Tomas Tales September 2, 2015

Hinch headshotJustin Wilson head shot
Dark Cloud Year for IndyCar…With Some Silver Linings.

2015 will go down as one of the toughest years in the history of IndyCar racing.
If you understand their main event, The Indianapolis 500 is still the biggest and best known automobile race in the world, the situation deserves critical analysis.

It seemed as if each week of the schedule generated new headlines, and often not of the good news variety. It seemed every time we turned around, IndyCar had some dark cloud over its head.

Even before the season began, the series was forced to cancel the opening round in Brazil due to promoter difficulties. The race was not replaced, but it didn’t make the already heavily criticized compressed schedule any less arduous.

IndyCar management had consultants tell them they shouldn’t compete with Major League Baseball playoffs and the start of the NFL Football season, so to end the schedule in late August, it meant many race weekends went back-to-back-to-back. At one stretch, the drivers and teams toiled under a marathon of 11 consecutive active weeks with no time off.

Not only was this killing the crews, it meant IndyCar disappeared off the racing radar before September, while NASCAR and Formula One kept rolling through November. If IndyCar wants to re-gain lost stature, dropping out of sight for 6 months doesn’t make sense.

The actual season in March got off on the wrong foot when debris flew over the catch fence at St.Petersburg Florida, injuring a spectator resulting in a law suit. It’s alleged the debris was body parts broken off of the new-fangled aero-kits, designed to improve the way the cars moved through the air to promote more passing.

The same aero-kits came under fire again in May at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when cars suddenly started to flip over when they got sideways in spins or crashes. To counter, IndyCar cut the turbo charger boost and changed wing configuration rules to reduce speeds for qualifying for the famed 500.

But the bad stuff at The Brickyard reached critical mass during practice, when Oakville Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe came horrifyingly close to being killed in a crash into the turn 4 wall when a suspension part broke.

Suspension pieces pierced his legs and pelvis, resulting in massive blood loss. Quick action by IndyCar’s crack Holmatro Safety team and surgeons at hospital saved his life, and as of this writing, James wants to get back in his IndyCar for testing.

Healing quickly, Hinchcliffe was able to serve as the grand marshal for his home-town race, the Toronto Indy, but even this long-running waterfront street race had some adjusting to do, as the Ontario government mandated Pan-Am Games forced promoters to run the race a month early in June.

With persistent rain most of the weekend, not unusual for June, it looked like the 2015 Toronto Indy would go down as a forgettable, until the rain miraculously stopped right before race time, and the fans who braved the elements and watched on TV saw a thrilling contest that will go down as the best Toronto Indy ever staged.

At least those rain clouds had silver linings.

As The IndyCars worked closer to their season wind up, concerns about dangerous pack racing at Fontana and large ovals in general, a new but very wet Grand Prix of New Orleans that ended in another court battle, and controversial NASCAR-style rules to muzzle competitors making negative public statements about the series, all seemed to be the last straw for the man who runs the show.

Derrick Walker, a life-long champion of IndyCar racing, announced he was resigning as President of Competition and Racing Operations at season’s end. He said he only had a two year deal with the series, and wanted to devote more time to his SportsCar team.

But in short, not everybody in the paddock bought into what Walker and IndyCar was trying to do this season. That made it basically impossible for Walker to do his job, so Walker walks.

Those most critical of Walker’s management pointed to the aero kits. The kits have added an exciting new level of aero-adjustment, and made it easier to identify Honda and Chevrolet powered cars.

But many didn’t like the look of the cars. Honda teams complained all year the expensive kits slowed them down up against the superior Chevy kits. They were also delivered late to the teams who complained they needed more pre-season testing. A.J Foyt went as far to say the kits were “out to lunch”.

The officiating under Walker also drew fire. Derrick wanted a stewards’ panel much like Formula One, where former drivers, guys who have been out there, making the calls. IndyCar told Walker they didn’t have the budget for a proper panel, and they were under constant criticism for inconsistent officiating as a result.

Out from under those dark clouds, at the end of the day, Honda driver Graham Rahal came close to catching the Chevrolet powered front-runners in the aero-kit war, so the kit controversy showed signs of equalizing itself.

