Much to cover today. A Canadian racing story of note and Wheels 25 offerings that didn't make it into the finals. I'll explain more about that in a moment.
First, in a shocking development, Indy car star Alex Tagliani of Montreal has been dropped by Sam Schmidt Motorsport for this weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway in favour of Dan Wheldon so that Indy 500 winner Wheldon can have a warmup race in advance of the season finale at Las Vegas Speedway in mid-October when he'll be racing for a special $5-million payoff.
There are several things wrong with this scenario.
No. 1, Tagliani has done so much for that team this year - he won two poles, including the pole for the Indianapolis 500, finished in the top five three times and in the top ten six times and brought his car to the checkers in 13 of this season's 16 races to date - that to be shuffled aside like so much hired help has got to be terribly insulting. You don't treat a veteran that way.
No. 2, besides being embarrassing, this will cost him money and prestige in the points championship (he's currently 11th in the standings). So there's a financial penalty in play here.
No. 3, this is against the rules that IndyCar has trumpeted for this race since the $5-million challenge was announced (in which IndyCar dared anybody not a regular in the series to "come beat our drivers and, if you do, we'll pay you a $5 million bonus")
That idea fell apart when nobody applied (although, according to IndyCar, Kasey Kahne and others were interested but only if the cars were prepared and entered by Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi and neither owner was interested).
So IndyCar changed the promotion: the Indy 500 winner, Wheldon (who didn't have a ride in the series other than at Indy and who's spent much of the summer doing TV work) will be provided with a car and is to start last at Vegas and if he wins the race he will win the $5M but he'll have to split it with some lucky fan.
However, so far as I know, they didn't change the original rule which was that whoever accepted the challenge would not be allowed to compete for the $5M if they had driven in two or more IndyCar races prior to Vegas. That's why guys like Paul Tracy, Buddy Rice and Townsend Bell aren't eligible.
But if Wheldon drove at Indy and will now drive at Kentucky, is that not two races?
And also, this was supposed to be a one-shot deal. Now the guy gets a warmup race. What next? (As in, maybe we should give him a break and let him qualify in Vegas so he doesn't have to start last . . .)
IndyCar seems to be making things up as it goes along these days. As a friend of mine said last weekend, "I used to feel sorry for them, but not any more."
"Tag", meantime, will drive for Brian Herta Autosport at Las Vegas (the team, in partnership with Schmidt, that Wheldon drove for at Indianapolis and I say why the switch?) and in a release sent out Monday by IndyCar, he said he fully supports what the series is doing.
"I'm obviously not happy about sitting out Kentucky, but this is a very exciting opportunity," Tagliani is quoted as saying. "Dan and I are good friends, and I'm very jealous that he gets to run for the $5 million. But I fully support what IndyCar has done to generate fan interest and will do everything I can to help the SSM team run Dan in Kentucky and prepare for the (Las Vegas race)."
Alex Tagliani has always been the good soldier and is showing his true colours again. But inside, he must be very upset.
Today is the 25th anniversary of Toronto Star Wheels. There is a special edition of Wheels in today's (Tuesday's) Toronto Star and the section is online at wheels.ca
As part of the celebration, editor Mark Richardson invited readers to submit, in 400 words or less, their greatest motoring memory. More than 200 were received, Richardson pared those down to about 100 and then wheels.ca editor Paul Choi and I got involved and the end result was 25 selected to be published in the special section.
Among the entries that didn't make the cut were some auto racing-oriented stories. I liked them - a lot. So I'm publishing them here today. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
This first one was submitted by Colin Wright (who won the 1982 Ontario Formula Vee Championship).
In the summer of 1976, I worked weekends for a small race tire company while trying to figure out how to finance a race car of my own. Occasionally, I’d help out Ecurie Canada, tire supplier for the Canadian Formula Atlantic series and the team of rising star Gilles Villeneuve.
In August, a friend and I worked the Halifax round of the Atlantic series, ferrying a team vehicle, a Plymouth Volaré wagon, to the track at Shubenacadie.
Back then, I drove everywhere in a hurry. Past Montreal, I wound the Volaré up, cruising steadily at 100 mph. Strangely, some Quebecers we’d pass would suddenly recall they had to be somewhere - right now - and blow back by us!
After midnight I woke to find my friend, Rich, a normally more sedate driver, maintaining our manic pace, slashing through the darkness up and down the roller coaster hills of the Trans-Canada in New Brunswick.
We arrived Saturday morning in time to work the practice and qualifying sessions. On Sunday afternoon, Villeneuve won - pure car control magic.
We headed out on our slightly less frantic return journey. Over about 3,400 kilometres of high-speed motoring, we almost escaped detection, our record spoiled by a ticket in Ontario when nearly home.
This next entry comes from Michael McGuire of Richmond Hill (who headed his memory, 'Driving as an act of civil disobedience')
Jacques Villeneuve had just competed in his final Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, crashing late in the race, on a hot June day in 2006. As I made my way to the Metro station with thousands of other dejected Canadian racing fans, my car sat miles away, parked next to the Orange Julep.
Usually the drive from Montreal to Toronto was five hours of mind numbing boredom, but not this day. As I cleared the Quebec border, a caravan of exotic cars passed me, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and the odd M5, all on their way home from their F1 pilgrimage.
They all took turns leading the chain of cars as they coasted well above the speed limit back to Southern Ontario. I slipped in among them and found myself in an autobahn-like dream world. Suddenly, I gave myself over to a higher mechanical force. Mile after mile swept by.
Then as we drove toward the web of lanes that marked the edge of the GTA, as quickly as it began, the train of cars vanished. I returned to mundane speeds and found myself back at home, ready to re-join the world of the law-abiding.
