A celebration of longtime auto racing builder Neil “Chief” Montgomery’s life is happening at what seems the best possible time – on Daffodil Cup weekend at Westshore Motorsports Park.
Montgomery, who died unexpectedly in his shop on March 29, weeks shy of his 76th birthday, was a longtime director on the board of the Northwest Sprint Car Racing Association (NSRA), for which the annual cup races at the former Western Speedway are a pinnacle of the season.
The celebration of life will happen below the grandstand from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Aug. 20. Having it on the Friday – practice day for the sprint cars – will allow many of the drivers and team members participating on the weekend to be there to pay their respects, said Montgomery’s partner of 50 years, Claudia.
“I’m hopeful that a lot of people will come,” she said. Besides family members, she added, “Neil’s and my school friends, everyone I talked to is coming.”
Montgomery dove into racing as a teenager in 1960, and tried his hand in various classes, from jalopies and modified sportsmen to super stocks and IMCA modifieds. With sons Trevor and Jeff immersed in racing from a young age, Montgomery began building cars for them in 1992. It surprised no one that this avid racing supporter’s sons chalked up many wins between them, including three Daffodil Cup wins for Trevor and six for Jeff.
Along the way, Montgomery was a major supporter of racing of all kinds at Western Speedway.
He was well known for giving other teams a hand with mechanical challenges, to help boost the number of cars available for a big race weekend in Langford, with the end goal being to give the fans a better show and keep them coming back.
“He was a really good friend to so many people and was always there to help,” Claudia said.
Out-of-towners and other attendees will also be able to check out the Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame displays onsite, she said, which Montgomery played a big role in expanding during his time as hall of fame president from 2017 to 2020.
He was inducted himself in 1996 for the work he did to build the sport locally.
Dave Ferguson, who took over as hall of fame president last year, was the tire man among other things on the Montgomery crews through the years. He remembers the Chief as the most resourceful person at the track and “second to none” as an engine builder.
“The guy was so knowledgeable on sprint cars, he was the go-to guy. If anybody had a problem they would approach him and he would find a solution,” Ferguson said. “He wasn’t afraid to try stuff and come up with new ideas. He always said, ‘with all the years sprint cars have been around, I’m surprised no one has tried this.’”
On a personal level, Ferguson always felt a special bond with Montgomery.
“To me, you couldn’t have asked for a better guy to crew for. He always appreciated the work you did and he’d thank you. On the friendship side, outside of racing, he was a great friend, he’d do anything for you.”
The longtime former owner of Malahat Auto Parts, behind which sits the “big shop” where he built numerous racing motors, retired from the business in 2012 but continued to spend much of his time there, Claudia said.
“That’s what kept him going through COVID,” she said, “he’d be over at the big shop doing his thing, working on various projects.”
As a show of Montgomery’s passions and the impact he made on those around him, family friend Russell Lejeune crafted a beautiful scaled-down version of a racing motor.
The hollow sculpture will hold a portion of Montgomery’s ashes, and when the time comes, Claudia’s as well.
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