Tomas Tales: Daytona Time is Busy Here Too!

Tomas Tales January 30th, 2014
The NASCAR crowd, teams, administration and of course the fans are well into the big annual build-up to the most important race on the schedule, the Daytona 500. Next month’s Great North American Race will be the 56th time the stock cars rumbling to life on that iconic Florida oval will signal the actual start of another racing season in North America.
But there is also a huge amount of scrambling going on a lot closer to the handle.
The transition from January to February after the turn of the New Year is an extremely busy time in the GTA and surrounding territory in the racing game as well.
You likely know that in addition to my Raceline Radio Network duties, now into broadcast season # 22, I also handle Media and Public Relations consulting for Canadian Motor Speedway.
And just to make sure there is absolutely no room left on the ET plate, I got a call from Alex Tagliani a few weeks back asking me to add Media and Public Relations for his new Tagliani Autosport venture to my to-do list!
I like being busy, but I thought at this stage of my career, I would be slowing down slightly, not speeding up!
Sitting around doing nothing is not an option, so I dive into the deep end and paddle like mad!
Tag grabbed a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona with Paul Gentilozzi, so that meant media releases into and out of that weekend right away, in two languages, since Alex still has firm corporate, media and family connections to home town Montreal and Quebec.
But the real rush this time of year centers around The 8th Annual Canadian Motorsports Expo, powered by Inside Track Motorsport News, February 7th, 8th and 9th at the International Center Toronto.

On the first day of the Expo, all done with the Rolex 24, Tagliani Autosport will unveil a brand new car, another racing assignment for Alex and his backers, Pfizer Canada/EpiPen, Anaphylaxis Canada, and Dicom Express.
I’m usually one of the great unwashed media horde at these things, but this time, in addition to wielding my recorder for Raceline, I wrote the releases inviting the media to the shindig.
Home base at The Expo will be our Canadian Motor Speedway display that will once again feature Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup show car, this time sporting a brand new Axalta paint scheme on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy SS # 24. This will the first time the new livery will be shown in Canada. Releases had to go out for this too of course.
Manning the CMS booth all three days is a pleasure, and holds special significance this year, as the project has actually started!
Sometime during the three days at the Expo, I also have to interview The “King” Richard Petty, Mike Skinnner and Ryan Newman, and take part in the annual motorsport media panel to discuss the various issues swirling about our heads.
I have a feeling there will be lots of discussion about Canadian Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s changes to the qualifying and Chase formats, and good thoughts and prayers for Michael Schumacher.
There will be CMS and Tagliani Autosport post-Expo releases to go out, before we swing our highly divided attention to the Toronto International Auto show!
My buddy “Stormin’ Norman” Rumack and I will be live on location at the Auto show the first weekend of the showcase, February 14th through the 17th.
We’ll do a ton of live hits from our location on the 800 level of the South Building of The Metro Toronto Convention Center for Sportsnet 590 The FAN.
Oh! Almost forgot there will be two Raceline Radio Network shows to write, produce and anchor during these two insane weeks as well!
But it’s all good… I think!
ET

Tomas Tales: CMS at CME! Enough Initials Already!

But the letters mean we again look forward to the 8th annual Canadian Motorsports Expo Powered by our friends at Inside Track Motorsport News, the 7th, 8th and 9th of February, the kick off of the 2014 Canadian racing season at the International Center Toronto!

The parking is free and in Toronto, that’s rare!

You’ve seen the release! For the 4th straight Expo, The CMS display will showcase Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR Sprint Cup show car, this time sporting the brand new Axalta sponsor livery, the first time shown in Canada!

Drop by and bench race with us! The CMS staff will be there to talk about project start and the time line heading into spring.

John Bickford VP and GM of Jeff Gordon Inc. will also be with us! John’s a very engaging character who I always look forward to seeing and speaking with and I know you do too!

Yours truly will also be part of the motorsport media panel once again, always good for some spirited discussion and debate.

Drop by and see us! It is going to be fabulous to be able to talk to you at the Expo now that CMS has indeed started!

