FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
By Doug Kennedy
July 10, 2020
(Hartford, OH)…Recognized as one of the top Late Model drivers of the tri-state region during the late ‘40s through the early ‘70s, Bill Forney will be honored with the inaugural “Bill Forney Memorial” race to be held at Sharon Speedway on Saturday, July 18. The Pace Performance RUSH Dirt Late Model Touring Series together with Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC event will pay $2,199 to-win in the first RUSH Late Model race at Sharon in nearly four years.
Bill Forney, who passed away in August of 2019, was the Sharon track champion in 1964, but where he really excelled was at Canfield Speedway where he won the championship seven times (1959-1961, 1963, 1965-1966, and 1968). Two other times, he was the track runner-up. With over 150 feature wins, Forney also won a track championship at Painesville Speedway in 1958. He was the Hickory Speedway champion in 1968, and a two-time champ at Cloverleaf Speedway in 1961 and 1962. Forney is a member of the Twin State Auto Racing Club Hall of Fame and the Cloverleaf Speedway (Cleveland) Hall of Fame. The Forney family lived in Austintown, Ohio, a suburb of Youngstown, until 1966 when they moved to Boardman, Ohio.
Sharon Speedway is graciously allowing all retired drivers that competed at either Sharon or Canfield Speedways from 1949-1973 and a guest the opportunity to attend the “Bill Forney Memorial” at no charge for general admission on July 18. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic striking, a retired drivers reunion dinner and other pre-race activities were planned. It was also the intent to do a fundraiser to grow the purse much like the “Jook George Steel City Classic” at Pittsburgh. Those activities and fundraisers will return and be promoted to make the 2021 “Bill Forney Memorial” into an even more special event.
Sharon General Manager Dave Willoughby, who is now in his 11th year at the helm, is proud to be hosting the Bill Forney Memorial race. “With him being from this area and having raced at both tracks (Sharon and Canfield), it’s great to be the host of the event,” Willoughby said. “Some of his friends still come around to the track. With the new surface, I’m ecstatic to have the RUSH Late Models here. I think you’re going to see three and four-wide racing throughout the event. I’m glad to get them back here and I think the racers are excited to get back here as well. I hope that we can develop a more permanent relationship with RUSH as an annual event.”
As for the RUSH Late Models returning to Sharon after a four-year absence, Willoughby said, “We would like to have a few more races here at Sharon for them. When we first started running the class, the average car count was over 30 a night and we would have to run a B main. The car counts were great, but our surface was hard to race on and now with the new surface, it will be much better. We’re hoping to have a good car count for this event and a lot of support again as the RUSH Late Models return.”
In 1958, Forney won an incredible 35 races in a row, which included features, helmet dashes, heat races, and Australian pursuits. In 1963, there was a 100-lap race at Canfield, another at Sharon, and yet another at Heidelberg, and Bill won all three within a two-week period. “That was very special for Dad,” said Mike Forney, Bill’s son.
“What I admired most was the fact that those guys would have to go to three different tracks for the weekend beginning in April and ending in September,” said the 66-year-old Forney. “They would run on the pavement on Friday at Painesville, on the dirt on Saturday at Canfield, and back on the pavement Sunday for Cloverleaf or the dirt at Sharon. They had a tow bar on the car because there were no haulers, trailers, or pickup trucks.”
“When he began racing, Mom (Martha) and Dad would go five days a week,” Forney continued. “When my sister and I went to the races we would call it ‘Martha’s Meals on Wheels.’ We had the cooler in the back seat and we would be eating as we went down the road.”
“In 1964 my dad had fast time every night at Canfield. If you did that you would start dead last in the feature. If you won the feature the week before, you would also start either last or in the last row. Dad won nine features that year. That was pretty incredible.”
For his first few years of racing, Bill Forney drove the #72 and actually towed his own race car with a tow bar behind his road car. Then in 1957 he began driving for Jim Andio and Sons Excavation located in Boardman, Ohio, and that was the first time they had a pickup truck and trailer. “The car number was #99 until one time when they went to a track and there was already a #99 there, so they just painted a 1 on the left side of the number and the car became the #199, and it stuck,” Forney said.
In 1966, Forney left Andio and started driving for John Doughton out of Hubbard, Ohio. “They ended up winning a championship at Canfield,” said Forney. In 1967, the car became the candy-striped #199.
