Already an avid Western Speedway spectator, Tony Mortel first stepped into a racecar in September of 1965 when he took the wheel of his brother-in-law Pat O’Connor’s light purple #15 1953 Ford “Jalopy” at the final race meet of the year which was the Season Championship. His best time trials lap of 23.85, which was not a bad one for Jalopies back then, put him in the 4th heat in which he finished in 2nd place. Despite not placing high in the “B” main event that followed, Tony was hooked and the following season fielded his own Jalopy, a 1950 Ford, and raced with the “Vancouver Island Track Racing Association” (VITRA) at Nanaimo’s “Grandview Bowl” for the majority of that year until a group of Victoria businessmen purchased Western Speedway from owner Andy Cottyn and VITRA returned to race there for the balance of the season. He was voted VITRA’s “Rookie of the Year” and also became a shareholder and a Director in the new track-owning company,“Western Speedway (1966) Ltd”.
Tony continued driving in 1967, building a white #15 1955 Chevy “Stockcar” and guiding it to a 10th place finish in the points standings and in addition wrote a few articles which appeared in Western Speedway’s programs that year. Looking to step up to a faster class of racecar, he purchased a “Super Modified” for 1968 and began running Island and Mainland races and later in the season began following the Pacific Northwest’s “Canadian American Modified Racing Association” (CAMRA) circuit. He ended the year 6th in CAMRA points and was voted their Rookie of the Year and also received the VITRA “Driver of the Year” trophy. Again behind the wheel of the Modified in 1969, Tony set a new track record of 16.41 at Western and went on to finish 4th in CAMRA points.
He relocated to Spokane, Washington in 1970 where he assisted car builder Jim Tipke in the construction of Super Modifieds, also building a new roadster-style one for himself. Partway through that year he took over the Presidency of CAMRA and still managed to finish 6th in the CAMRA standings. As CAMRA President again in ’71, Tony raced whenever he could as time permitted as he also began to branch out into the “race promoting” field. He won the Victoria portion of that season’s Modified “International Drivers Challenge” (IDC) and sold his car the same night. From 1972 until 1976 he worked on various auto racing-related projects which included USAC Midget and Sprintcar races back east.
Tony became Western Speedway’s manager in the Fall of 1976 and was instrumental in the construction of the new steel grandstands, also working to stop impending zoning changes to the Speedway property to ensure the continuance of auto racing on the Lower Island. From 1977 to 1981, he was both General Manager and Promoter at Western, introducing “Hit to Pass” racing as well as the “Pepsi Challenge” series. He also obtained the “Swap-N-Shop” event from the “Tillicum Outdoor Theatre” following it’s closure which was a Saturday morning feature at the track for many years. Tony was a driving force in sending Roy Smith to the 1980 “Daytona 500”, working countless hours to promote the idea to the city of Victoria and potential monetary sponsors. Roy subsequently finished 10th in the race in a rented racer and was the highest finishing Pontiac in the event.
With Frank Willie’s purchase of Western Speedway in 1982, Tony sold his shares in the track and stepped away from his auto racing interests.