Four-time Canadian stock car champion Tom Cuzzilla Sr. died on Jan. 15.
Cuzzilla was born to Italian and Scottish immigrant parents in Windsor, Ontario in 1935. As boys, Tom and his brother Colin were members of the knothole gang. Unable to afford spectator admission, they watched their hero Len Hurley through a hole in the fence. His start in racing lasted just one night. Cuzzilla competed in a race at Pinecrest in the Jalopy division, then officials discovered he was too young (17) and he was forced to sit out the rest of the year.
When he turned 18, he raced Jalopies at Pinecrest and CNE Stadium in Toronto and quickly moved up to the Supermodified class. With the help of skilled crewmen and lifelong friends Tom” Lanky” Allen and Mike “Barney” Barnes, Tom Cuzzilla built his own cars and even fabricated custom wheels. The most memorable car Tom built during this era was dubbed The Vampire: an aluminum unibody design that utilized the underbelly of a British de Havilland Vampire fighter jet as a hood and repurposed missile ports for forced air intake ducts.
He also piloted a TQ Midget that year and compiled a streak of eight consecutive wins. In the early 1960s he tried his hand at Late Models and met with moderate success. His most memorable win came at the old Wasaga Beach oval where he clipped the guardrail on the final lap and flipped, taking the checkered flag while airborne and upside down. Returning to the open wheel ranks, he reacquired and redesigned The Vampire and won the ’66 and ’67 Wasaga B-Modified championships.
Cuzzilla returned to the late model ranks in the late ‘60s and dominated the Diamond (Late Model) class at Sunset Speedway in Stroud, Ontario. He returned to Pinecrest in 1970 with what was considered an underdog entry – racing a Diamond class car against the Late Models – to compete against some of the most formidable names in Ontario motorsports.
He earned sporadic feature wins at Pinecrest, which by then was the only remaining speedway located in Toronto. Tom’s underdog status and success at Pinecrest earned a place in the hearts of the working-class race fans of Toronto. In 1972, Tom and crew built a new Chevy II Late Model that was radical for the era.
The car utilized a torsion bar suspension that was set up more like a midget, where the chassis would lift the left-front tire nearly 12 inches off the track in the middle of the turns. Racing against legendary drivers like Don Biederman, Earl Ross and Howie Scannell, his radical Chevy II won the most features that year at Pinecrest.
The championship-winning car then was banned from competition, so Tom sold it and combined the proceeds with his winnings form the season and paid off a substantial portion of his mortgage. Due to increasing family responsibilities and escalating expenses, Cuzzilla competed in only one race at Pinecrest in 1973. He built a car with lifelong friend Vaughn Marshall and scored his final feature victory.
Not yet ready to hang up the helmet, Tom returned to race sporadically throughout the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Following seat time at one event in 1990, his final start came as a fill-in driver for his son, Tom Jr., in 2006 at Peterborough Speedway. These days, his grandson Alex proudly carries the number 50 on his race car.
Cuzzilla won a total of 121 features in Supermodifieds, TQ Midgets, B-Modifieds and Diamond cars. He also earned four track championships.
Tom is survived by his wife of 51 years, Audrey, children Tom Jr., Terry and Kim, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Per his wishes, no funeral service or celebration of life will be held.