There were several reasons why Toronto-area motorsport writers and broadcasters were summoned to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Monday.
First, the snazzy new Corporate Event Centre on a hill overlooking the circuit's Turn 10 was shown off for the first time. Since what was originally named Mosport Park was opened in 1961, corporate events have been held in tents. A race control tower and media centre was opened in 1962 and until last October track management, event organizers and reporters/photographers and TV camera operators were all crammed into the aging structure that also included a medical trauma room.
That cramped old tower now gone - bulldozed into the ground last fall - the new Event Centre is big enough to hold wedding receptions, if a happy young couple should want to rent the place for such a special occasion. Bottom line: it is large enough for race sponsors to entertain hundreds of their guests and corporate clients and there is plenty of room on another floor for writers and broadcasters to do their work without sticking their elbows into the faces of the people sitting next to them.
In short, Old Mosport has been brought into the 21st Century and combined with improvements made to spectator and camping areas as well as to the circuit itself (several runoff areas have been paved, for example), the time has come to start showin' off.
The second reason was to announce that the much-anticipated NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Labour Day Weekend will be sponsored by General Motors of Canada and titled the Chevrolet Silverado 250.
"GM Canada is really proud to be a part of this," said GM spokesman George Saratlic, in making the announcement. "Really, it was a no-brainer for us, it being in our own backyard (CTMP is a short distance from GM's Canadian headquarters in Oshawa). What better place to showcase our product."
Said circuit co-owner Ron Fellows: "This is great for the facility and I couldn't be more proud to have Chevy and GM Canada involved in our first-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. Thanks to NASCAR for its assistance, which is ongoing, and to Chevy, which is the winningest brand in the . . . series."
As was the case with his own entry, Fellows had no official announcement to make about Canadian driving content in the Labour Day classic.
When asked, he was coy about whether he will race in the event himself - he likely will, but the official announcement will come at a later date - and said he'd talked with Canadian legend Paul Tracy about entering the race, but not Jacques Villeneuve. "I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of drivers from the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series entered the truck race," he added.
The third reason was that Camping World Series entrant Turner-Scott Motorsports hauled north with one of their trucks and brought driver Nelson Piquet Jr. along to conduct a test. The reconnaisance information recorded by TSM and Piquet will be shared with other participants in the truck series, an arrangement agreed between the teams and NASCAR whenever the series goes to a new track.
Piquet, of course, is very much in the news these days because of an altercation he had last Friday night with fellow Nationwide Series driver Brian Scott at the conclusion of the race at Richmond, Va. Following a scuffle between the drivers and some crew members in the pits, Piquet and other man were accosted outside the race track and two members of Scott's team, who are employees of Richard Childress Racing, were each charged with one count of assault.
Piquet was most agreeable to talk about the test, the Canadian Tire circuit and the post-raced squabble he lived through at Richmond.
He said the Canadian Tire circuit is challenging to drive, and that "if you make a mistake, you will pay for it. There is no forgiveness, there is no margin for error here. I'm sure the drivers are going to be very careful and only take risks toward the end of the race."
He said many of the truck drivers, who race mainly on oval tracks, will be at a disadvantage. "What they lack is (the ability to handle) the slow, stop-and-go corners. There are a lot of long, sweeping corners here and they should be able to handle them better."
He said the way race drivers feel about tracks, whether they like them or not, can often depend on how well they do in competition there.
"When you race well, you always love the track. Road America, for example, was a track I didn't think much about. We had a good race, a great weekend over there, so I like the track now. (CTMP) is difficult to judge. It's a tricky track with a lot of high-speed corners so you need to have a lot of courage over here."
Piquet said it's possible he could compete in the Labour Day race but it would depend primarily on sponsorship. "I would love to come here and compete," he said. "We might take the risk and do it. Obviously, we would have to come here straight for the race (after running in the Nationwide race at Atlanta on the Saturday), no qualifying, no practice, no anything."
He said although he misses some things about European racing, he feels quite at home racing in North America.
"The racing over here is much more exciting, much more fun," he said. "And there's more racing; you can race much more. I'm the kind of guy who likes to race all the time, as often as I can, which pisses my father off, but I just love to be driving. I'm going to be racing every weekend this year, although I won't do the dirt-track race at Eldora Speedway. Every weekend I have off from NASCAR, I'm going to do the X-Games."
He said he hopes what happened the other night in Richmond - the confrontation with Scott - is over.
"What happened is unfortunate. Obviously, we don't want to be getting into fights, but I've learned one thing and that's that you have to stand up for yourself. He ran into me after the race was finished; he'd done the same thing to me last year. I won't accept it any more.
"Both of the instances we had, the race last year and this one, wasn't bad. Last year, I was racing hard to win the race in Martinsville and I didn't hit anybody from behind but when you go into the corner you bang doors and it doesn't matter. And the incident the other night, I was passing him, we were both fighting, we had old tires and it was the end of the race, we were all struggling and I barely touched him and we both went sideways and there was no reason for him to get upset.
"If he wants to get upset, so come and talk to me, not come and hit my car, destroy my car, after the race when everything is done. You shouldn't do things like that.
"If I had done something wrong, if I had been too hard in the race, okay. But that was not the case. And then I had 20 guys running at me and I kicked them back. Unfortunately it was in the wrong place (Scott's groin area) but it certainly was not the plan. I just came out of the car, you see him coming with a bunch of guys, what are you going to do? Just stand there and put your face out there and be hit?
"I was just trying to get everybody away from me. I was defending myself, yes, but I just wanted to get everybody away."
Piquet said hard racing, NASCAR style, is what race fans like and want.
"You saw what happened with Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer last year," he said. "You don't want people getting hurt, but it's part of racing. Racing in America, people get angry and they'll show their feelings and sometimes they get a bit out of control."
He said the racing in Europe, primarily open wheel, doesn't allow for tradin' paint.
"You don't go banging wheels (in Europe), he said. "If they had closed fenders and were racing hard, I'm sure it would happen (emotions boiling over). It's not because they're more educated, or sophisticated; with the kind of cars they have, it doesn't allow them to."
Piquet said emphatically he has no plans to try Indy car racing.
"When I saw the possibility of doing NASCAR, what intrigued me in the beginning was the challenge," he said. "It is so different, it is so tough. That is what drove me to come over here. That was even before falling in love with the sport. After I got addicted, I just love it."
He says he has a lot to learn about stock car racing and NASCAR before leaving Nationwide and trucks to try the Sprint Cup circuit. And he would like to take the step with the right team.
"I do not want to go up to Cup until I have the right team to do it," he said. "If it's going to be two, three, four years - I don't know. I want to learn as much as I can to be prepared. Then if the right opportunity comes along, I'll do it."
- NORRIS McDONALD