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Two of the best take final checkered flag

Back in the early 1970s, when I was starting to do some motorsport writing for The Globe and Mail, I thought I'd join a car club in order to meet some of the people involved in amateur road racing in Ontario.

  • The image of cars in a showroom

Back in the early 1970s, when I was starting to do some motorsport writing for The Globe and Mail, I thought I’d join a car club in order to meet some of the people involved in amateur road racing in Ontario.

But I didn’t know which was best, so I asked my good friend, Dan Proudfoot, who’d just started working for the Toronto Sun, to make a suggestion.

“Go to the Deutscher Automobil Club,” he said. “The fellow who runs it is named Klaus Bartels. Even if you don’t join, it won’t be a wasted evening; Klaus is as entertaining as any television comedian.”

So I went to a meeting at the old German Club Harmonie over on Sherbourne St. Dan was right: this fellow Bartels opened the meeting and for the next 45 minutes had the 50 or 60 people in attendance alternately cheering, whistling, clapping, guffawing and oh-ohing as he made editorial comments about items in the minutes of the previous meeting, reminisced about races and rallies he’d been in, joked about something his wife, Ruth, had said to him on the way downtown and, well, generally carried on.

I’ll never forget one particular story he told. I can’t recall the name of the person he was talking about, but they’d been in a rally together and had stopped at a hotel for the night.

“I’m in the bed,” he said, “with the covers over my head. I can’t sleep because (his partner) has turned on the television set and is watching the hockey game.

“He’s jumping up and down one minute and swearing the next. I wished he would get as excited about our rally!”

Now, the reason I’m reminiscing today about Klaus Bartels – who’s representative of the many men and women who’ve promoted club-level racing so well in this country over the years – is because on Jan. 8, he died suddenly of heart failure. He was 79.

And his death came hard on the heels of the passing of Martin Chenhall, the General Motors engineer who started the Player’s/GM Challenge Series. He was 73.

A funeral for Klaus was held a week ago yesterday at the Gifffen-Mack Funeral Home in Scarborough and the place was packed. Many people spoke and the service was full of humour and good cheer.

Horst Kroll, the last Can-Am series champion and a close friend of Klaus’s, read a eulogy that was sent from British Columbia by Philip Powell who, as “Phil Murray,” hosted racing radio and TV shows back in the early ’60s when Klaus was a champion Porsche driver and good enough to finish second one year in the Canadian Winter Rally.

Wrote Powell: “He was, in my opinion, one of this country’s finest race drivers, though somewhat of an unsung hero.”

Kroll, who wanted to say a few words of his own but was too choked up, said this week that he has Klaus’s ice-racing car – a Volkswagen Rabbit – race-ready in his Scarborough shop.

“He still raced every year in the ice races at Minden,” Kroll said. “He was planning to go up there this year. You know what they say: once a racer, always a racer. That was Klaus.”

Another fellow who was “always a racer” was Chenhall. Although Martin passed away in December, a celebration of his life wasn’t held until last Saturday at the Whitby Yacht Club, when his old pal Chick McGregor rallied the troops.

About 150 folks turned out to listen to tributes and some recordings of big band music because there were many sides to “Marty” – his engineering side, his racing side, his family side and his musical side.

MC’d by McGregor, a buddy of 40 years, people reminisced for several hours about a guy who paid his way through U of T by playing the clarinet and leading his dance band, the Top Hats, during summer gigs at Clevelands House in Muskoka; raced his Corvette with wild abandon at Mosport (“he won a lot, he crashed a lot”); headed up GM’s operation in Bogotá, Colombia (among many other duties with the company over the years), and created (with one or two others) the Player’s/GM Challenge Series that enabled young Canadian racers like Ron Fellows, Richard Spénard and David Empringham to strut their stuff.

An old racing pal, Al Souter, explained why Marty had the number “88” on his car. “It looked the same if the car was upside down or right-side up,” quipped Al.

Paul Cooke of ASN-FIA Canada (in attendance with fellow executives Roger Peart and Barry Morton) called Marty “a Canadian racing icon” who’s probably already talking to St. Peter about a Pearly Gates racing series.

Fellows spoke for the drivers who benefited from Marty’s efforts.

Others in attendance – a Who’s Who of the Canadian racing community – included champion drivers Bill Brack, Eppie Wietzes and Kroll; marketing and public-relations experts Sid Priddle and son Jerry Priddle, Nelson Hudes and Sylvia Proudfoot; Mosport media manager Glenn Butt; automotive writer Bert Coates; retired Toyota executive and racing photographer F. David Stone and legendary Mosport announcer Jim Paulsen (now of AM 740), among others.

Martin’s immediate family was there – wife Gerda, son Martin Jr. and daughter Jennifer – as were two brothers. I’ll give the last word to Jennifer.

“I was in my first year of university,” she said, “and I was on the soccer team. There was a playoff game the same day as my high school graduation. The coach insisted I couldn’t miss the game. But the playoff game was in London, at Western University, and my graduation was in Toronto.

“So my dad came to the game and waited for me. As soon as the final whistle went, I jumped in the car. I don’t know how fast he drove, but we got back to Toronto in time for me to duck into the girls’ washroom to change, catch up with my class in the hall and go up on the stage to get my diploma.

“That was how much my dad loved me, and my brother.”

wheels@thestar.ca; nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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