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Driving force in city honoured

By his count, Burnaby resident and veteran truck racer Keith Whitter has had 150 cars in his life, some for driving, but many more for racing.

By his count, Burnaby resident and veteran truck racer Keith Whitter has had 150 cars in his life, some for driving, but many more for racing.

And with more than 50 years spent with cars, tinkering underneath them and ultimately, driving them to their limits, Whitter wasn't surprised to find out that he will be honoured at the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneers Society's 12th annual induction ceremony on Sept. 22 in the Shannon Hall at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.

"It's certainly an honour and something I'm very proud of," said the North Burnaby resident whose garage still has room for four cars.

Whitter built his first stock car, a 1927 Dodge which cost only $85 fully prepared for racing, in 1967 and promptly began racing it at the Langley Speedway. Within 10 years, he had become the points champion in the modified sportsman class at Langley.

He also spent nine years racing at tracks around the Pacific Northwest through the 1980s and into the 1990s along with his son Al.

With a job that included being a mechanic and maintenance manager for various trucking firms - including Gray Beverage, the distributors of Pepsi products in the Lower Mainland - and then 15 years as a heavy duty truck instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Whitter has seen almost every side of a car and truck.

"I've always loved cars," he said. "I remember dragging cars home when I was 10 years old. I think the first was a '33 Chev that never did hit the road. My first car to hit the road was a '47 Hudson coupe and I think my favourite, the car I had in my lateteens, was a '46 Lincoln coupe. ... I loved my '49 Merc and it never seemed like I kept a car for more than a couple of years. I have always been a Chrysler guy. I've always driven Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths."

Whitter remembers racing in Haney and in Vancouver, at the False Creek flats just off of Terminal, but Langley was where he really made his mark.

In just his second year, racing in a 1937 Plymouth with a slant six engine, he won the midseason championship race.

All through the '70s, Whitter would win smaller races called trophy dashes and his biggest achievement was his 1977 points championship win.

Look through Whitter's garage and you'll see cars in various states of construction and deconstruction.

He loves his 1955 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer, his 1922 Dodge hot rod, a 1941 Fargo pickup, a 1941 Plymouth four-door, a 1955 Dodge two-door hard top and a 1928 coupe racer.

Making it all possible is Whitter's understanding wife Arlene.

"My wife's always been supportive and especially so when our kids were young," said Whitter. "I'd be racing and she'd be sitting in the stands with the kids. ... And it was even harder when we had to travel because we'd get up around 3 a.m. and start driving for places like Spokane."

It certainly wasn't money that kept Whitter racing. In 1976, Arlene added up her husband's winnings and the total came to $750 for the entire year.

"I loved the racing, but I think what kept her in it was she made a lot of friends, all over the Northwest, from race tracks in Oregon and Washington. The thing about the racing, it was a big social thing for us and we met so many good friends.

Whitter took a 16-year break from racing, from 1980 to 1996, before he returned to racing with the Vancouver Island-based Old Time Racing Association. Whitter raced for the next nine years and the highlight was racing with son Al.

"Racing with my son was a lot of fun, but so was racing with a bunch of the guys who were my same age," said Whitter.

Whitter, now 70, retired from BCIT 10 years ago. He raced for the first five years of his retirement and has been taking it easy ever since a health scare.

"I had an aneurysm that almost did me in," he said. "I've taken it easy since then, but if Al needs some help ... I won't race, but I'll help him in whatever way he needs me."

Somewhat surprisingly, what Whitter hasn't done in retirement is watch any racing, either live or on television.

"I'm not really a spectator," he said. "I've always been a participant. I like to do things. It doesn't do much for me to watch people racing on TV."

The Greater Vancouver Motorsports induction ceremony takes place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 in the Shannon Hall at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.