Billy rafter #22
Bill Rafter was one of those early drivers who was as
skilled on asphalt as he was on dirt. Bill started his career racing midgets on
the old Civic Stadium in Buffalo during the late forties to early fifties as a
member of NASCAR. However the spectators' preference turned to early stock cars
in western New York and regular midget shows faded away. During this period a
used car dealer, John Moran, had a 1937 black Ford coupe built for Bill
Rafter,created with the best equipment available for the period.
immediately started to build a career driving this car, however the season was
interrupted by a drivers strike in 1951,as a result, they towed to Daytona Beach
to race on the sand. In 1959,1960,&1961 Rafter would return to the new high
banks of Daytona to race his modified to no avail, as he wrecked twice and had a
broken suspension in 1961. Wild Bill Rafter's career was briefly interrupted by
a stint in the Army & thus resumed in 1957. Upon his return he tried the
Grand-National, new car division, but his first attraction was the sportsman
class & thus returned in 1958.
During 1959 the Civic Stadium discontinued as a
race track and therefore Bill continued to race at area tracks, mostly dirt
after that. Lancaster Speedway opened in 1959 as a dirt track and its first
points champion was Jeno Begolo, its second points champion was Bill Rafter in
1960. Bill when teamed up with his brother in law Gil Bruso, made a formidable
team, with the infamous blue and white trimmed #22 coupe they were the nemesis
of many rivals, wherever they competed. Here is a list of career achievements:
New York State Fair Champion, Syracuse 1959; New York State NASCAR modified
Champion 1959; During 1960 he went on to win the Labour Day State Fair
Championship and in the years to follow he would win four other championship
races at fairgrounds. These races were the result of Langhornes management, to
independently conducting its races without NASCAR sanction. The first event was
won by Ned Jarrett in 1958, then 1959, 1960, 1962, and 1964 all went to Bill
Even with all of Rafters accomplishments he and Gil Bruss would cross
the border to race at Merrittville Speedway as a regular and again at Speedway
Park in Hamilton during the early to mid 1960's. In my mind "Wild Bill Rafter"
was anything but "wild". He was a pleasure to watch on dirt threading through
traffic to win at these two southern Ontario tracks in his blue and white
trimmed #22 coupe. he was truly a master of the dirt ovals. If there was ever a
year to see him perform, it was 1964 at Merrittville. He finished first in the
points, with second place going to Chuck Boos of Lewiston, New York, and third
to Ted Renshaw of Ridgeway and fourth to Fred Hurst of St. Catharines.
years to follow Bill Rafter continued to race on dirt and asphalt. In 1965
Lancaster Speedway was paved and its champion that year was Bill Rafter. My best
recollection of Bill's skills was at a modified 100 lap special at Merrittville.
The year was 1966-67 and he was now driving a Blue #22 Chevelle bodied modified.
This was in the era of full bodied cars racing with the coupes. While he and
others like Bruce Van Dyke competed in full bodied modifieds, others raced the
more traditional pre-war bodied cars. During the late 1960's Bill's career
focused mainly on New York state pavement modifieds this time driving white with
blue trimmed #22 coupes again owned by brother in law Gil Bruss.
continues to live in Niagara Falls, New York, spending his summers here, while
spending his winters in Florida. In my mind and many others, he will always
remain the #1 pioneer of dirt and asphalt racing in both Southern Ontario and
New York State. Bill was inducted in to the DIRT Hall of Fame in 1992 a truly
fitting tribute to one of Merrittville's finest.
Sincerely, Rick Kavanagh