Behind all auto racing drivers are the pit crews who toil dilligently and tirelessly, ensuring the cars in their care are as well prepared as possible to help ensure a winning performance. In the history of Island oval track racing, one such dedicated crew member was Walter Wakelyn.
Moving in his youth from his birthplace of Calgary, Alberta, Walt began his racing involvement in 1939 as a mechanic for Stu Pringle who owned a “Big Car” (sprint car) that raced at Victoria’s “Langford Speedway”. He continued in this role into 1940 and then joined the Royal Canadian Navy during the war years, serving from 1940 to 1945.
He resumed his racing activities in 1946 at Langford Speedway, teaming up with his good friend, Jimmy Dempster. Walt and Jimmy ran the #1 “Winfield” sprint car and had such great drivers as Digger Caldwell and Jack Spalding. The car was driven by Digger in 1946 and was virtually unbeatable. Out of the 17 main events run that year, the car scored 14 wins, 2 seconds and one 3rd. It also held the track record and recorded 7 “clean sweeps” (helmet (trophy) dash, heat and main event). As well as the excellent preparation of the car and it’s flawless performance, this team also had the distinction of being the first to wear uniforms. They had red stripes down the legs of their white pants and all team members wore matching shirts and jackets.
When Langford Speedway closed in 1950, racing shifted to “Shearing Speedway”, just north of Duncan. Walt travelled there every weekend to act as the “Pit Boss” during the 1952 season.
“Western Speedway” opened it’s doors in 1954 and Walt and Jimmy Dempster were the “Safety Committee” at the track. Walt also built racing engines for many of the track’s competitors, including quite a few flathead Ford V8’s and other makes including a 302 cubic inch inline 6 cylinder “GMC” for Ken Dobey.
Walt retired from active racing for a while, but the “racing bug” bit him again in the 1980’s when he became involved with Ron Douglas and the vintage race cars of the Pacific Northwest “Golden Wheels” fraternity as well as his becoming a member of the California-based “Western Racing Association”.
Walt passed in January of 2008 at the age of 87.