But of course, the 2015 IndyCar season, and Scott Dixon’s eventual championship will be forever over shadowed by the darkest cloud of 2015, the loss of driver Justin Wilson.

The very likeable British pilot was killed in that fluke accident at Pocono the second-last race of the season, when stuck in the helmet by flying debris from an earlier accident.
Circling back to that debris problem at the season opener in Florida, IndyCar and other forms of single-seater, open-cockpit racing, Formula One included, are now stepping up dialogue on some kind of partial or complete canopy cover for added driver safety.

2015 might not be remembered as a stellar year for IndyCar racing as a whole, and there have been many positive developments, but one thing has remained constant, even improved this year, and the only reason the series doesn’t implode on itself.

The actual racing on the tracks this year was thrilling and spectacular, especially on the ovals with lap after lap of lead changes and inches-apart combat.

Yes, at times it was nerve-racking and hard to watch, but as long as the main sellable product of this form of racing, the competition, remains top-flight, IndyCar racing has a chance to fix itself for the future.

Tail Pipes: Fellow DIRT Modified fans lament the loss of The SuperDirt Week championship at the NY State Fairgrounds in Syracuse after this October’s classic. The State wants to develop the fairgrounds in other ways, but vow to help promoters relocate the event to another facility. It’s the end of an era and that’s always tinged with sadness. We will miss running “The Moody Mile”.

We’ve Lost a Very Good Driver, and a Very Nice Man.

Justin Wilson head shotThe racing community is deeply saddened with the loss of Justin Wilson in his 37th year.

The tall and very likable Englishman did not recover from severe head trauma suffered in that IndyCar crash at Pocono on Sunday.

The former F-1 driver, IndyCar veteran and winner of The 2005 Toronto Indy was struck in the helmet by debris from Sage Karem’s crash late in the race. He was airlifted to hospital directly from the track.

His Andretti Autosport team, stated: Justin’s career is a story of class and passion surpassed by none.

He was a frequent Raceline Radio guest. We used to laugh about trying wedge his 6 foot-plus frame into the very tight confines of an IndyCar cockpit.

Anything the engineers could do to shave millimeters off the area around his shoulders he was very grateful for.

Crews didn’t mind doing those little extras for Justin. He was a good guy.
I always asked about his unique hobby of flying radio controlled helicopters. I thought that helped keep his co-ordination sharp. He wasn’t so sure.

He was very proud of his younger brother Stefan, a developing race car driver himself.

What will I remember most about Justin?

Even if he was badly fouled by another driver, you admired his decorum. I never heard Justin utter a disparaging word about anyone. In short, no pun intended, Justin Wilson was a lovely bloke!

Plans for a public memorial are being finalized.

His former team mate Paul Tracy said God has another plan for Justin Wilson.
God Speed then JW! God Speed!

Tomas Tales: Hinchcliffe’s a Fast Healer!

Hinch headshotTomas Tales August 7, 2015

Like His Driving, The Hinch-Healing is Fast!

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe continues with his rapid recovery from that devastating Indianapolis 500 practice crash back in May.

Serious leg and pelvis injuries and blood loss ended his season, but his healing rate has been remarkably quick as he works to return to the cockpit of the # 5 Schmidt-Peterson Racing entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016.

We caught up with “The Mayor of Hinchtown” in a recent Raceline Radio Network interview for a health update.

Give us an update on how your recovery is progressing…

“We’re pretty much ahead of schedule on everything. But it’s been tough because I’ve gotten better at such a rate that I feel ready to go, but unfortunately there are still a few things to get through before that’s possible. I have one more surgery left and that’s scheduled at the end of the month, but I can’t wait to get that done and out of the way because honestly everything is going well. I’m feeling great and I can’t wait to get back to it. It’s been a long road to this point, but with the condition that I’m in, as far as I’ve recovered, I think the second surgery should go pretty smoothly with a relatively short recovery time.”

Can you give us an idea of the fitness program you’re following? In the early days of your recovery, doctors let you do some upper body work. What have you been allowed to do to stay in the best shape possible?