Tomas Tales: Michael Schumacher Hurt. Andy Granatelli Passes

The racing world is deep in thought. We have lost car owner, innovator, promoter and showman Andy Granatelli in his 90th year. Heart failure. The former head of STP almost won the Indy 500 in unconventional turbine-powered cars in 1967 and 1968, but finally won it in 1969 with Mario Andretti. Andy’s kiss on Mario’s cheek in victory lane is a legendary image. Granatelli won another 500 in 1973 with Gordon Johncock. God Speed Andy! You were one of our sports’ true characters!

We are also thinking and praying for 7-time Formula One champion and 7-time Canadian Grand Prix winner Michael Schumacher. He suffered serious head trauma in a crash while skiing in the French Alps. He was in a coma and required emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. He is listed in critical condition in hospital in Grenoble. He suffered the injuries when his head struck a rock, even though he was wearing a helmet. Michael was the most dominant Formula One driver of our generation until he retired for the first time in 2006. He returned in 2010, but quit again at the end of the 2012 season. Heal quick Mike, and best wishes from all at CMS!

Tomas Tales: Junior wins! Gordon in the Top Three Most Popular!

Canadian Motor Speedway congratulates track designer Jeff Gordon, who finished in the top three in fan voting for NASCAR’s most popular driver for 2013.
Jeff finished 3rd behind Hendrick Motorsports team mates Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Junior.  Junior was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver for the 11th season on a row to break a tie with 16-time winner Bill Elliott for the most consecutive years winning the award.
Earnhardt, who was presented with the NASCAR NMPA Most Popular Driver Award at the annual Myers Brothers luncheon, part of Champions week in Las Vegas remarked, “I don’t really keep track of the stats or the score, but Bill was a great driver and ambassador for the sport.  He represents the sport really well to this day, as does his son Chase, who’s coming up and carrying on the family name.  But, I’ve always looked up to Bill as a driver so it’s pretty neat.”
Earnhardt’s run has required renovations at JR Motorsports, where his trophies are kept. Two trophy cases have either had to be rebuilt or installed to hold his first 10 trophies.
Earnhardt thanked his loyal fan base, which continuously votes him tops in the Sprint Cup Series. More than 1 million votes were cast for 39 drivers, and although fans could only vote once per day, Earnhardt still collected more than 700 thousand votes!
“It humbles me deeply to know that you have so many fans in your corner each race weekend,” Earnhardt said.   “There are a lot of motivating factors in life that drive our race team to be the best we can but none impact us more than the support of our race fans that they’ve shown over the years. We thank you for your devotion to NASCAR and we look forward to giving you a lot to be excited about in 2014.”
4th in the voting went to Tony Stewart. Danica Patrick was 5th.

Tomas Tales: 2013 an Historic Year for CMS, Raceline and the Sport!

