Here are some Good Monday Morning thoughts on some hot auto racing topics – in the following order:
1. Toronto to get two races next July instead of just one.
2. Half-empty Dover Raceway another reason why the Chase needs road races.
3. Ontario Formula Ford Championship finale as exciting as anything in racing.
4. Final farewell for a champion journalist.
1. IndyCar 2013 schedule
The IZOD IndyCar Series announced its 2013 schedule on the Speed TV show Wind Tunnel Sunday night and the big news for fans of the Honda Indy Toronto is that there will be two races in 2013 instead of one.
And instead of TSN, Rogers Sportsnet will be broadcasting IndyCar races in Canada from 2013 on - although that announcement has not officially been made.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had suggested in recent months that he wanted to increase the number of races in the series to at least 19 in 2013 and in order to reach that total he wanted to see double-headers – two races, instead of just one – promoted at some venues.
It turns out that Toronto is one of three locations selected for these double-headers – Detroit and Houston being the others. For details, click here.
Now, it’s not unusual for the Indy cars to race twice on the same card. Throughout the sport’s history, and most recently at Texas Motor Speedway, there have been "twin" races promoted with one race run to its conclusion and then a second one flagged off an hour or so later.
But what will happen in Toronto next July 13 and 14 (and at Detroit and Houston) is that the IndyCar series will be the headliner on Saturday afternoon and then again on Sunday.
Whether this will goose the gate, which is the prime reason for the move in Toronto, which has not exactly been setting the world on fire attendance-wise the last few years, is debatable.
Ever since its beginning in 1986 as the Molson Indy, the Indy cars have been the headline event on Sunday afternoon of what has been a three-day weekend of racing featuring touring cars, stock cars and other formula-car series in support of the big show.
For many years, it was almost a tradition that Canada’s premier stock car racing series, first known as CASCAR and now as the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, would be the feature event on the Saturday.
But this year, the Honda Indy felt it could do without the Canadian Tire Series, as well as the Canadian Touring Car Series, and it went with an almost complete open wheel program made up of "Road to Indy" championships like the Indy Lights and Star Mazda series.
This did not produce the boffo result the promoters expected either, and so to solve the Saturday dilemma in Toronto the Green-Savoree company that owns the Toronto race is banking on the Indy cars attracting as many people on Saturday as they have been on Sunday the last couple of years and increase the overall weekend attendance total as a result.
A lot will depend on how the Honda Indy Toronto weekend is promoted and priced.
If it was up to me (which it’s not, of course), I would charge premium prices for the seats immediately behind the pits as well as for the suites. Everybody else (kids under 12 would be free) would get in for next to nothing – ten bucks, say – in order to do one thing and one thing only: pack the place.
For that pittance of an admission, I’d also give everybody a hot dog, or a slice of pizza, and a drink. I’d have a big act rock or country concert on stage at noon each day, with the IndyCar race to start immediately after the concert.
I’d bank on a Rogers Centre-size crowd of at least 55,000 each day and at the end I’d be able to say the weekend was a huge success and that Indy car racing as a spectacle in Toronto was back.
I would suggest at this point that it would not be all that hard to sell sponsorship and advertising for the 2014 races and to start making serious money again.
We’ll see, though. All I can say at this point is that it’s going to be interesting.
The Honda Indy issued a release at 10 p.m. Sunday night. Here is what it said:
"The Honda Indy Toronto will feature an important addition in 2013: a doubleheader weekend of IZOD IndyCar Series races. The addition of back-to-back races in Toronto is a first in the history of the event, which will run July 12-14 at Exhibition Place.
"Since we acquired the race in 2008, our mandate has been to create entertainment and excitement for fans, customers, sponsors, tourism and the local community," said Charlie Johnstone, Vice President and General Manager of Green Savoree Toronto.
"A doubleheader allows us to go further, faster in the delivery of our mission and offers numerous benefits. We’re extremely excited to make it happen."
"The Honda Indy Toronto brings a shot of adrenaline to the city every summer," said David Whitaker, President and CEO of Tourism Toronto.
"With the event expanded to two marquee races Saturday and Sunday, visitors have even more reason to plan a weekend stay, while Toronto also benefits from the expanded broadcast and international exposure."
"The Honda Indy Toronto is in the final stages of confirming its support series schedule for race weekend. Fans can expect the full race lineup, along with ticket renewals and sales for 2013 to be announced in the coming weeks."
2. NASCAR needs a road race
The Chase for the Championship of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a terrific idea. Playoffs in any sport are always more exciting than the regular season.
Or they’re supposed to be, that is.
You’d never know it by the attendance at the third race of the 10-race Chase Sunday at Dover Downs Speedway, which was half empty if not more.
Entire sections of grandstand were covered off; the rest of the place had every second seat empty.
I used to think it was the economy. Now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think that after more than 50 years of watching stock cars go around in circles – endlessly, it seems – even hard-core fans of the sport are tired of it all.