“That’s also been a bit of a struggle. I feel I can do a lot more than the doctors want me to at this point. I want to push harder. But I am at the point where they’ve released me to at least do some light weight and cardio training. The big challenge right now though, is they don’t want me gaining back the muscle loss from sitting out so long, because when you do that you’re fatiguing your body and that takes time to rest and recover. With another surgery coming, they want me to be as healthy and as rested as possible for that recovery.”

What about your diet?

“The best advice from doctors was to consume as much protein as possible. As athletes you eat a lot of protein in muscle gain mode. I guess it’s the same after an injury. It’s got that same effect helping to repair muscles. Having some of my muscles separated unintentionally in the crash ( laughs ), the idea is to cram as much protein into my diet as possible.”

Lots of red meat, steak then?

“Ya. Exactly right!”

Let’s talk about your visit to Toronto in June during the Indy. Your movements were restricted because of the fatigue factor. The re-union with IndyCar’s Holmatro Safety Team that was instrumental in your quick transport to hospital after the crash, the emotion of that. And just seeing the fans and listening to their loud support and affection. How therapeutic was that for you?

“It was great on a couple of different levels. It was the first glimpse at a return to normalcy for me, being able to travel to Toronto from Indianapolis was very special. I often talk about going to the Toronto Indy since I was just over a year old and being at every one since, so I really didn’t want to break that streak! It was great to get up there to be part of the team again and feel a bit more hands-on. And also to see some of the fans and the people of Toronto who’ve been so supportive not only throughout my career, but also through the accident and the recovery, so it meant an awful lot to me.”

You’ve had regular contact with your Schmidt-Peterson IndyCar team. Once you were up and around, there are visits to the shop to work with your substitute driver Ryan Briscoe and the crew. I can imagine that has had a lot to do with your quick recovery.

“Absolutely! That really helps with the mental side of it. We’ve been going to all these tracks for the first time with this new aero kit so there’s still a lot of learning that we’re doing. Just being there for the actual sessions before the races and hearing straight from the drivers and not just reading about it in the post race debriefs is invaluable because we’re going to come back next year and have to start off where we’re ending. Just being there to see it, hear it and feel it and to throw my experience in there where I can is important. Even in Toronto, I had Conor Daly and my engineer Allan McDonald knock on my motor home door saying we’re kind of stuck, what do ya think? It’s just great to be able to contribute that info.”

You no doubt have opinions on some of the current IndyCar issues. The criticism from some of the drivers against the “dangerous” pack racing at Fontana for one. It was incredible racing! Should IndyCars be on tracks of this size? You’ve heard it all. What are your thoughts?

“When you see the quality of the racing, it’s really hard to argue that we should be on tracks that size. I think that’s a no-brainer at places like Fontana, but it’s definitely a delicate balance. I think we over-stepped it a little bit at Fontana, but that’s not something we could have predicted. IndyCar did a lot with the information they had, but we got there and the temperatures on race day were a lot cooler than expected. That would have had massive impact on the amount of grip these cars were producing and how long you could maintain the race pace. I think that’s what ultimately led to the style of racing we saw. IndyCar and everyone knows this is something that needs to be adjusted. This was the first time at Fontana with this new aero kit and in all honesty, for as dangerous as that could have been, I think all the drivers should be commended for the quality of the racing because it took an awful lot of skill, talent and bravery to not have any major accidents.”

The Series now has a new code of conduct to stop drivers from making remarks that could damage the integrity of IndyCar, its sponsors, etc. Sometimes drivers are caught in the heat of emotional situations. How do you look at this? Can IndyCar control what you guys say?

“I don’t know if you can always control what a driver says. Everyone has opinions and has a right to voice them. But there is a time and a place to do that. Coming off an event like Fontana when you’ve had nothing but adrenalin pumping through your veins for 500 miles, it’s not easy to get a guy coming right out of the car to speak sense, good mood or bad mood. There needs to be a little bit of a grace period for the drivers to gather their thoughts and think about what they’re saying. I know one of the drivers at Fontana watched his interview a week later and was kind of shocked at what came out of his own mouth. It’s the nature of competition. You see it in any sport. It’s not to silence opinion, it’s now it’s presented.”

The convalescence sounds like it’s going amazingly well and we’re very encouraged by that! We’ll check in again soon. You know the entire country and The Raceline Radio Network family is behind you 100% and has been from the beginning. We know what’s meant a lot to you!

