Two of auto racing’s highest-profile people are coming to Toronto next week.
"The King," Richard Petty, will be at the Hard Rock Café (beside Yonge-Dundas Square) next Tuesday from 11 a.m . till 1 p.m. to promote the "Richard Petty Driving Experience Canadian Summer Tour."
That’s where you show up at a speedway, pay some money, strap yourself into a NASCAR-type stock car and follow a pace car around for "x" number of laps.
I know people who have purchased rides – at Daytona Speedway, Charlotte, et al – and they say the experience is worth every penny.
Petty, winner of 200 NASCAR races, a seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion and a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, hasn’t been to Toronto for many years. One time came in the Sixties when he raced at Mosport. I can still recall a great television story done on him by Larry Solway (remember him?). Always looking for a different way to present a story, Solway went for a drive around Toronto with "the King" at the wheel and directed him onto the Don Valley Parkway at Gerrard during the height of the evening rush hour.
It was great – Petty talking about racing at more than 100 miles an hour while putting on his ticker and looking into the rear-view mirror to try to merge with the stop-and-go northbound traffic.
And always remember that Petty made his very first NASCAR Grand National start (before they called it the Winston Cup) at the long-gone CNE Speedway in 1958. His father, Lee Petty, won that race while "Dick" Petty finished back in the pack.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Also coming to town next week is Indianapolis 500 pole winner – and maybe even Indy 500 winner (we’ll know more about that on Sunday afternoon!) – Alex Tagliani, who will trade his Indy car for a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series stock car and race with the series at Mirabel Airport’s Circuit ICAR a week from this weekend, June 3-5.
"Tag" will miss the Canadian Tire Series opener at Mosport Speedway Saturday night, what with being a bit busy in Indy. But he has a free weekend the week after, so will suit up with Canada’s best stock car drivers and race with them. He'll be in T.O. to promote that race.
Tagliani owes a lot to the Canadian Tire stock car series. When he was temporarily out of an Indy car ride several years ago, he proved to everybody that he still had the Right Stuff by racing – and winning – in stock cars. One memorable outing came in a race at Edmonton when he left Canada’s best in his dust. Shortly thereafter, he was back in the bigs.
Now, I have a friend, John Bassett. He wonders why no PR person (or Canadian newspaper headline writer) saw fit to write the immortal words:
CANADIAN TIRE STOCK CAR RACER WINS INDY 500 POLE
Well, John, maybe they were just waiting to write . . .
CANADIAN TIRE STOCK CAR RACER WINS INDY 500
We can only hope.
Talking about the Indy 500, Paul Tracy caught a great break when Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt got together to kick Bruno Junqueira out of his ride and give it to Ryan Hunter-Reay (d’ya think he’s gonna get booed during driver introductions next Sunday morning?).
This means the car has to move to the back of the pack. Hunter-Reay will start 33rd, and last, as a result.
Last weekend, Tracy qualified on the inside of Row 8. With him in that row was Danica Patrick and Ryan Briscoe, two other pretty good racing drivers who would be champing at the bit to make a charge for the front right off the bat.
Ergo, while running on the inside, Tracy would be held pretty much in check for a few laps.
But with the Hunter-Reay change, Tracy now moves to the outside of Row 7.
When the green flag falls, the outside line will beckon and, for the Thrill from West Hill, it will be bombs away!
I project Tracy will pick off a minimum of five cars on the first lap and be up running with the leaders by the end of the first dozen.