Graduating from the mini stock and late model divisions at the former Kingston Speedway – a track that closed in 1976 – Bilow was introduced to the sport through the hours he spent in the garage, working on the cars fielded by Walter Pennock. He inherited the number 20 for his own equipment when Pennock – a 2010 inductee to the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame – stepped away from the sport.
A resident of Howe Island, ON, the 57 year-old is the ultimate ‘low buck’ racer. In a sport where your equipment is often judged by fancy paint schemes and the number of sponsorship decals displayed on the body panels, Bilow’s machine is the exception instead of the rule. He began the 2011 season at Brockville Speedway with a brand new racecar for the first time in his career. The machine, from Troyer Engineering in Rochester, NY, sustained significant damage in one of the first races of the year and Bilow was once again faced with an uphill struggle.
“Running a new car, I was really optimistic at the start of the season so getting knocked down that early was tough,” said Bilow. “There was no one to blame for what happened. It was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but with my team’s limited operating budget, getting back into the fight after a hard wreck is never easy. Sometimes, it’s a huge effort to just to make it to the track without having to rebuild some major components on the car.”
While he dreams of one day having the same level of financial support as some of his rivals, Steve Bilow’s workmanlike effort and an ability to do more with less have often served as a source of inspiration for some of his competition. It’s not an uncommon sight to see other drivers offer a gently-used tire to the driver of the #20 car. They do so with the knowledge that if the shoe was on the other foot, the gesture would certainly be reciprocated.
“I know there may never be a trip to victory lane,” said Bilow, who finished 14th in points after making 11 starts during the 2011 season. “I race to have fun and because I like the people I’m racing against. To keep at it for more than 41 years will tell you that. Everyone loves to root for an underdog and I think I have a solid fan base. Many of the people who are cheering for me aren’t watching from the crowd. They’re the same guys who run wheel-to-wheel with me every time I strap into the racecar. We may battle hard for position on the track, but we’re all good friends.”
For 2012, Steve Bilow’s efforts are supported by Doron Auto Radiator, Pennock Auto Sales, Len Corcoran Excavating, McColman Media and Big G’s Recycled Sports. In true Bilow style, the backer’s names will appear on only one side of the car because as the driver says, it’s the side that faces the grandstands. Away from the track, the driver’s son ‘Pork’, along with his cousin’s kids Jon and Britney Morgan and Jason Bilow help get the Troyer Maxflex small block ready for action. The father of 3 – who also has 7 grandchildren and 5 great grandkids – still enjoys the sport and vows to keep racing as low and he’s having fun.
“I have some sponsorship, but certainly not the backing the other teams have. When they have an issue on the track or something breaks, they write a cheque at the parts truck. I do pretty much everything myself,” said the scrap handler at Novelis in Kingston. “The motors are put together in my garage and I can repair almost any part on the car. I’m not as fast on the track as the frontrunners, but I don’t think I’m in the way. I can still get around out there and I’m nowhere near ready to walk away from a sport that has been part of my life for this long.”
A blown motor may have sidelined Steve Bilow’s efforts as the summer stretch got underway, but he expects to be back into action within two or three weeks at the latest.
From Jim Clarke – Clarke Motorsports Communications