“It sure does! I really appreciate it ET!

Talepipes: Our friends at Ransomville Speedway and The DIRTCar sanction have announced Wednesday September 2nd as the rain-out make up date for The 31st Annual Alex Friesen Summer Nationals Super DIRTCar Big Block Modified 100. I’ll see you there. No umbrellas!

Mario Andretti. Interviewing an Icon.

Mario Andretti and ET June 2015

Mario Andretti wine 2005

Mario Andretti headshotThe term “Icon” is thrown around far too often in sports.

To become a true icon, an individual has to boast a pedigree of historic proportions, and his notoriety and popularity has to transcend the boundaries of his profession.

Mario Gabriel Andretti easily fits the description.

Born in Italy, The Andretti family moved to The United States when Mario and his twin brother Aldo were just boys. Their family settled in Pennsylvania and quickly got involved with the sport on area dirt tracks.

Maybe those clay roots are the reason Mario and I get along so well.

He advanced beyond the dirt to become one of, if not the biggest name in auto racing.

Mario excelled in ChampCars and SprintCars on dirt tracks, advancing to IndyCars and the famed Indianapolis 500. He won his first IndyCar championship in 1969, a year after he won NASCAR’s Daytona 500. In the 70’s he carried his success to Formula One, winning the world title in 1978. Returning to IndyCars, Andretti added 3 more championships.

To this day he is the only driver to win an IndyCar and Formula One championship in a career, and along with Dan Gurney, win races in all of the major pursuits: F-1, IndyCar, World SportsCar and NASCAR.

Mario retired from driving in 1994, banking more than $11 million dollars in winnings. He was easily named Driver of the Century.

So how special it is for the anchor and producer of a Canadian national motorsport radio network to have regular access to Mario Andretti?

It’s kind of like being able to ask Albert Einstein about physics.

If you ran a baseball show, it would be akin to interviewing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle, so we always jump at the chance to turn on our trusty Raceline recorder to get caught up with Mario for his thoughts and opinions on the current racing issues and headlines.

He arrived in Toronto a few days after the rain-plagued Indy. Mario heartily agreed that despite the conditions, this year’s Indy was the best ever staged at Exhibition Place.

“It was! With the changing of the weather and the changing conditions, watching the guys adapt to it, the better prepared teams brought up some new faces that handled the situation beautifully. It was not a predictable race at all. Newgarden and Filippi put on a wonderful performance for their team with a 1-2 finish. There’s a lot of depth of talent in this series and you couldn’t ask for anything better. Good overtaking, good competitive events. I love the IndyCar series and I want it to prosper in the best possible way!”

Moving to technical issues, Mario strongly believes The IndyCar Series needs to re-address the aero kit problem. The new wing packages have created a wide schism in the series. Chevrolet’s kit is superior to Honda’s, and the Bowtie powered cars have dominated the Honda powered cars. Including Toronto, Chevy has won 8 races and Honda just two. AJ Foyt stated Honda’s aero kits are “out to lunch”, while Michael Andretti declares all they’re doing is spending a fortune to get slowed down. Michael’s dad says IndyCar needs to fix the problem.

“I think the series made a mistake quite honestly, and I want to be very clear on that. The way the aero kits were implemented divided the series. Right now, only one manufacturer is happy. They need to fix it and quickly, because the one good thing about IndyCar racing, as we said, is the on-track product. You don’t want to mess it up! You don’t want the equipment putting good talented drivers out of contention. The sooner they can fix the aero kit issue the better it will be.”

I have expressed distinct displeasure with IndyCar’s shortened and compressed schedule. With the races packed together on consecutive weekends, it’s very tough on the drivers and teams.

Toronto ended 8 straight weeks of racing that included The Indianapolis 500. I also strongly dislike the fact the IndyCar season ends far too soon at the end of August, while competitors NASCAR and Formula One stay visible right through to late fall. Mario could not agree with me more.

