The co-founders of the original Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, Gary Magwood and Lee Abrahamson, have raised objections to plans by the board of directors of the new Hall of Fame to induct American racing legend Carroll Shelby.
(It’s too long and complicated to go into the background of why there is an "old" hall and a "new" hall but you can find everything out in a column I wrote a few weeks ago by clicking here.)
In any event, the objection – first raised last week in an email sent out by Abrahamson – is primarily over the decision to induct someone who isn’t Canadian, although some critics are also questioning the choice of Shelby
Since then, my mailbox has been inundated with emails from people from one end of the country to the other who either, a) agree with Abrahamson or, b) disagree but wonder what Shelby ever did for Canadian motorsport to deserve such an honour.
With respect (and I have to be careful what I say here because most of the people involved on both sides of this issue are my friends), I wish the criticism would stop. What wrecked the hall the first time around was the involvement of too many well-meaning people who had too many differing ideas of what the hall should be about. In the end, the hall was going nowhere because just about all everybody did was sit around and argue.
That the hall is being rescued at all should be a cause for celebration rather than condemnation.
When Magwood and Abrahamson started the original hall back in 1993 (with lots of help from the late Len Coates, by the way), they did a fabulous job. The idea, as set out by Magwood, was to induct as many as 10 outstanding competitors or contributors each year for the first five years to honour those who had done the country proud to that point – the Gilles Villeneuves, the Peter Ryans, the Billy Fosters, the Chuck Rathgebs and the Imperial Tobaccos.
But then the number of inductees was supposed to drop off, according to Magwood, because the number of individuals or corporations sufficiently qualified for induction would naturally diminish. At the end of that initial five-year period, perhaps only one or two inductees a year – if any – would be worthy of the honour.
However, as more and more people became involved with the all-volunteer hall, and the numbers of ideas proliferated, the original ideals became blurred. Very blurred. As a result, some of the decisions made were perhaps not in the best interests of Canadian motorsport and/or the hall of fame.
But all that’s in the past – or should be.
Before moving forward, the new board has some unfinished business to attend to – specifically the induction of 10 people chosen by the old board of directors who were never formally inducted – bringing, incidentally, the number of Honourable Members to more than 150, which – guaranteed – is not what Magwood and Abrahamson had in mind back in 1993.
But after that, the new board’s vision is very much like the original: one or two outstanding Canadians a year will be honoured. Where they part company, apparently, is the decision to create a category called "International" so that people like Shelby can be inducted (there already are categories for road racing, oval racing, motorcycle racing, and so-on).
In a statement, Tom Riley, the current chairman, seeks to assure one and all that recognizing the accomplishments of Canadians will remain the preeminent focus of the Hall of Fame induction process. But then he says:
"With respect to creating an International category, this arose from a view that significant contributions to motorsport in Canada have also been made by persons of other than Canadian birth and nationality and a belief that it would be appropriate to also recognize such international fugures."
He goes on to say:
– That Carroll Shelby has Canadian connections with the Comstock Racing Team of the 1960s and the career of Eppie Wietzes. He also notes that Honourable Member George Eaton raced a Shelby Cobra;
– That Shelby is coming to Canada for the Toronto International Auto Show, where the Ford Motor Co. plans a display of historic Shelby automobiles;
– That this provides a "unique opportunity" for the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame to so honour him.
I could go on with this, quoting from other emails and telephone calls, but I’m sure you get the picture.
The Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame is on a sound financial footing for, probably, the first time in its history. The people in charge today have either been significantly involved, or are currently involved, at the highest levels of Canadian motorsport and have nothing – just like Abrahamson and Magwood – but the best interests of the hall at heart.
The selection of Carroll Shelby and, undoubtedly in future, people like Roger Penske, Jackie Stewart and the Andretti family can do nothing but good so far as raising the profile, both nationally and internationally, of this hall.
I say let’s get behind the new board and give this thing a chance. Otherwise, the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame will die – and nobody wants that.