Which brings me back to my soap-box position that NASCAR needs more road races during the regular season (Road America, Montreal, Road Atlanta) and at least one during the 10-race Chase (how about Canadian Tire Motorsport Park?)
NASCAR stock car racing on road courses is way more exciting than it is on most oval speedways (there are exceptions, of course: Daytona, Talladega) because most NASCAR drivers are more versatile than they used to be and are able to race hard and with finesse while turning right as well as left and shifting gears.
But it probably is not going to happen in the short term, which is a pity. We're all going to have to live through seven more oval races before they crown the 2012 national champion.
Brad Keselowski won his second Chase race at Dover yesterday by managing his fuel better than his opponents. Click here for full story and results.
3. Ontario Formula Fords
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: some of the most exciting racing week in and week out in these parts is the Ontario Formula Ford Challenge and this weekend was no exception.
The championship was in the balance this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, where the Formula Ford title battle was part of the Celebration of Motorsport weekend of races that traditionally ends racing for the season at the legendary road course north of Bowmanville.
Two drivers were fighting for the championship – Michael Adams of Courtice and Caitlin Johnston of Orangeville. Johnston won Saturday’s first race of the weekend after the engine in Adams’s car gave out. He’d been running a strong second to her before being forced off track.
They went into Sunday’s race tied in points. I was unable to attend, so my good friend and ace racing reporter J. Wally Nesbitt of Inside Track magazine emailed me this report Sunday night.
"Adams got a ride in Bill Clubine's No. 64 for Sunday’s race.
"Jesse Lazare qualified on the pole, with Adams second, Sergio Pasian third and Johnston fourth.
"Johnston got the lead by the end of Lap 1, swapped it back and forth with Lazare on each of the next three laps, then took the lead from Lap 5 on.
"On the final lap, Johnston had built up a small advantage but had to slow for a spinning backmarker between Turns 4 and 5A, which allowed the pack to catch up.
"Lazare got past, leaving Johnston in control of second, with Adams third.
"Entering Turn 10, Adams made a bonzai move on the inside and forced Johnston into the tire wall. She was classified a DNF.
"The finishing order was Lazare, Jack Kitchell Jr., Pasian and Adams.
"Johnston lodged a protest but it was not upheld. She has 24 hours to file an appeal (with video proof).
"This process did not affect the race result but the championship remains in doubt."
Thank you, Wally, for that report.
I know both those drivers, I like both those drivers and I cheer for both those drivers.
This is a shame.
4. So long to Chris Economaki
Although he died at age 91 last Friday, it was over for me when his column disappeared from Page 4 of National Speed Sport News in January 2010, several months before the newspaper he owned and wrote in for more than 50 years ceased publication.
Although I thought about him after that, and talked about him with friends, I never again read an original word he wrote so his passing, for me, was somewhat muted.
Economaki was the editor and publisher of Speed Sport, as it was known, for most of its history. It was a weekly publication that covered everything from local dirt tracks to Formula One. It was the Bible of the sport of auto racing.
Economaki – the press theatre at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is named after him – wrote what was termed the most important column in auto racing. It was the Good Stuff.
And in 1960, after ABC started televising NASCAR racing and messing it up, Bill France insisted that the network use Economaki to improve its product.
Over time, as well as doing NASCAR races, Economaki was the colour commentator and pit reporter for USAC champ car racing, Indy car racing and Formula One.
He knew everybody in the sport and knew just about everything about racing. Two things:
He said on several occasions later in his life that racing was getting too safe."You have to be able to sell the danger or people will stop watching," he said.
And then there was the fabulous story he told at the very first Canadian Motorsports Expo in 2007.
He set the scene by explaining that ABC’s Wide World of Sports had a rookie director in charge of the live telecast of a USAC dirt champ car race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
The director had noticed that every morning, A.J. Foyt would go out for a walk around the mile-long dirt oval and wanted Economaki to interview Foyt about this particular habit.
As they prepared to go on the air that Saturday afternoon, the young director went up to Economaki and reminded him one last time to talk to Foyt about his morning walk.
So they went on the air and Economaki did as he was told. He caught up to A.J. Foyt standing beside his car before the start of the 100-mile race.
I’ll let Economaki take over the telling of this story.
"So I looked at Foyt and I put the microphone up to his mouth and I said: "A.J., we’ve noticed that every morning, you take a walk around this big dirt speedway here in Springfield. Are you studying the track? Trying to find the soft spots, the places were you can take your car that might give you an advantage during the race today?
"And A.J. Foyt looked at me and said on live television on the ABC network:
'Actually, Chris, if I don’t go for a long walk first thing in the morning, I just can’t have a good sh-t."
And that was just one story. As someone who had the pleasure of being around him on a number of occasions over the years, I know he had a million of them.
As he himself was wont to write in his Speed Sport column: RIP, Chris.