“This is one area that I have been very outspoken about. I think IndyCar management is making a terrible mistake with a disservice to themselves and the fans. To me it’s a crime to end the season at the end of August when everybody else goes right through to November. And by cramming the schedule into the middle of summer, they’re killing the crews. There needs to be some reason here. I mean we have been around a long time. To re-invent the wheel right now is not the way to do it. Some in IndyCar management are very inexperienced. They need to take notice and listen to those of us who have been in this sport all our lives, and not run away from football and baseball. All sports co-exist year-round. IndyCar is the longest-running series in motorsport. We don’t need to run away from any other sport! The problem is they’re using consultants who don’t know the sport, and I’m going mad over this!”

A former champion, Mario still follows Formula One very closely. I asked for his opinion on the dominance of the Mercedes team and drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Andretti believes a dominant team is accepted more readily in F-1 than in any other series.

“The saving grace is the two drivers Rosberg and Hamilton, are both winning races and are allowed to just fight it out. I really don’t think there are team orders. They are aware they need to concentrate on the Constructors battle for their team. Then you have Vettel and Ferrari keeping them honest this year. Williams is a thorn in their side because of their Mercedes engines. This is all interesting to watch. F-1 might be predictable, but the interest is still very high.”

We finished our chat talking about his outstanding line of Mario Andretti wine. Miss Janice and I can personally endorse each one of his California based varietals. Mario say the winery is flourishing and that’s good news for fans of the grape. It sets up interesting competition with Niagara’s finest.

We also shared a laugh over the fact his twin grandson and granddaughter Mia and Mario no longer cry when grandpapa comes close!
Because despite the man’s legendary status in this sport, at the end of the day, he’s just a good, down to earth happy fellow, who just happens to be a motorsport icon.

Tailpipes: We are inviting you to the Canadian Motor Speedway open house on Saturday June 27th from 11am to 4 pm during the Fort Erie Friendship Festival. The CMS Fort Erie Corporate Office on Garrison Road is opening its doors for face-to-face updates on the project from CMS management. Check out our new officially licensed CMS retail items and enter our Open House contest. See you there!

Tomas Tales: Another CMS Milestone!

CMS Region Gateway Photo Caslin Mohammad Annunziata, Kuchyt

A milestone for the financial future of CMS was realized at this week’s meeting of the Niagara Region’s Planning and Development Services Committee.

The Committee gave all-but unanimous approval to include the speedway lands as a key investment in its Niagara Gateway Economic Zone.

It means CMS can be eligible for tax incentives and price breaks, balanced against the millions of dollars the track will generate in economic impact and jobs!

CMS Partner and Executive Director Azhar Mohammad says it was a huge day in the CMS timeline!

“This is a fantastic day! We have been building up to this and it’s great to see finally that the Town of Fort Erie and The Region have tabled something that is real, achievable, and executable. It’s real support. And as an investor, we really feel this is something was a long time coming and we’re glad it’s happened, “ Mohammad commented.

Chairman of The Niagara Region, Alan Caslin, declared the vote clearly shows The Region’s new-found commitment to make economic prosperity central to everything it does.

“We’re open for business and we’re demonstrating it. It hasn’t always been that way at The Region. This is once in a lifetime, a massive undertaking, “ Chairman Caslin offered.

Final approval is expected next week at Regional council’s general meeting!

In the photo, taken at Regional Headquartes in St.Catharines moments after the vote, from Left to Right:

Regional Chairman Alan Caslin, CMS Executive Director Azhar Mohammad, Fort Erie Regional Councillor Sandy Annunziata, and Acting CAO, The Town of Fort Erie, Tom Kuchyt.

Tomas Tales: Special Stevens Memorial at Merrittville.

Brian StevensThe loss of well known individuals affects us in different ways.

The passing of an entertainment legend reminds us of our past, our youth. We remember their acting, their songs, and perhaps the way they made us laugh.

When we lose a sports figure, the emotion is often the same. You feel sad when you lose a hero.

When someone in the sport of auto racing departs, the impact can go even deeper, because the sport attracts fans young and old, male and female. It’s a very wide demographic.

And when we lose a local racing hero, someone we also called a friend, Dad, husband, brother or sister, the emotions run higher still.

When DIRT Modified legend Brian Stevens of St. Catharines left us close to a month ago, losing his brave battle with cancer, plans to honour his memory were started almost immediately.

