool.
“He would always show up to the track late, not really ever practice his cars … and unload it off the trailer, usually time it in and a lot of times he would get fast times. He would go out and win the main event,” says Cornett-Ching. “Everybody was wearing their cars out all day practicing, wearing out tires, wearing out the engines. It was kind of Cool Hand Luke type of guy.”
Cornett-Ching has a memory of Mannes that makes him laugh.
“I was on the inside of him going into turn three, and I’m running up on the wheel concentrating and look over and there is Gordy, he has got one hand on the wheel and he’s just looking out the side window looking at me as I’m feverishly trying to pass him,” he says. “He looked like he was on a Sunday drive.”
Parker described Mannes, born in Holland, as an easy-going person and an excellent guy, who would help anybody, including lending his tools. One of the things that Cornett-Ching admired was his smarts working on cars. As Cornett-Ching was getting into racing, he would drive by Midas Muffler, where Mannes worked, and he would look to see if he could get any secrets, tips or learn anything. He says Mannes didn’t spend a lot of money on cars. He would find parts he needed from auto wreckers and make it work.
“He played around with a lot of suspension components. Before people even realized,” says Cornett-Ching. “Everybody does it now, but back in the day, when Gordy was doing it, nobody else was doing it. He was sort of a step ahead of everybody.”
”He could put a car together out of nothing,” adds Parker. “He had different parts and pieces laying everywhere.”
The big impression Mannes made on Parker was his ability to build a race car and a motor out of parts and pieces of junk, then go out and win. He was always great with that kind of stuff.
“A lot of his motors didn’t last a long time, but they won,” says Parker.
While spectators watch the drivers battle to win, the Speedway will be operating its concession that has you covered with quality food that includes fresh cut fries, fresh all beef hamburgers and buns from Natures Oven as well as poutine, the real crowd favourite.