When you think about our first Nations friends at Canim Lake Band (CLB), you tend to think about people in tune with nature, living off the land and taking care of our environment.
Then, along comes a fellow like Willie Frank; he’s all these things, but he pushes beyond the traditional borders. He has a hobby involving automobiles, specifically car racing.
Willie holds an official title at CLB; he’s the band maintenance supervisor, a public works position within the band’s organization. His job involves the care and upkeep of the community water system and all physical plant in their commercial and residential buildings, including electrical and plumbing.
One day he may be monitoring the water quality at Eliza Archie Memorial School (EAMS), and the next day he may be changing a hot water tank at a CLB residence. It’s all basic work and the challenge keeps things interesting.
William Bonnie Frank was born in Datton lumber camp west of 100 Mile House back in 1953, and after his birth, he got registered in William’s Lake and spent a few years living there. He attended school in Canim Lake Day School, Forest Grove Elementary School and 100 Mile High School.
Now 57, Willie has been in his maintenance capacity since 1986 when EAMS first opened. Before working in this capacity, he worked in a molybdenum mine at Hendrix Lake.
Being a “hands-on” guy, it was not a stretch for Willie to get into car racing, especially with his friend Everett Pope pulling him into the scene. He started as a pit crewmember around 1977, but it wasn’t long before he got itchy feet and he headed for the track.
Initially, the racing took place in William’s Lake at the Sugar Cane racetrack next to the theatre. Later, in the early 1980s, it moved to the present location and became well-known as Thunder Mountain Speedway (TMS), boasting an up-to-date 3/8-mile oval track facility with all the safety features of any race track, including lights for night racing and stands that have seen upwards of some 4,000 spectators.
“I’ve learned lots about people in this sport,” Willie says.
At one racing event, his car broke down before he really got started. He figured he’d just head back home, but one of his competitors told him to stay, and they would help him.
The next day, Willie was on the track in full force, thanks to people who would now have to face him in yet another racing duel.
His racing years have seen cars come and go; he’s raced a Nova, Camaro, Monte Carlo and the current Oldsmobile Classic. The cars have mostly sported Number 53, a number that has brought him luck since the year 1953, when Willie was born.
His cars meet the regulations of the day, including a 350 small block engine, spec. tires, safety roll cage and a fuel cell. Every race day, his car undergoes a tech-inspection before he hits the track.
Every year, Willie buys a membership card for $40, which entitles him to seven TMS-sanctioned races at $20 plus $5 for a transponder for each event. The transponder is used during the race to count the laps by computer.
On weekends, you can see No. 53 at either Quesnel or Prince George.
How much longer will he race? He’s not sure. He may race a few more years, although he’s been knocked around a few times in race mishaps, but not seriously.
Willie says this gig is a family affair. His wife, Sherry, tags along quite often, mostly as a photographer and record keeper.
His son and his two daughters have raced and they seem to be into it. The girls both entered a Smash-n-Pass event, a sort of demolition derby on an oval track, and they came out of it grinning.
Who knows, maybe Willie will pass the torch. Regardless of who is at the wheel, if you see No. 53 out there, you’re in for some great entertainment.