While the Niagara tracks Stevens competed at- Ransomville and Humberstone Speedways plan to salute his long career, his “home” track will stage an extra special signature event.

Next month, at Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, fans, friends and family of the two-time Modified track Champion and Wall of Famer, will gather to remember Brian with a very special Memorial Race.

It was at Merrittville, Canada’s oldest and longest operating clay oval, that Stevens reached legendary status.
On Monday May 18th, the 358 Modified feature will be a 44 lap Super Dirt Week Syracuse Qualifier, that will reward the winner a take-home purse of $4,444.44.

The number 4, 44 and even 444 were Brian’s car numbers.

“Throughout his career, Brian had great support from many racing-minded businesses and it’s wonderful to see many of them come together for this special night,” stated Merrittville Speedway General Manager Erica Bicknell-Jones. “He was also fortunate to have a dedicated crew and loyal fans who made one of our first fan clubs that worked together to keep Stevens Racing in contention every race,” Bicknell added.

Erica is right and it’s heart-warming to see.

Corporate Niagara and long-standing sponsors of Stevens have come through with support for his Memorial race at Merrittville.

York Electro-Plating, where Brian worked during the day heads the list. Hingston Metal Fabricators and Cosgrove Racing Engines, now owned by Tom Cosgrove, the son of former driver and Stevens friend and racing rival Ken Cosgrove have committed support.

Transport Sales and Service and the Slack Family, Rev’s Full Throttle Powersports, Gallagher’s Farm Market, long-time fan Dylan Wurfel, Bicknell Racing Products, Pete’s Automotive and Hoosier Tire Canada are also among the friends that have come forward with donations to bolster the nights’ purse.

“We are encouraging Niagara’s business community, race fans and especially those who knew Brian to join with us,” Bicknell-Jones continued. “It’s our goal to remember him with a spectacle and to reward competitors right through the starting field with bonus purse money!”

Those wishing to support the Brian Stevens Memorial should contact Merrittville’s Jim Irvine via e-mail: or through the Speedway Office at 905-892-8266.

An event web site will launch soon where “Friends of Brian Stevens” will be posted and recognized as well.

Pit Gates will open at 4 PM May 18th, with the Grandstands opening at 5:30. Showtime is set for 7:00 PM.

For Flyin’ Brian.
-Event details and Erica Bicknell quotes provided by Merrittville Speedway and re-printed with permission.

Tomas Tales March 17. 2015

Bickford Tomas CMS Motorama 2015Motorama Brings It!

It worked!

Our friends at Inside Track Motorsport News Magazine had an idea they could go over the top if they brought the racing, hotrod, tuner, classic and custom car crowds together in one building, and they hit a bases-loaded home run!

Linking up the already renowned Motorama Custom Car Show with the still-young Canadian Motorsports Expo at the International Center Toronto, attracted huge crowds all three days to a show that was easily four times the size.

The fact we didn’t have to battle nasty winter weather also contributed to the very healthy attendance.

The new Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo put the critical spring promotion for Canadian Motor Speedway and The Raceline Radio Network in front of more eyes and ears than ever before.

We once again featured Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup show car, this time in 3M livery at our CMS display.

Jeff’s stepdad and mentor John Bickford was on hand once again to meet the fans, tell tall tales and pose for countless photos with # 24.

Having Jeff’s car with us was extra special considering this will be Gordon’s final year of competition, as he works to finalize his design of the Canadian Motor Speedway oval.

The show also gives us a chance to go one-on-one with the fans to update them on the latest progress and issues facing The CMS development in Fort Erie, as we get very close to crossing the final Provincial government hurdles to get equipment back on site to move the project forward.

It was very gratifying to hear the unflagging support for CMS. Everyone I talked to understood the slow-moving process we need to follow, declaring no matter how long it takes, they will be there to support the facility when race ready.

It was also fantastic to discover how many fans fully understood the current issue with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the upgrade planned for the Bowen Road/Queen Elizabeth Highway interchange, one of the CMS traffic flow points.

As Claire MacSweyn and I showed everyone the site map and the roads and points in question, most fans knew all about our issue regarding an upgraded 2-lane overpass that exists now, as opposed to a much more expensive 4-lane configuration.