December already?
How did that happen?
Christmas, New Years and the wonderful holidays and special days this time of year, enjoyed by race fans from every background and walk of life, signals a reflective look back at the 2013 auto racing season.
With our loyal broadcast partners Subaru Canada, Tissot Swiss Watches and WD 40, Raceline Radio looks very much forward to our 22nd season on the air in 2014 as Canada’s national radio motorsport authority. We of course offer huge thanks to all of you for tuning in across Canada, keeping the dream alive!
Calling our runs “seasons” is only symbolic, as Raceline Radio doesn’t leave the air during the so-called off-season.
For four weeks, December 15th through January 5, 2014, we air “The Best of Raceline Radio” Series, where we replay some of the best interviews from the 2013 racing season. You can enjoy replays of interviews with people like: Mario Andretti, Derek Daly, John Force, James Hinchcliffe, Jimmie Johnson, Scott Dixon, Scott Steckly and Azhar Mohammad from Canadian Motor Speedway to name but a few.
Of course, speaking of Mohammad and CMS, it’s safe to declare the historic ground-breaking on the $400 million-dollar speed-plant in Fort Erie, that will give us our first major league 3-quarter mile high-banked oval and 2 mile road course complex is the # 1 Canadian motorsport story of 2013.
Granted a radio exclusivity by CMS developers and investors, Raceline Radio has charted in day-to-day detail, the protracted and extremely expensive seven year process to get Canadian Motor Speedway started.
But start it did, and Raceline was there in the pre-dawn hours of October 8th as Aecon Construction bulldozers and earthmovers barked to life and rolled out to start carving away the top soil to begin work on the re-construction of Miller Creek, phase-one of the project.
A new era in Canadian motorsport had begun and we were honoured to be there to cover it live!
Yours truly very proud to be the Media and Public Relations consultant for CMS!
Over the winter, CMS developers will hire an architect to put Jeff Gordon’s design down on blueprints, with the final site plan reflecting the zoning submitted to the Town of Fort Erie in March-April.
A gala ground breaking involving Gordon is planned for the spring while the rest of the CMS site will be excavated. Hard brick-and-mortar construction of the oval, road course and grandstands is slated for 2015, to be race-ready in 2016.
Fan support continues to be overwhelmingly positive.
But of course, there were other headline stories that grabbed our attention in 2013.
The “Big 3” gave us interesting and contrasting demonstrations of how to win championships. Consistency, dominance and a come-back!
Jimmie Johnson was a model of consistency over the marathon NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. With four regular season wins starting with the season-opening Daytona 500 and two in the Chase, he stayed out of trouble and piled on the points for his 6th career championship. One more and he ties legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Richard thinks Johnson is good for at least ten titles before he retires. Jimmie’s 38. It’s entirely possible.
Germany’s Sebastian Vettel’s stunning dominance in Formula One with 13 wins, including the last 9 in a row, nailed a 4th consecutive World Driving Championship in a row! He’s the first driver in F-1 to win 9 in a row in a single season. Vettel and Red Bull were simply unstoppable from the summer break on. At only 26, how many more championships can Vettel win? Plus, he’s a heck of a good guy. Funny and personable! F-1 doesn’t like his celebratory donuts and show-boating, but Sebastian doesn’t care. That’s why we like him!
Scott Dixon is the comeback driver of the year. The Kiwi wasn’t on the radar at all for the IndyCar championship with Penske’s Helio Castroneves leading the parade, until they rolled into Toronto, with Dix winning both ends of the double header. From Toronto forward, the Ganassi boys were rolling and Dixon won again at Houston. Helped by Castroneves’ bad luck, Dixon stayed hot enough to rack up his 3rd career title.
Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe was huge in 2013. He scored his first career IndyCar wins for Michael Andretti, taking the season opener at St. Petersburg Florida, then again in Brazil with some mind boggling passing. He added another win on the oval at Iowa to make three for the season, a breakthrough year for the 26 year old. He was also nominated for Canadian Male Athlete of the year.
Dario Franchitti was forced to retire after that nasty wreck in Houston. It won’t be the same without the multi-time champ and Indy 500 winner who also won a few in Canada. Dario has been and will continue to be one of our CMS industry contacts.
Other drivers and stories in 2013 we need to mention include 60 year old NHRA FunnyCar sage and entertainer John Force winning his 16th career nitro FunnyCar championship, and Scott Steckly winning the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series war for his 3rd career title.
We congratulated Ron Fellows, Carlo Fidani, Myles Brandt and staff at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on their record crowd for their NASCAR Truck Series race. The largest throng since the glory days of the 1960’s was very nice to see!
Pete Bicknell won his 23rd 358 DIRT Modified championship at his Merrittville Speedway that celebrated their 63rd consecutive season of operation. The crowds were the biggest and healthiest at Canadian-owned Ransomville Speedway New York and the attendance at Humberstone Speedway was showing a healthier count.
Growing up at Niagara/Western NY area dirt tracks, it’s heart-warming to see this arm of the sport still vital and thriving into 2014. We have already made contact, and we will be working very closely with area speedways as we move forward with Canadian Motor Speedway.
So, from the Tomas house to your house, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and the very best the holiday season has to offer to you and yours!
2014 should be very impressive indeed!

Tomas Tales: November CMS update

cms_construction

It’s been a little more than a month since heavy equipment fired up on Canadian Motor Speedway (CMS) land in Fort Erie, the site of the $400 million dollar project that will give Canada its first major league three-quarter mile high-banked oval and two-mile road course complex.

Progress on phase one of the development, the re-construction of Miller Creek, that will run behind the oval’s main grandstand, has been slowed ever-so-slightly by some wet weather in late October.

The plan was to have this initial work completed by the end of October, but the rain has pushed that ahead to the middle of November.

The photographs give you an idea of the progress.

