Despite having competed in Solo I and Solo II, hundreds of navigational rallies and a season of performance rally, I have never actually done any wheel to wheel racing. I get to drive at speed on tracks around the world on a regular basis, but have never raced against my friends here in Ontario. That is going to change this weekend.
In the early days of racing in North America, competitors often drove their daily driver to the closest WWII air force training field, removed the hubcaps, taped the headlights and went racing. The sport was easily accessible and a heck of a lot of fun. As a kid, after my parents split and Mom forced Dad away, I would spend hours staring at yellowed newspaper clippings that showed my old man racing his MKII Sprite at Harewood Acres, one of several of these old airfield tracks in Ontario. I always hoped that one day I would do the same.
As the sport became more organized over the years that followed, safety improved and then professional racing began to grow. Along the way, the sport became more difficult to enter, unless one had lots of disposable money.
Today, it can easily cost $2-3,000 just to get a novice road racing license and entry fees for a weekend event can be as high as $600. Don’t forget, that is not including all of the car related expenses. While surely not the only reason, the cost must be a contributing factor in the decline of entries at regional events. The sport is in a serious slump.
All of this prompted local racer Alan Balinsky and a few friends to start looking for an alternative. A way to not only bring fun back to racing, but to attract new competitors. The result was a partnership with the owner of Toronto Motorsports Park. Located an hour or so southwest of Toronto, TMP used to be known at Kohler Field, a WWII training base. The track’s owner, Uli Bieri, is a long time road racer who has a vested interest in growing the sport. The result is a series called Toronto Motorsports Park/Champion Racing Oil GT Super Series which allows competitors to race without a license, with self-policed safety equipment and a zero contact policy. The emphasis is on fun and getting onto the track affordably, rather than winning outright.
As Balinsky was planning the second round, I offered to drive whatever car he could dig up, to add whatever bit of media exposure I could to the event. The organizer did much better than dig up some old race car. He convinced long time Ontario racer Eric Nummelin to put me in his Mazda RX-7 Turbo, the car that won the ST2 class championship in the GT Challenge series in the CASC in 2014 and finished 2nd in the first race of this series. A real, fast race car.
The good folks at Toyo have ponied up a set of Proxes R888 competition tires to ensure that I have grip. Likewise, the folks from Replay XD action cameras will be hanging five cameras off of the Mazda to ensure that there is footage of any blunders I make.
I am not the only media type competing, as my good friend Russ Bond, you might know him as the host of the Two Minute Test Drive on Motoring TV, is entering Kerry Micks’ new Nascar Canadian Tire Series race car. Camera guru Danny Bailey will also be on hand shooting for the show.
The rest of the field, 28 cars in total, is impressive. There is everything from a Radical to a Chumpcar series Civic and just about everything in between. Big stonking V8 engines will bellow next to high strung four cylinders. The Mazda I am piloting is known for spouting large streams of flame from its exhaust.
This will be my first ever race and with the depth of talent and fast machinery, I have no expectations of winning. My plan is to go fast, stay clean and have fun. You can come out and cheer all of us on. Just visit TMP online to get directions. We race this Sunday at 11, 1 and 3.
Check out some vintage Super 8 footage of a Gemini Formula Jr at Harewood back in 1965.
And here is some in car footage of Al Norrie in the RX-7 I am racing that was shot a couple of weeks ago at the Mosport circuit at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. This was Al’s first ever race also!