NASCAR remaining pure

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:42 PM ET

A few years ago NASCAR team owner Jack Roush was explaining to anybody who would listen why stock car racing in North America was the only form of motorsports left on the planet that chose its driver based solely on merit.

It was a time near the end of the open-wheel series split that had all but killed IndyCar racing on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Roushís contention then was that greedy team owners in both CART and IndyCars had reduced those series to rent-a-rides; making them available only to sons of rich European or South American daddies.

As a result, Roush said, deserving, talented Canadians and Americans couldnít compete, leaving open-wheel racing populated with drivers that race fans in North America had little kinship with or reason to cheer.

Unfortunately the gloomy picture painted by Roush hasnít brightened any in the intervening years and has, in fact, enveloped NASCAR as well.

In Canada the plague of pay-as-you-go racing has reached an almost insurmountable stage. Just look at the list of drivers Canada has sent to NASCAR in the most recent past.

It reads like a Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame list: Ron Fellows, Patrick Carpentier, Paul Tracy, D.J. Kennington, Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Tagliani.

And those are the veterans who have made their marks as champions. Then their are the youngsters: J.R. Fitzpatrick, Andrew Ranger and Peter Shepherd. All have been the victim of the same disturbing pattern: In order to get with a team capable of winning you better be able to bring sponsors with you.

Those sponsors also had better have really, really deep pockets.

Shepherd, a 22-year-old native of Brampton, looked as though he had it made when he signed a development deal with Roush in 2007 and he raced in the opening NASCAR Truck Series event at Daytona.

But after a couple of seasons it became obvious that unless Shepherd could come up with a personal sponsor that could inject more than $1 million US into the team, his future already was behind him. It didnít matter a litre of gasoline how good he was behind the wheel.

Ditto for the rest, save for Fellows, whose sterling road course pedigree guarantees him a couple of races a season with a top team.

Such is the state of racing in this country as we head into the 2010 season.

It isnít just NASCAR, either. In the latest edition of the IndyCar series Tracy ó one of the most recognized IndyCar drivers in the world ó still is beating the bushes for enough sponsorship dough in the third season of open-wheel unity that will get him in more than a handful of races.

There are some bright spots on the horizon, however, that bode well for Canadians in the fast lane.

Included with the three aforementioned NASCAR hopefuls are a number of youngsters ready to make their mark.

At the top is 21-year-old Robert Wickens, who last season finished second in the Formula 2 series in Europe with Red Bull backing. He thought that might be enough to get him some testing time in Formula 1, but so far, that hasnít materialized. But Wickens is just too good and too fast to be ignored.

Then there is a plethora of female racers north of the 49th that are starting to garner some serious looks.

Twenty-year-old Alison McLeod, a sophomore at the University of Guelph, is being touted to move up from Sprint Car racing this year to NASCAR. The Oakville native tested last month with an ARCA team at Daytona and at last word still was in negotiations for at least one race this season.

Another 20-year-old ó Caitlin Johnston of Orangeville ó raced last season in the Formula 2000 series and hopes to move up that ladder to eventually join her heroes Tracy and Danica Patrick driving IndyCars.

But for it to happen the Jack Roushs of the world must put their money where their mouth is or risk a fate like that which nearly has destroyed open-wheel racing.


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