 

The basin for the creek is being excavated, in preparation for grass seeding along its banks.

Having spent a good deal of time on site dealing with media coverage of CMS ground-breaking and construction, and to check on progress, the one thing that strikes you is the skill the Aecon bulldozer and earth mover equipment operators demonstrate.

Using every precious hour of daylight for efficient use of time, starting at the crack of dawn each day, they move around the site with big heavy machinery loaded with thousands of tons of top soil and clay with speed and dexterity you’d expect from someone driving a golf cart.

The only time they stop is to re-fuel from the large tank of diesel next to the construction office, and of course when there’s just not enough daylight left to move equipment safely.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and I have to admit the construction of CMS utterly fascinates me.

All of this is done under very strict safety guidelines.

Aecon’s motto of “Zero tolerance, zero harm” was loud and clear as yours truly and other CMS staff who visit the site can attest, as we had to go through a safety awareness and training exercise.

A hard hat, steel-toed safety boots, safety glasses and a bright orange visibility vest are mandatory whenever we’re on site.

Once grass seed of the banks of the first phase of Miller Creek’s re-construction has been sown, they will cover it with that green paper pulp material, that will be sprayed on to protect the grass seed over the winter.

Then the machinery will depart and heavy machinery activity on the CMS site will cease until the spring when the grass seed should have started to sprout.

Crews will then plant trees next to fish holding pools along the creek bank.

At the CMS offices over the winter, administrative work will continue, with a gala in the spring near the top of the critical planning path.

Construction of the oval, the grandstands and the road course will begin in early summer.

Stay tuned to your Raceline Radio Network affiliate for regular and exclusive updates on Canadian Motor Speedway.

It’s been an historic autumn for race fans, with many significant progress benchmarks still to come as we head into a new year.

Smaller CMS track doesn’t make it substandard

 

Tuning into the radio show the last few weeks, you may have heard a somewhat heated debate with a few listeners concerning the revised track lengths at the new Canadian Motor Speedway (CMS) that has finally broken ground in Fort Erie.

Initially described as Canada’s first one-mile oval and 2.6 mile road course complex that will attract major sanctioning bodies, the protracted and extremely expensive approval process and continued consultation with designer Jeff Gordon, revised the dimensions down to a 0.7-mile banked oval, and a two-mile road course.

But a few listeners sent me complaints, declaring these smaller tracks now make the CMS complex substandard, unable to attract any major events.

Not only is that notion inaccurate, I saw red, and ranted loudly over it!

Why? Because after years of complaining that Canada didn’t have a major league oval, and we had to drive hundreds of miles to get to one in the States, we now have investors ready to pay for one in our own back yard, yet the bellyaching and bleating continues because of track size.

That makes no sense to me at all.

Richmond International Raceway Virginia is also a three-quarter mile banked oval that hosts major stock car and has staged major open wheel events, yet I don’t think too many fans brand Richmond substandard.

Another listener felt the reduced size of the road course would rate CMS as second-rate without realizing the road course is not contained inside the oval arena, but is outside the bowl. The road course connects to use a portion of the oval through a unique tunnel system.

The artist’s rendering of the complex on the CMS website shows you that.

Therefore, it’s logical to believe that the new dimensions won’t have a negative effect on the attraction of big league sanctions, the racing for the drivers, or the experience for the fans.

So then, why are the tracks slightly smaller than first proposed?

In a recent Raceline Radio interview, CMS chief developer and executive director Azhar Mohammad had the explanation, saying to consider two things.

The first was financial. Let us never forget this is a business and not a hobby. CMS backers expect a return on their investment. The long and expensive seven-year process they had to go through, meant a re-think of the product on the ground in terms of final expenditure.

A 0.7-mile oval and a two-mile road course isn’t as expensive to build as a one-mile oval and 2.6-mile road course. The investors have to be able to pay for this thing, and that’s the bottom line.

Secondly, CMS did an examination of existing speedways. and their research showed that the so-called smaller tracks had an easier time filling the seats.

The bump-and-grind, close-quarter racing we enjoy at Richmond, Bristol and Martinsville, and the fan experience on the other side of those fences is working at present.

Not taking anything away from the larger tracks, but empty pews sound alarms.

