Edward C. "Ed" Ortiz – part of the original Slo-Pokes group that started the races in a Niagara County field in the 1950s that led to Ransomville Speedway – lost count of the number of victory laps he'd taken during his three decades of competition. Then he and his children tallied his wins and learned that he had exactly 199.
Mr. Ortiz was 66 and had been retired from racing for 17 years at the time, but his children, including his sons Jipper and Ed, both racers, convinced him to try for a final win. So in 1998, Mr. Ortiz got behind the wheel of Jipper's DIRT Pro Stock car for one more shot at Ransomville Speedway. He placed second in the 20-lap race and was happy enough.
Then, said motorsport writer John Bisci, "the track officials sought him out. The winner’s car was illegal and the driver was disqualified. Ed had his 200th win after all."
Mr. Ortiz, a lifelong resident of Ransomville, died April 16 in Buffalo General Medical Center of Covid-19. The longtime operator of Ed’s Garage on Youngstown Lockport Road was 88.
Mr. Ortiz was one of 15 friends in the Slo-Pokes Car Club who started racing in Niagara County in 1955, first in an oval cut into a field behind his father's car dealership. Soon, "these impromptu jalopy races were turning into a big deal for the locals," said Bisci, a Buffalo native and director of public relations for World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois.
After four years of raising dust and growing crowds protected only by a snow fence, Mr. Ortiz's father told the young racers they had to go elsewhere. The club raised the money to purchase the land where Ransomville Speedway opened in 1958.
He was the first American to win a track championship at Merrittville (Ont.) Speedway in 1961. He also won track championships at Ransomville Speedway in 1962, Canandaigua in 1962 and 1963, Lancaster Speedway on asphalt in 1966 and Rolling Wheels Speedway in Elbridge in 1971.
He was named 1962 NASCAR New York State Sportsman champion and was inducted into the DIRT Mortorsports Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 2007, he told The Buffalo News, "I guess we really didn't think that when we started the Slo-Pokes that one day we would become a little part of local history, but I guess we have."
A U.S. Army veteran of the Korean Conflict, he married Betty Lasher in 1957. He is survived by her; two sons, Jipper and John; a daughter, Ronnie Lippincott; a brother, Rick; seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date.