Speaking of the #199, RUSH Late Model driver Dave Airgood, Jr. of West Middlesex, Pa., who is a regular at Raceway 7, will carry a candy-striped #199 throwback Bill Forney scheme on his car at the event.
$199 is being donated to the feature winner on top of the standard $2,000 to-win, $225 to-start Tour purse by Forney’s two children, Mike and Anita (Carson). “I wanted to get it started,” said Mike. “I wanted the purse to end with $199.
“Our family is honored that Vicki wanted to have a memorial race to honor Dad,” Forney said. “It’s not just remembering him but the whole group of guys that Dad raced against. They all got along so well together.”
“Dad always liked the dirt better than the asphalt,” said Forney, who raced himself for two seasons (1972 on dirt at Canfield and 1975 on asphalt at Sharon). “He was the best,” Forney said of his dad. “I had a hero that was at home all the time. He worked a full-time job as a mechanic for BFI for 34 years. He would go to work every day, come home, go and race, come back home, and then the next day do the same thing all over again. He never called off and was always there. That’s what kept our family going and staying together all the time. He never said no to anything I wanted to do.”
Mike remembers back to when his dad was in a nursing facility and a nurse’s aide came up to his dad and said that she always wanted to race him. “He was sitting in the chair at the time and when she said that, he looked up at me and winked and I told the nurse to turn her walker around. For somebody who was 92 and three weeks away from passing, he was still up for a challenge to race.”
One of the special memories about Bill Forney is the classic battles that he and his top rival, Jimmy Bickerstaff, had. “Dad and Bickerstaff sold a lot of tickets particularly at Canfield because they promoted them as being top rivals.” Mike said. “They were so much of rivals that Trumbull County got them to race in a soap box derby. There was a mutual respect for each other’s abilities, and they pushed each other to be better.”
As for Bill’s two children, Mike retired this past November where he sold fasteners for 44 years for clients like East Manufacturing, the Gradall Company in New Philadelphia, Sugardale Meats, and Mac Trailers. He currently lives in Winter Garden, Florida, just outside of Orlando with his wife Colleen. Anita is a homemaker who taught some special education classes and currently lives with her husband, Craig Carson in Boardman, Ohio.
“Dad wasn’t a man of many words,” Mike Forney said. “Our family physician said that Dad spent his words wisely.”
Daughter Anita, six years younger than her brother, remembers a time when her mom and some friends were at a racetrack and Bill wasn’t running real well. It was getting late in the race and one of the friends was getting up to leave and Mom said, “You’re not leaving yet, so sit down” and Bill ended up winning the race! Martha was Bill’s best cheerleader.
She also remembers back to a time when Bill took her fishing. “When we went on vacation in North Carolina, we went to a fishing lake and I wasn’t catching anything,” Anita recalled. “My dad left for a bit and came back with a grasshopper and put it on the hook. I ended up catching a rainbow trout and we had that for dinner that night.”
“My dad and I had a good relationship,” Anita said. “I remember him saying that once he retired, nobody would remember him…boy was he wrong! People really enjoyed watching him race.”
Longtime car owner and former racer Bob Williams of Canfield, Ohio will present a trophy for the winner of the dash, who earns the pole for the “Bill Forney Memorial” feature. Williams was a friend and admirer of Forney. Williams has owned race cars in numerous divisions included the RUSH Late Models, RUSH Sportsman Modifieds, and currently the RUSH Sprint Cars for standout Alan Dellinger.
RUSH Racing Series is brought to you by Pace Performance together with Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC along with the support of Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Holley Performance Products, Hovis Auto & Truck Supply, Equipment Rental Options, FK Rod Ends, Wehrs Machine & Racing Products, Schoenfeld Headers, Jones Racing Products, TBM Brakes, Performance Bodies & Parts, Racing Electronics, Dirt Defender, Wrisco Industries, Frankland Racing Supply, Landrum Performance Spring, Ontime Body & Graphic, Trailer-Alarms.com, Zarin Truck & Automotive, Sherwood Wheels, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, Lincoln Electric, Velocita-USA, Accu-Force Dynos & Testers, Classic Ink USA, CrateInsider.com, and Wedge Motorsports.
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