OPINION: Looking back at Ron and Eve White:What a 50-year-old tragedy has taught us about fate
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The definition of the word “fate” is that of “a predetermined state, or end.”
Let’s keep that in mind today as we look back 50 years to the deaths of Ron and Eve White, whose White’s Corner (Corner 10) at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park is dedicated to their unbounded enthusiasm for motorcycle and auto racing, as well as their efforts to promote and publicize both.
Ron was a freelance racing writer for the Globe and Mail, while Eve organized most, if not all, of the motorcycle races in Ontario. She was The Canadian Motorcycle Association’s newsletter editor and later submitted motorcycle racing stories to the Toronto Star and Canadian Press. She was the reason Canada hosted a world championship motorcycle Grand Prix in 1967.
They died on Sunday night, Aug. 22, 1971 when the light plane they were riding in was caught in a fierce thunderstorm over Lake Ontario. They were returning from a Can-Am Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The pilot also died.
The accident happened eight years after one of the deadliest crashes in Canadian aviation history. Trans-Canada Air Lines (later Air Canada) Flight 831 from Montreal Dorval to Toronto International went down near Ste-Therese, Que., killing all 118 people on board. The big DC-8, because of a technological glitch, flew almost straight into the ground.
A blinding rainstorm in the Montreal area had created traffic chaos and caused eight people to miss the flight. A year later, Maclean’s magazine published an exhaustive story about those eight, and others, all of whom put down their good fortune to fate.
A book soon followed. “Voices from a Forgotten Tragedy” traced the lives of people who had been flying standby and died, as well as those unlucky enough to become involved in the crash one way or another – victims’ families, rescue workers, airline employees and journalists.
They were all victims of fate, and the racing industry is rife with other examples.
Now, Ted Hogan was braver ‘n Dick Tracy. He was a champion stock car and supermodified racer at the Canadian National Exhibition and other southern Ontario tracks in the 1950s, as well as speedways in the northern U.S. And he liked to fly planes.
A prospective buyer wanted to take a look at one of Hogan’s planes, prompting Hogan to take a flight to Oshawa. Looking for company to go with him, Hogan asked fellow racer Norm Mackereth. However, his rival said he was too busy operating his service stations. Hogan then asked a retired racer, Bruce Tanner, who said yes.
While on the ground in Oshawa, the fellow interested in the plane noticed a strong odour of oil around the engine and suggested the two men return to Toronto by car so he could have his mechanic find the problem and repair it. Hogan said he’d fix it himself and took off for the Island Airport but never made it. The plane crashed into Lake Ontario, just off Port Union Road, in Scarborough. Bruce Tanner said yes to the ride and died that day in November 1960. Norm Mackereth said no and lived till he was 93.
When Ron and Eve White decided to fly to Mid-Ohio on Sat., Aug. 21, 1971, there was room for four people on the plane, plus the pilot. If they could fill the other two seats, it would have made it cheaper because they could split the fee. They asked Dave Cook, a founder of Mosport Park and motorsport columnist for the Mississauga News. But he was the announcer for the Sundown Grand Prix at Mosport on the Saturday night, so had to drive to Ohio. The Whites then asked Bill Brack, already there, if he wanted a quick trip back. Brack, a three-time Canadian driving champion, thought about it but opted to stay on the ground.
“I was driving – I think it was around Welland – when I heard on the car radio Sunday night that a plane had gone down,” said Cook, now a retired Mississauga politician. “But I didn’t make the connection right away. It was a shock when I did.”
Brack was unavailable but Cook said the crash made him feel very relieved but also very sad.
“The impact of that crash has been with me my whole life,” he said. “I will not fly. I had to once. Our son got married in Finland and we had to go. I had no choice. I went to a doctor and got medication to keep me calm.
“It was fate, but that’s the impact that crash has had on me my entire life. I’m 80 now. It’s always with me.”
Norris McDonald, a past Wheels editor-in-chief, covers the Canadian automotive and global racing scene for the Star. He is a member of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. Email or follow him on Twitter @NorrisMcDonald2
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