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Larry Ott: Cosco’s death leaves a void

Dark clouds rolled over the Humberstone Speedway this past week forcing the cancellation of the Sunday night stock-car program. The clouds however had nothing to do with the weather. They were symbolic clouds of grief as both the Humberstone and local racing community in general continue to mourn the sudden death of Humberstone owner/promoter Pete Cosco.

Cosco, 60, died last Wednesday from complications from a brain aneurism. Along with his wife Linda, the Cosco family has operated Humberstone since they purchased the track in 2004. Instead of racing this past Sunday, the engines were temporarily silenced as Cosco’s memorial service took place just a few miles away.

Last Friday, those who gathered for the stock car program at Ransomville Speedway spoke about Pete Cosco and the positive influence he had on racing and each of their respective lives.

Cosco drove Modified stock cars for more than 20 years and served as a car owner for many drivers including his current drivers Chris Steele, Rob Ledingham and his grandson Jordan Cosco.

Following the 2003 season, former Humberstone promoters, the husband/wife team of Al and Edith Wagner closed the track, which was known as Gasport Speedway at the time, due to financial difficulties.

The Coscos purchased the facility, renamed it Humberstone and have operated the Port Colborne, Ont., dirt track ever since, running their first race event in May of 2005. Through thick and thin, they featured a Sunday night stock car program for most of those years.

Don McGinnis is a retired Modified driver who now works on the car driven by his son Jeff McGinnis. The elder McGinnis won a Ransomville Modified championship in 1994, while driving Cosco’s trademark No. 17C machine. In later years, Jeff McGinnis drove for Cosco at one time as well. On Friday night, many in the McGinnis pit area wore Pete Cosco racing shirts in tribute to their late friend.

“We’ve been close to Pete since the early 1990’s,” said Don McGinnis. “They’re just great people. He gave myself and later my son a chance to get a ride with his car which I’ve always truly appreciated. Pete was a great guy and his wife has got her hands full right now. God Bless her.”

Pete Bicknell is a legendary local Modified driver who currently owns and promotes Merrittville Speedway along with the Williamson family. As Bicknell prepared to race at Ransomville Friday, his thoughts were very much with the Cosco family.

“Pete was a racer’s racer,” said Bicknell. “He was always out to help everybody. He helped the racers themselves to get rides in his car. He owns four race cars right now. He stepped up to become the promoter at Humberstone after it closed up. He got it opened up again. Really, racing was his life. He enjoyed every minute of it. Everyone enjoyed him as well. Nancy (Pete Bicknell’s wife) and myself went to Las Vegas with Pete and Linda for vacation in the past and we had a ball. Those are good memories.”

Fran Bushardt, recently retired as an official at Humberstone to accept an opportunity outside of auto racing.

“What I remember through all these years is how when you worked at Humberstone while Pete wanted everybody to do a good job, there was never any unneeded pressure,” said Bushardt. “It was a relaxed atmosphere. It was all about family whether it was either of his businesses, Humberstone or Cosco Haulage.

“During his years at Humberstone, Pete rebuilt the track surface with several hundred loads of clay. He turned the second floor of the tower into a beautiful bar and lounge which he named Mario’s Victory Lane Lounge after a family member.

“I talked to him just last Sunday at Humberstone and he told me to make sure that my new job gave me time off so that I could still work for him at Humberstone. When he told me that, it once again showed me that with the Cosco family, the Humberstone staff is family.”

On Saturday night at Merrittville, the drivers in all divisions lined-up on the front stretch with the Cosco family present at the starter’s stand. Then Cosco’s two grandsons, Jordan Cosco and Dylan Davidson boarded their race cars.

The two race cars led the funeral hearse on a symbolic final lap with Pete Cosco receiving his final checkered flag as the large crowd applauded in tribute.

Humberstone will return to action Sept. 7.

Without the Coscos, Humberstone might have disappeared from the area racing scene a decade ago. Saving it is the most important part of Pete Cosco’s legacy.