I do a lot of reading. Politics, philosophy, biographies and, of course, books about motor racing. Not often do I read something that stops me in my tracks, but I came across something a few weeks ago: The Honda Indy was to be held this weekend in Toronto.
What I read is still bothering me.
I like all kinds of racing – Formula One, Indy cars, NASCAR, sports cars, sprints and supermodifieds, drag racing, etc. I like Indy cars and Formula One best, but you won’t find me turning up my nose at anything.
Now, motor racing is both a sport and big business. A very big business. Sometimes it doesn’t appear to be all that kosher. Drivers get stolen, sponsors get stolen. But as long as it’s legal (never mind moral), it’s fair.
I can understand all this. In auto racing, to the winner goes the spoils. NASCAR is a master at this. A number of years ago, IndyCar was racing at Texas on national television. The program before the race came on was “Home Improvement.” The guest star that evening was Tony Stewart; his Home Depot-decked car was prominent. It was no accident that NASCAR’s most famous driver was on a TV show leading into an IndyCar race and the episode’s plot was about stock car racing.
Trust me when I say that.
Don’t believe me when I say that NASCAR is always out for blood? It’s business. It’s the way of the world. Take soup. Campbell’s makes more and sells more than anybody else. They know Lipton is out there – and might even talk glowingly about Lipton’s chicken noodle soup – but rest assured that if Lipton starts to take more of the market share, Campbell’s will sink it. Same with NASCAR and IndyCar. IndyCar has its market share, which is fine with NASCAR. They even do some business together and have for years. But let IndyCar get cavalier and NASCAR will stop it in its tracks.
As they say, all’s fair in love and war.
So that brings me to what stopped me in my tracks. My old pal Robin Miller, the U.S. racing reporter and historian, publishes a “must read” column every week on Racer.com. A reader asked his opinion of this weekend’s NASCAR Cup race at Road America. Miller replied: “NASCAR finally figured out its road course racing blows its ovals away . . . and street circuits will be next.”
Street circuits? Next?
I suppose it’s inevitable. IndyCar has gone from ovals (both paved and dirt) to road courses and finally street courses. NASCAR held on to ovals and is finally starting to move more onto road courses. It’s only natural, and logical, then, for it to take its racing to the streets, too.
But what city? Which streets? Let’s look at Toronto. Be aware: what I’m about to write is hypothetical. Repeat: hypothetical. But as I’ve written, racing is also big business.
Starting in 1986, the first year of the Molson Indy, through to 2007, crowds of 70,000 on race day Sunday were not unusual. In 2008, our race was cancelled. When the race returned in 2009, the crowd was way down and has never recovered. That’s what happened in one year. Now the race has been gone for two years; by the time it returns, it will have been three years.
If I may be so bold, the promoters don‘t stand a chance. Toronto is a fickle town. With the exception of the Maple Leafs (and it will take a PhD student in sociology to figure that one out) people in the city have little or no loyalty. The Argos moved outside, and people stopped going. When the Blue Jays moved to what was once known as the SkyDome, you couldn’t get into the stadium. Then the players went on strike in 1994 and the place has been half empty ever since. Remember when they tried to revive local stock car racing at the Ex? It bombed. Badly.
That’s why I say trying to promote an IndyCar race after a three-year absence will be all but impossible. And this is where the business end of it comes into play. The promoters, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, operating as Green Savoree Racing Promotions, have good relations with everybody. Yes, they get along well with the City of Toronto, as well as IndyCar and NASCAR. In addition to the Honda Indy in Toronto, they promote races all over the U.S., ranging from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Portland, Ore.
So, what if Green-Savoree made a deal with Carlo Fidani and Ron Fellows – owners of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – and moved the IndyCar race out to a new venue? And brought a race in the NASCAR Cup Series to downtown Toronto? It would be a win-win.
NASCAR is always on the lookout for a “sure thing,” which a street race in Toronto would be. I don’t think they would return to Montreal (been there, done that) and Toronto is not just the biggest city in Canada but one that’s huge, cosmopolitan and ripe for the picking.
And if it happened? If Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and the rest came to race through the streets of Toronto? As Autosport magazine photographer Gary Gold once said: “You wouldn’t be able to put up enough grandstands.”
And Green Savoree Racing Promotions, rather than taking a financial bath with an IndyCar race, would make a fortune.