SATURDAY NIGHT HEADLINES
1. Fitzpatrick's first outing for Go-Canada
2. Rahal, F1 car reunited at Motorsports Hall gala
1. Fitzpatrick makes NASCAR start
J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge, at the wheel of the No. 67 GoCanada Ford Mustang, finished 27th in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville Speedway.
The subject of an excellent story by Dan Ralph of Canadian Press that was published in the Saturday Star (here's the link), Fitzpatrick had qualified the car 21st (out of 43 starters) in the GoCanada team’s first official outing.
Owned by Toronto businessman Steve Meehan, Fitzpatrick and the GoCanada team plan to contest at least 11 more Nationwide Series races this season and mix in a couple of Sprint Cup starts toward the end of 2011.
The plan is to seek corporate sponsorship (Meehan is picking up the tab this season mostly by himself) so that in 2012, Fitzpatrick will race half the time in Nationwide and the rest of the time in Cup with the goal of going full-time in the big league in 2013.
I’ve written a couple of stories about these guys in recent weeks (blog, column) and will be keeping a close eye on their progress. We haven’t had a Canadian team in NASCAR since Carling Breweries sponsored Earl Ross of Ailsa Craig, Ont., on what was then the Winston Cup circuit in the early 1970s.
It’s great to see talented young Canadians getting their shots at the big time. While Fitzpatrick was racing in Nashville, the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame was inducting 10 giants of motorsport in this country at a black-tie gala at the On The Park facility at Leslie and Englinton.
2. Rahal remembers racing in Canada
Among the inductees (I wrote about them all in my column this weekend) was Bobby Rahal, who reminisced about racing in Canada when he was first starting out.
I wrote a story about Rahal a few weeks ago (here’s the link, if you’re interested) and have to make a correction. I reported that his very first car race was a Mosport. In fact, he started a novice event at Harewood Acres before that.
In any event, he told a fascinating story about a car that was on display at the gala – a Formula One car from the team owned by Walter Wolf, an Austrian businessman who took out Canadian citizenship and who still lives on a ranch in British Columbia.
The car on display is numbered WR1. At the Canadian Grand Prix in 1978 – the first one held at the track in Montreal, by the way – Rahal had gone out in car No. WR5. It was raining and, as Rahal described it, he ran out of talent toward the end of the session and crunched it sufficiently that he couldn’t continue to drive it.
So the team went and got car No. WR1 that was on display in a hotel lobby – a show car – and dropped an engine into it. Rahal drove that car in the race and was up to "tenth or 11th" when things started going awry and he was forced to drop out.
But who would guess that 33 years after that Grand Prix (which was won by Canada’s own Gilles Villeneuve), the driver and the car would be reunited at a banquet in a Toronto convention centre?
One last thing about that dinner and induction ceremony last night.
Paul Cooke, who is the vice-president, competition, of ASN Canada FIA (the organization that sanctions motor racing in this country) and is the driving force behind karting in Canada (he had some help early on from Ron Fellows and Tom Ryley), arrived at the On The Park hall with four – count ‘em – four Canadian karters who are World Champions.
Imagine that? How many among us knew that we had four karting World Champions in our midst?
They are Luc Sauriol of Montreal, who won Canada’s first World Championship in Portugal in 2006; Pier-Luc Ouellette of Montreal, who won his World Championship in the United Arab Emirates in 2007; Scott Campbell of Saskatoon, who won his world title at Italy in 2010 and Daniel Morad of Markham, who also won at Italy a year ago.
Canadian’s newest IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe, was also in attendance, as was 2010 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington.
Canadian racing is well represented by all of these fine young drivers and we should all be proud.