Even Daytona International Speedway is taking seats out to ease sales pressure.

CMS designer Gordon believes the future of the sport will direct away from the big ovals, and I would lay odds the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion knows just a little bit more about this track size business than we do.

CMS management also realizes the guys already here need to be part of the show too.

There are existing racing sanctions in Canada, and within the CMS marketing footprint that can handle a three-quarter mile oval, but would be wheezin’ pretty good trying to get around a full mile.

When all of this is considered, the claim that a smaller oval and smaller road course at Canadian Motor Speedway won’t attract big-time events and racing series is ridiculous.

Canadian Motor Speedway is Green and GO!

Progress on phase one of the CMS's development

The day race fans in the GTA, Niagara and across Canada — and that would of course include yours truly — had been waiting for arrived on Tuesday October 8th, 2013 at 7:25 a.m. ET, just as the sun broke over the tree line on the 820 acres in Fort Erie.

The first Aecon Construction bulldozer rolled off to begin work on the $400-million Canadian Motor Speedway project, with the re-construction of Miller Creek.

Just ahead of this historic day, CMS dignitaries staged a mini ground breaking ceremony to mark the occasion.

I am honoured and proud to be the media consultant for Canadian Motor Speedway in addition to my Raceline gig and since I penned the official CMS work-start media release, I have used the text from that release to tell the rest of the story, without the usual stiffness. I hope.

Welcome to a new era in Canadian Motorsport!

After seven years of government regulatory and developmental process, heavy excavation equipment is working the CMS site in Fort Erie Ontario, to commence phase one of the project, the relocation and major environmental enhancement of Miller Creek.

This is a critical step to allow for the second phase of the project to proceed: the construction of the grandstands, the oval track and the road course.

Canadian Motor Speedway chief executive officer Ibrahim Abou Taleb said, “We are making history in Canada and North America for the motorsport fan with this track. It has been a very, very long journey, but now we have a wonderful journey ahead of us! For the Town of Fort Erie, this is a new era. CMS is the hub, but around it you have hospitality, retail, research and development that is like a city in itself. CMS will be an attraction that will bring tremendous value to the Town of Fort Erie and the Province of Ontario.”

For CMS partner and executive director Azhar Mohammad, it’s like a dream come true. “We are ecstatic! If you look at the efforts that have been expended and the milestones we’ve achieved after so many years with extensive support from the community, this is truly exciting for our entire team and partners in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.”

Designer of the track, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jeff Gordon is thrilled. “We have cleared a lot of hurdles along the way. We’ve had to be very patient during the entire process, but I’m excited for Canada, I’m excited for auto racing. CMS will definitely be Canadian pride at its best. It’s a Canadian Speedway built by Canadians, just 45 minutes from Toronto, 15 minutes from Niagara Falls and Buffalo. I think Canadians are going to be very proud to have a 1.2-kilometre, three-quarter-mile track that’s going to put on some great racing once it’s completed.”

The other half of the CMS complex is a 2.6-mile road course that will link up with the oval through a unique system of tunnels. Seating capacity starts at 60 thousand, with five thousand club seats.

The speed-plant will also comprise a research and development component from McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering. There will also be retail and hotel space.

The core property for the oval, the grandstands and the road course is in CMS hands, while work to finalize site planning and the archaeological clearances of the periphery properties has been scheduled over the next three months.

Aecon Group Inc., one of Canada’s largest construction companies, is the project’s construction manager. They will be responsible for managing the entire 820-acre development, working with local construction resources to ensure CMS is positioned for timely completion, within targeted cost, with the highest level of quality and safety.

“We are thrilled to be working with Canadian Motor Speedway, and pleased to bring our expertise to the development of this world class race track,” stated Teri McKibbon, Aecon’s president and chief operating officer.

CMS plans a formal ground-breaking in late spring of 2014 to green-flag eighteen months of construction of the sports’ first Carbon Neutral, and Canada’s first world class oval and integrated road course hosting a variety of racing platforms, notably stock car and open wheel racing, which is slated to be race-ready in 2016.

Seven years and some $17-million dollars just to get that first bulldozer to move, but I supposed what they say is true: “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it!”

Canadian Motor Speedway is underway!

Let the new era begin!