Marsh Mormyluk has crystal-clear blue eyes.
If you look into them closely enough, it feels like you might glimpse a projection of what' has been burned into the 84-year-old's retinas: open asphalt flying underneath as he drives 160 km/h — or faster, in Mormyluk's case.
Mormyluk, a St. Albert resident since 1965, started racing cars before he had a driver's licence. With that dedication, more than 50 individual race victories, involvement in local racing associations, and the support of family and friends, Mormyluk has earned a spot as one of 40 charter inductees in the Western Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame (WCMHF).
The WCMHF, not to be confused with the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, is a project spearheaded by Ron Hodgson, the patriarch of the local Hodgson automotive selling and racing family. “We formed the [WCMHF] because there’s so many deserving people out there that should get recognized for their accomplishments in motorsports,” Hodgson said.
Mormyluk was set to be inducted in 2020, but the COVID pandemic caused the ceremony to be postponed until this year. He will be inducted at a gala on Oct. 15 at the Enjoy Centre. Hodgson said the event is sold out, with 700 tickets purchased already.
"Certainly, it's an honour," Mormyluk said of his upcoming induction.
A magazine his older sister bought him when he was seven or eight years old is what started his nearly half-century-long racing career, which involved drag, sport, and stock car racing, he said.
"We used to go to the variety theatre in Calgary," Mormyluk said. "On the corner, right where we would catch the bus to go home, was a news stand, and in the news stand was all these little car magazines.
"I talked my sister into buying one of those magazines for me because I really thought those cars were neat, and from there it just evolved.”
In 1956, Mormyluk, then 18, was drag racing a 1937 Ford Fastback up and down Barlow Trail in Calgary — a strip of road he and 30 or so others had asked Gordon Taylor, the highway minister at the time, if they could use. They received his approval, Mormyluk said.
After eight years of hot-rodding, Mormyluk moved to Edmonton in 1964 to follow a career path, and take a break from racing. But it didn't take long before Mormyluk was hooked again.
In 1969 he joined the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club to race Formula Vee (open-wheeled Volkswagen cars) at the Edmonton International Speedway. During this time, Mormyluk also served as the chief scrutineer — think car safety and regulation inspector — at the speedway for the Formula Atlantic Series.
Formula Vee racing didn't hold his attention for long. Mormyluk got into stock car racing in the early 1970s while doing mechanic work for a friend of his who was racing, he said.
"One night they had a mechanics race, and [his friend] said, ‘Well you’re the mechanic, you better drive the car,' and I said, ‘Well, with my sporty car background and drag racing background, this is no contest.'
"Well, fortunately I got up in the front row and we came around the lap and got the green flag, came into the first corner and this freight train went by on the inside of me. I went from first to last and we didn’t even finish a lap," Mormyluk said. "So that just got me.
"I built my first car that winter."
Thrill of victory; agony of ... 'the feet'
Mormyluk stayed in stock car racing for the next three decades before retiring in 2008 at the age of 70.
Starting in the late 1970s, Mormyluk raced in the Western Canadian Racing Series, also known as the Export A Series, and the Mark 10 Series.
Next, Mormyluk competed in the International Driver's Challenge (IDC), which would later become the NASCAR NW Tour. The IDC was a 10-race series over two weeks. When it evolved into the NASCAR tour, it was expanded to 16 races over four months. Mormyluk said the cost of travelling for a race every weekend just wasn't feasible, so he would compete in every second tour race.
Mormyluk's best result in a tour race was a third-place finish in Tri-Cities, B.C., he said.
"What transpired at the time was the development of engines and chassis was just moving really fast. The guys from California that came up, they had all the trick stuff and were really competitive," he said.
At the Tri-Cities race where he finished third, Mormyluk was having issues with the carburetor, and the crew in the pit next to Mormyluk offered their spare carburetor. “We went from finishing eighth, to finishing third," Mormyluk said. "The difference was that carburetor.”
After the Tri-Cities race, Mormyluk decided to stick to racing locally, but not before doing two 500-lap races in Calgary.
“It was torture," Mormyluk said with a laugh. "I had not gotten used to that and I used up all the juices in my hip.
"We finished eighth in one, tenth in the other," he said. "I got out of the car and I couldn’t even walk, but it was fun!"
Mormyluk built all of his own cars from the ground up in the garage behind his family home in St. Albert, where he and his wife Beth still live today. He built nine cars over his racing career, including a 1966 Chevelle; two Pontiac Firebirds; a Pontiac Ventura; and a 1987 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that he raced up until 2008.
Mormyluk's racing career eventually ended, not with a crash, but with a hip replacement. In fact, Mormyluk said he managed to avoid any serious crashes throughout his career.
His worst injury was when he burned his foot.
"We built a new car, and we had to run the exhaust pipes under the car from the engine," he said. "If you hung them underneath the frame, then the car sat higher, so I decided to run them through the frame, which put them really tight to the floorboards.
"I wasn’t really thinking how hot this exhaust was going to get, and of course, the exhaust pipe [was] coming right under the heel of my gas [pedal] foot. So, there I am in a 100-lap race, and about 50 laps in, my heel is on fire because of the heat. I ended up burning my right heel, which got infected," Mormyluk said.
"The saying was the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat — I had the agony of the feet.”