I first met Gary Dolson in the late 1980s when I was trying to find a sponsor for my supermodified racing car and made a pitch to Goodyear Canada.
I got a telephone call from Gary, who was director of public relations, saying he needed more information.
So I wrote him again, and again, and again. Finally I ran into him at that year’s Toronto auto show.
"Are you guys going to sponsor me?" I asked.
"No," he answered.
"So how come you keep asking me for more information?" I persisted.
"Norris, I just love reading your letters," he replied — and proceeded to roar with laughter.
From that moment on, Gary Dolson and I were great friends and I couldn’t believe it last weekend when his wife of 29 years, Jennifer, emailed me the sad news that he’d died of a heart attack at age 57, leaving her and their two sons, Alex, 26 and Steve, 23.
Like me and many others, Wheels colleague Jim Kenzie was "knocked for a loop."
"Gary was a long-time buddy and he not only played (harmonica) in our Journalists’ Band at the AJAC Test Fest but he played with my band at other functions," said Kenzie.
"He was way too young."
Gary did much more for me than I ever did for him. He once got me a ride on the Goodyear blimp, and how many people can talk about that? It was on his recommendation that I was hired for a year-long gig as co-host (with Jim Martyn) of Motorsport Radio on The Fan 590 and, most important, he bailed me out of what could have been an embarrassing situation when I was on the Globe and Mail back in the Nineties.
One year, the day — the day — before the Canadian Grand Prix, I received a request from the editor-in-chief to arrange for pit credentials for a Very Important Person (who shall remain anonymous). As I explained to the sports editor of the day, Dave Langford, it was going to be impossible for me to deliver.
But then a light went on and I called Gary Dolson. "Leave it to me," he replied. An hour later, he telephoned back and said he’d arranged not only for a pit pass for the VIP but a guest pass to the ultra-chic Paddock Club and I must admit that this was going to make me look like a real hero.
But do you know what happened next? The VIP showed up with his girlfriend and I had to call Gary to do even more last-minute tap dancing. But true to form, and a lot of fast talking, he got the girlfriend in too.
One time he threw one of the great parties to introduce a new all-season radial tire for passenger cars. He invited all the Toronto TV guys and every automotive journalist of record and flew us all out to Calgary.
The morning of the launch, everybody piled into a parade of stretch limousines for the ride downtown. Upon arriving outside a theatre, where the debut would take place, the late radio announcer Jim Paulsen – accompanied by half a dozen flashbulb popping "photographers" — used a megaphone to introduce each reporter as they emerged from a limo as if he or she were Brangelina arriving for the Oscars.
People arriving for work that morning must have wondered who all the "important people" were. Of course, we weren’t anybody but Gary sure got a lot of positive publicity for that tire.
Gary attended York University before entering the working world as a freelance writer of articles published in the North York Mirror, Maclean’s magazine and the Toronto Star.
One Star article in particular, published on Sun., Sept. 28, 1980, perfectly illustrates his love of hockey, which was right up there with auto racing on his list of passions.
He actually got to try out with the Toronto Maple Leafs and to write about it. He wore sweater No. 0, played on a line with Pat Hickey and Bill Derlago, did drills with Darryl Sittler and Borje Salming, got bodychecked — hard — by Ron Ellis, scored a goal against netminder Jiri Cirha and had the time of his life.
His (and the family’s) love of hockey resulted in them inventing The Original Stik-Rak® — essentially,. a hammock for hockey sticks.
Gary coached his kids all through minor hockey and absolutely hated going into dressing rooms and tripping over sticks that were lying all over the floor. He decided to do something about it. In the end, wife Jennifer invented the prototype, oldest son Alex came up with the name and patent design, Steve the drainage and storage aspects and Gary marketed it as the best and safest way to store and transport team hockey sticks.
Pat Foran of CTV did a report on the invention (if you go to YouTube and type in Gary Dolson, you can watch it) and 10,000 or so were eventually sold.
When Jennifer was pregnant with Alex, Gary had to leave freelance journalism to get “a real job.” He joined Goodyear Canada soon after and went on to become the youngest director of public relations in the company’s history. In 1994, after 10 years of service, he received Goodyear’s Spirit Award for outstanding contributions.
In 1995, he became manager of motorsport public relations for Goodyear North America with responsibility for the CART series. On 1998, he hung out his own shingle as president of Hi-Level PR Inc. and did work for Chrysler, Honda and — in recent years — EcoMedia Direct Inc., an outdoor advertising company providing recycling services.
He was an enthusiastic fellow with an infectious personality. He had an amazing ability to think outside the box. He spent a lifetime, as Jennifer puts it, “pumping up others and making them feel good about themselves.”
For him, the glass was always full.
The family will host a visitation on Sat., March 3, from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the Egan Funeral Home, 203 Queen St. South (Highway 50) in Bolton. Phone 905-857-2213.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that contributions be made to the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program (jumpstart.canadiantire.ca), which raises money to help financially disadvantaged children play hockey.
Should anybody be surprised?
This photograph was taking several weeks ago at the Canadian Motorsports Expo by Inside Track Editor Greg MacPherson. It shows the late Gary Dolson (middle) holding court with the media, among them Dean McNulty of the Sun (back to the camera, left) and Jeff Pappone of the Globe & Mail (back to the camera, right).