This next entry comes from Laura Hare, of Belleville.
Was it claustrophobia, heat or nerves that created the nausea I felt as I found myself strapped into a 5-point harness at the wheel of a 1992 BMW 325, dressed in full racing gear, about to compete with 20 other $500 wonders in a Chumpcar race (low cost endurance racing)?
I am proud of forty years of good driving - smooth acceleration, gentle braking and cornering - intent on conserving gas and respecting both car and passengers. It was now time to take those driving habits and toss them out the window.
If my foot wasn’t to the floor on the accelerator, or on the brakes hard enough to bring my body pressing to the 5-point harness, I was wasting my time and that of my team.
After an hour of shifting, braking, accelerating, passing, being passed, it was time for a driver change. My sweat-drenched driver’s suit and 15 minutes of deep breathing revealed the extent of the workout.
Besides the exhilaration of driving as fast as possible, the next most fun I have is surprising my peers with this story. There are very few grey-haired, middle-aged women racing, but when I see the glint of envy in their eyes, I know there are many who would join our ranks!
This next entry comes from J.E.H. Porter of Scarborough (who titled his effort, 'Howard Cazalay, Uncrowned King of Circuit Racing'):
Howie was by all accounts a nice young man who loved chocolate but could not properly digest milk chocolate. He had an energy level rarely seen in my family. He hated the Gulf orange colour with a passion.
We met through a friend of a friend. I cannot recall if it was Brian Stewart of BSR (Paul Tracy) or Onorio Rocca of Formula C fame (RMS Instruments). But I needed a co driver for the upcoming BFG Sundown Endurance Race at Mosport. I had numerous volunteers, but I needed one who had the time to work on the old Healey during the week.
Howie was my only real choice. Not only did he have a space to work in but he had skill with every shop discipline needed to fabricate and race a car successfully. We were both broke, and knew this old equipment would be not much more than a back marker.
Little did we know that particular race would be won by a Hunter Dune Buggy; all of the Lolas, Porches and Camaros would fail, probably because of the sprint pace set on the opening lap.
Howie raced in the Formula B series of races that would become the Formula Atlantic Players Series the following year. Howie welded the chassis of the Healy to give the chassis more spring.
As mentioned, he hated the Gulf orange colour and painted the whole car with14 cans of spray paint with only one run! I seriously questioned the midnight blue colour, after all the faster cars should have the advantage of being able to see us to make passing less traumatic for both drivers. Naturally he set faster laps than I or our third driver Brian Stewart of BSR.
Brian did the Le Mans start and got about ten laps in when an axle shaft broke and the Healy limped into the pit. Howie and I removed the fragments of the shaft and took it into a welder in Oshawa to salvage. Howie just kept on going. The weld was successful, we refitted the shaft and Howie did the last three laps.
The carnage that night was so high, we were able to get a cheque for 17th place and probably set a record for longest pit stop in the box of 4 and 3/4 hours.
The only photo of that event was of Howie coming through turn one at Mosport. I would subsequently crew for him in his FB races at both Mosport and Trois-Rivieres.
That last race was the scariest racing event I have ever witnessed. Howie came off a turn at the back of the fairground circuit, was touched and went straight into the Armco. There was a hush, we all ran only to see the guard rail where his head should have been. Thankfully, his six point harness failed and he was able to submarine into the cockpit, thus avoiding certain decapitation.
Howie knew that he needed better equipment to show his very real skill. He got an offer to make some money in the “oil patch," so he took it. Sadly, he was returning to work and the plane he was in inexplicably “flew into the ice.” All perished. (CF PAB Oct. 30, ’74).
He raced with ”Le Petit Gilles” and shadowed him everywhere on the track. He was an extraordinary driver and a great person that should have more recognition than he got.
(Norris note: Although that tale was touching, it was disqualified for being way too long, 400 words being the maximum.)
This next entry comes from Donna (Bull) George, of Whitby, who titled it, 'Mosport, 1961'
As the youngest female National Racing License holder, I was under pressure to perform well and had completed several laps but on exiting turn four on the next time around I saw smoke coming from under the hood and pulled over just after rounding turn five, Moss’s Corner, where I jumped out of the car and ran up the bank.
The marshalls quickly determined that it was not smoke but steam caused by a blown radiator hose and not a serious hazard and that the car could remain where it was until the race had ended.
Because of the delay, my pit crew were worried when I didn't come around on time and anxiously awaited a call from the marshall. Initially, however, they couldn't understand the marshall who was having trouble getting the words out between gales of laughter.
Eventually he calmed down sufficiently to explain that I was perfectly safe but that it was the first time he had seen a racing driver leap out of an apparently burning car, run up the bank, then run back down to the car to get her purse!
Incidentally, I still have the purse.
Our last entry is from John Dowsett, of Everett, Ont.
The mad barking GT cars were on the grid. The sheer violence of noise silenced my own car.
JOHN DOWSETT, AT SPEED.
The anticipation of my first race start was beyond imagination. The flag dropped. I planted my right foot. In an instant we all rocketed forward. Any daylight available my car managed to find, and now I was diving into corner one three abreast but now a bit further up the field. A sane person would let up.
The rhythm of driving heightened my senses. It became easier to look ahead as far as I could see. Keeping my peripheral vision alert, never looking at gauges or mirrors until the backstraight. This is were I watched my heroes race. Mclaren, Stewart, Hill, and Hunt to mention but a few. I was realizing my childhood dream.
Third in class. That twenty minute race around Mosport was the first of many. Great moments in life can never be recaptured, no matter how hard you try, but my first race shone so bright it will be with me for the rest of my life.
Thank you to all who participated.