Fans told us CMS stories in print, on the internet, social media, on the air on local radio and The Raceline Radio Network over the past month kept them completely apprised of exactly where we are with the project. Perfect!

Making sure the latest and accurate Canadian Motor Speedway project information is distributed efficiently and effectively is vital.

The days spend with the fans at the new and improved Motorama Custom Car and Motorsports Expo proved the word is out there, and the support for Canadian Motor Speedway is as strong as ever as the last steps in a very long process are before us.

Tale Pipes: We just get finished striking our set up at Motorama in Toronto, and Claire will truck it out again this weekend for the Niagara Falls Sports Expo featuring The CMS Racing Zone. Joey McColm and his #25 ‎Toronto Maple Leafs NASCAR Canadian Tire Series car will be with us along with a Pit Stop Challenge. Join us for the latest CMS updates and a little more bench racing as the local tracks move closer to opening day 2015!

Tomas Tales: Racing As Old As DIRT by Numbers!

Merrittville Snow 2015March 6, 2015

Canada’s oldest dirt track, Merrittville Speedway St.Catharines/Thorold still under a heavy blanket of winter white!

This time of year, we deal with a lot of dates and a lot of numbers.
As numbers go on a calendar, the major racing series issued their 2015 schedules quite a while ago, many just after last year wound down for the winter.

NASCAR’s major touring series are well underway. The NHRA, SportsCar, Motocross and Rally sanctions are now active, while Formula One and IndyCar are a few days away from firing up their engines for their brand new campaigns.

And while numbers do tend to go in one ear and out the other, and often baffle and mystify us, especially as we close in on income tax time, there is a set of numbers tied to local and regional racing that shouldn’t confuse and confound.

They should amaze all who stop and think what they signify.
Most know I’m very closely rooted to the dirt modified scene in the Niagara Peninsula going back to the 1960’s.

It’s where I was first exposed to our sport, with the bug hitting hard enough to eventually make the coverage of auto racing my full time occupation.

And with my wife Janice’s Dad Kurt Uhl and his partners co-owning two of the three speedways located very close to home back in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s where our families grew up.

But why is the long-term health of the roots of our sport so important, and why is it vital to The Canadian Motor Speedway development?

If you are a regular listener to Raceline Radio, you already know the answer. The Motor Racing Networks’ Dave Moody, a good friend said it best and I have borrowed his wisdom many times, “ … if the roots of our sport die, the whole tree dies!”

Dave of course is right on the money, but being healthy is one thing. Staying healthy for long periods of time is quite another when tied to precarious things like the economy.
Going by the numbers, dirt track racing in the Niagara Region leads the nation when it comes to healthy racing roots, and we are reminded of that as spring approaches.

As Humberstone Speedway in Port Colborne, Ransomville Speedway in Ransomville New York, and Merrittville Speedway in St.Catharines, all within a 60 mile driving radius, release their schedules for the new season, you realize the survival and longevity of these clay ovals is nothing short of remarkable.

And it is this long standing racing history and fan support that will form the foundation of the CMS fan base.
Humberstone Speedway, owned by Linda Cosco of St.Catharines, opens their 56th consecutive season of operation May 3rd. Ransomville Speedway, owned by the Friesen family of St.Catharines, kicks off their 58th season in a row May 1st.

The granddaddy of them all is Merrittville Speedway, listed as located in St.Catharines, but is technically in Thorold. The Bicknell and Williamson families, the current owners, will launch their 64th straight season April 25th.

That makes Merrittville the oldest and longest operating dirt track in Canada!

I get the occasional note from listeners discounting that claim, but their case faulters when I point out Merrittville boasts 64 consecutive years of uninterrupted operation. There might be older ovals in Canada by age, but invariably their timeline is broken by closures and re-openings.

Merrittville has thankfully avoided those problems, as have the other two area tracks, thanks to fervently loyal fans, who have been coming to these parks for generations!

Applying a little arithmetic, the three speedways in Metro Niagara have a combined service of 178 years to the dirt track racing fans of the region, a situation unique and exclusive to the area, equalled nowhere else in Canada!

The length of life of these facilities proves how important our sport is in Niagara and across Canada.

