In the 1960s, if you were a “motor head,” the place to be was Metcalf Field, says 63-year-old retired Lake Township business owner Mike Evanoff.
From the late 1950s to late ‘60s, sanctioned drag races took place at Metcalf, drawings dozens of racers. Featured at Metcalf, today renamed Toledo Executive Airport, were hot rods, muscle cars, roadsters, and stock cars.
Even during racing, the airport took priority. Evanoff recalls clearing of a runway as racing took a temporary halt while a plane approached to land. Once the plane was safely grounded, racing resumed.
In the late 1950s, Metcalf’s drag strip was named “Vettesville.” Later, it became the Greater Toledo Dragway with offices at 513 Main Street in East Toledo.
A newsletter, the G.T. Exhaust Pipe, was published for each event. Here is a briefing from the October 21, 1966 issue about racers who experienced engine trouble on a cold day —
“All things were just fine until the breakdowns came. First, Grimes lost to head gaskets and gave the crankshaft a free shower. Then the ‘Wild Thing’ lost its clutch as Jerry was just feeling out the eight in a row and how they go. Then Wagner’s big 427 Porky Pine lost its quills in the gear box and for the final ‘miss-hap’ of the day Roger Miller Ford began to sweat about the cylinders, sooo to make a long story short ‘NUTS,’”
The same issue gave a preview of the upcoming Sunday’s activities —
“Big ‘Chicago Jim’ Riggo with the famous Pandemonium 900 H.P. Dodge, the loudest car you have ever heard, will go against ‘The Leader’ Pellegrene car — a terrific Mustang with 950 H.P. on fuel.”
On and on the newsletter continues with briefings about racers named “Terrible Tom” in his “Bronde Bomb Fabulous 289 Mustang,” and “Mr. Lemone (Carpet Bagger) if you please Griffin in one of G.T. Dragway’s most friendly drag racers with his 396-407-506 or whatever cubes he has in his wild Porky Pine Chevy.”
Evanoff, who raced from 1965 to June of 1967 before entering the military, estimates 500 to 700 spectators would arrive at Metcalf to participate in the fun. There were no grandstands so spectators would line up alongside the runway to watch and support their favorite driver. The entrance was located off Droulliard Road and spectators entered for free, even if they wanted to get into the pit area.
“We hoped it didn’t rain, even a few days prior,” Evanoff said, “but even then, we were so gutsy and we wanted to drag race we’d make it — you’d just dodge the puddles.”
Like NASCAR, the drivers were considered “rebels” at the time, but drag racing is main stream entertainment today at tracks in Milan, Michigan and Norwalk, Ohio — finding a national audience on television.
The same guys that once raced at Metcalf also toured the circuit, racing at Milan, Norwalk, and Detroit four decades ago. But Evanoff says he enjoyed racing at Toledo’s track in Lake Township the most. Like the other raceways, racing was organized into classes, and each category had a point champion at the conclusion of the season. But compared to places like Norwalk, Toledo racing was “small potatoes,” Evanoff says.
“It was the only place going in Toledo,” Evanoff said.
Sometimes drag racing was not sanctioned and racers found their own venue. Lake Township resident Glenn Bowman recalls drivers gathering at a non-paved drag strip in Van Wert County.
Evanoff raced his 1965 Chevelle-Malibu SS, known by locals as “Nestle Quik,” which he purchased brand new in 1964 from the former Jack Lownsberry Chevrolet, which was located on Front Street in East Toledo.
Bowman, who today lives on the Wood County side of Fostoria Road just three miles from Evanoff’s home, drove a 1963 Corvette named “Sudden Death,” which remains in his garage shining as cleanly today as when he raced it.
Norm Romstadt, now over 80 years old and living on White Street in East Toledo, raced a 1963 Corvette. Larry Heilman owned a white 1962 Corvette, but he usually allowed a better-sighted driver handle the wheel. Photographer Dave Heitzman did more than capture the action on film, he raced a Pontiac G.T.O. Often joining them was nationally-renown driver Don Garlits, who today operates his Big Daddy Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.
Evanoff says most of the drivers who remain in touch today were east side residents. Evanoff, a Waite graduate, was raised and still living in East Toledo while he was racing.
Evanoff enjoyed those days so much he wishes drag racing could be brought back to Metcalf. He believes one-eighth or one-quarter mile races could be held there again with the proper organization. After talking to The Press, he had a conversation with Destination Toledo Convention Bureau representative Julie Bolfa to discuss the possibilities.
Today, Toledo Executive Airport is owned by the City of Toledo and operated by the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. The airport would have to be redressed for a day or weekend just like Cleveland prepares Burke Lakefront Airport for grand prix racing.
Evanoff still drives his ‘65 Malibu SS 46 years later. The paint and engine on his tan-colored Chevrolet shines alongside a Z06 Corvette in his self-described “man-cave,” a garage behind his home specially designed to house both autos. The Malibu has about 30,000 miles on it.
The drivers still get together at Woodville Mall for a weekly classic car show. Every Monday, about 150 classic and muscle autos are parked outside the mall as a disc jockey spins classic tunes. Evanoff also drives his Malibu and Corvette to classic car shows in Genoa, Pemberville, and elsewhere.
Today, both of Evanoff’s classic autos are equipped with TREMEC O.E. technology. TREMEC Transmissions produced a television commercial that features Evanoff, the former owner of Suburban Motors on Woodville Road, alongside his street machines.
Today, his Malibu has a Vortech-supercharged 502 engine resting under the hood and a TREMEC 6-speed “nestled in the tunnel” while the TREMEC logo is embroidered into his center console.