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Larry Ott: Clark receives Hall call fans have longed for

For the last several years many in the Western New York auto racing fraternity have been asking the question frequently among themselves: “When is Art Clark going to be inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame?”

Many of the thousands who followed his storied career consider him the greatest stock car racer in local history. The question was never about if he should be inducted, but when.

At long last, nearly a decade after he ran his last race, that question now has a definitive answer. Clark, the author of countless victories, championships and awards fashioned from his success on this area’s tracks, and a driver who has been immensely popular with the fans of various generations, will be inducted into the hall this November. The announcement was made last Wednesday evening at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

This will be the 25th class inducted since the inception of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. The induction is Clark’s crowning achievement in a career that spanned over 50 years.

As word spread of Clark’s upcoming induction many local racing enthusiasts saw it as a proud moment for Clark and the the local racing community as a whole.

While much of his success came at Holland Motorsports Complex, Clark was far from a one-track driver. By his own accounting Clark has raced at 30 different tracks, including Civic Stadium, Lancaster and Perry among many others. His racing adventures stretched from Barrie, Ont., to Columbus Ohio.

Most of his success came at the wheel of a Late Model-style race car.

Until Clark, the late Jim Hurtubise of North Tonawanda had been the lone auto racing personality inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Hurtubise was inducted in 2004. Hurtubise’s racing success came more on a national level, including the Indy 500. Clark’s legacy was carved out exclusively on the short tracks of this region.

“The people on the hall of fame committee told me the other night during the announcement ceremony that I’m the first auto racing person from this area to go into their hall based solely on my performance on the local tracks in our area,” said Clark, of West Seneca.“I received a letter about two or three weeks ago telling me that I was being inducted. I was thrilled.

“Each inductee has a coach who helps us get ready for the induction. I brought along some of my racing artifacts, posters, pictures and memorabilia to the announcement event to display and they couldn’t believe all the stuff I had,” Clark said.

“I told them I have a lot more at home. I also gave them one of my NASCAR championship helmets, pictures and a few other things that will be on permanent display at the hall. I’m glad because I know people will get a chance now to see some of the things from my career long after I’m gone. ... In fact I still have a few race cars left in my shop including my restored B-Modified. I could go race them tonight if I felt like it.”

Clark’s career accomplishments are staggering. He amassed 19 career championships and over 300 wins. He garnered 11 championships alone at Holland, three on dirt and eight on asphalt. He captured 167 verified race wins at Holland, 97 on asphalt and 70 on dirt. He is a member of both the Wyoming County International Speedway and Friends of Auto Racing (FOAR Score) Fan Club’s halls of fame.

Clark recalled some of his early racing years.

“I was racing at Buffalo’s Civic Stadium, and then in 1959 I helped my long-time friend Jay Milligan startup Lancaster Speedway,” recalled Clark. “In 1960, Holland Speedway opened up. I had a business to run, my collision shop, and I had to make a living so I started racing at Holland because it was only a half-hour from my home. I started racing there and never stopped.

“I also raced at Perry. In 1968, Holland and Perry both went from being dirt tracks to paved tracks and I was able to win the first race on asphalt at each of them. I didn’t care if I was racing on asphalt or dirt as long as I was racing. I did well on either surface. I never kept track of my records. I was busy racing. Others kept track of them.”

Members of the area’s racing fraternity have vivid and fond memories of Clark racing at area tracks, most notably Holland. Each week Clark battled for Late Model supremacy against such talented drivers such as Dick Flaig, Rick Wylie, Sonny Wittmeyer, Stroker McGurk and countless others.

Each driver had their fair share of fans in the grandstand wearing their T-shirts, and the Clark fans arrived each week in force. Wherever Clark raced, fans proudly wore their Bimini blue T-shirts sporting Clark’s car, name and famous No. 7.

Clark’s appreciation for the fans and the sport is very evident.

“I don’t regret a thing, especially because it has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people,” he said. “Even today fans and people stop by my shop or see me out places and come up to me and say how much they enjoyed my career. It makes me feel good.

“In talking with some of the people involved with the hall, I think they have come to realize that there are a lot of special people in racing and there’s a lot more to the local racing scene than they first realized. That’s a good thing for racing. I can’t wait for the induction.”