And those very healthy roots make sure the big stuff stays alive and kicking.

The same roots that will nurture a very bright future for Canadian Motor Speedway!

Tale Pipes: The Raceline Radio Network is thrilled to re-connect with the fabulous fans in Winnipeg! TSN 1290 joins us Friday nights at 10 PM Central to boost the Network to 17 affiliates, 22 airings a week year-round!

Brian Flyin’ The Heighest He’s Ever Flown!

Brian Stevens helmetBrian Stevens

Brian Stevens helmetBrian Stevens and Merritville girlsBrian Stevens early photo

Brian Stevens and Merritville girls
We are saddened to the core to report noted Niagara DIRT Modified legend “Flyin’ Brian” Stevens has lost his hard fought and courageous race against cancer.

He has been sick for a long while, but he’s no longer suffering.

Brian was a track champion at Merrittville Speedway, Canada’s oldest dirt track, and ran regularly at Ransomville Speedway and other Niagara/Western NY tracks. He was a long standing fan favourite. He was fast and clean.

He followed his Dad Ray into the sport and the two were fixtures at area tracks for decades.

Brian was a great driver and friend. He and Miss Janice grew up at the tracks together!

He was a friend of Raceline’s as well, as a guest and helping us with some radio and TV show intro’s over the years. I will pass along funeral arrangements once received.

God Speed Flyin’ Brian! Your Dad is waiting for you with a brand new car, a fresh motor and perfect clay up there!

Four photo’s: Brian and his # 44 early in his career, and more recently. With present and former Merrittville Speedway tower and scoring staff when he was named Driver of The Week, and Flyin’Brian’s helmet.

CMS Oval Track Designer Drives Final Cup Season!

Gordon_at_Martinsville_by_Rich_IcelandWe all know 4-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon is the designer of the oval portion of our complex, but there’s big news regarding Jeff’s NASCAR career!

The celebrated stock car champion whose crossover appeal helped take NASCAR into the mainstream, will compete in his 23rd and final full-time Sprint Cup Series season in 2015. He announced his decision this morning to the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team he has driven for since November 1992.

“As a race car driver, much of what I’ve done throughout my life has been based on following my instincts and trying to make good decisions,” Gordon said. “I thought long and hard about my future this past year and during the off-season, and I’ve decided 2015 will be the last time I compete for a championship. I won’t use the ‘R-word’ because I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there’s always the possibility I’ll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that.

“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success. As an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, I’m a partner with Rick (Hendrick) and will remain heavily involved with the company for many years to come. It means so much to have the chance to continue working with the owner who took a chance on me and the incredible team that’s stood behind me every step of the way.

“Racing has provided a tremendous amount of opportunity that’s been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling in my life. The work we’re doing with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation will continue to be extremely important to me. Outside the race car, my passion is pediatric cancer research, and my efforts will remain focused there when I’m no longer driving.

“I’ll explore opportunities for the next phase of my career, but my primary focus now and throughout 2015 will be my performance in the No. 24 Chevrolet. I’m going to pour everything I have into this season and look forward to the challenge of competing for one last championship.

“To everyone at NASCAR, my teammates, sponsors, competitors, friends, family, members of the media and especially our incredible fans, all I can say is thank you.”

Gordon, 43, has earned four career Cup championships, 92 points-paying race wins and 77 pole positions, all for longtime car owner Rick Hendrick. He is third in all-time victories behind only NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105).

One of the most versatile drivers of his era in any auto racing discipline, Gordon’s résumé includes three Daytona 500 victories and a record five Brickyard 400 wins. He is the sport’s winningest road course driver with nine victories, stands alone as the all-time leader with 12 restrictor plate wins and has won at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit with the exception of Kentucky Speedway.

“There’s simply no way to quantify Jeff’s impact,” said Hendrick, who first noticed Gordon during a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 1992. “He’s one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There’s been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be. I will never be able to properly express the respect and admiration I have for Jeff and how meaningful our relationship is to me. I’m so grateful for everything he’s done for our company and my family, and I look forward to many more years together as friends and business partners.”

Hendrick Motorsports will announce plans for its 2016 team alignment at a later date.