In what could mark the start of a return to the golden age of motor racing in this country, Canadian Tire announced two major initiatives on Thursday.
First is that the company will be the title sponsor of the Saturday main event at the Honda Indy Toronto and secondly that it will be the prime sponsor for Canada’s Ron Fellows in a partnership with JR Motorsports at the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in August.
The last time the iconic Canada automotive retailer was so involved in home-grown motor sports was the 1980s when it sponsored another Villeneuve — (uncle) Jacques Villeneuve — in the No. 76 March Cosworth in the then CART IndyCar series and was a major player in the various racing ladder series.
It’s return to a place of prominence in Canadian racing that began two seasons ago when the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series morphed out the old CASCAR loop as the national stock car racing championship.
Now those stock cars will roar by the shores of Lake Ontario on July 17 in what will be known as the Canadian Tire Jump Start 100.
And race fans of every stripe should be overjoyed at the prospect.
It has been far too long since the 3,000-pound,
600-horsepower sedans pounded the pavement at the Exhibition Place temporary street course.
In fact in its last stop at the Honda Indy in 2005, the stock cars were rivalling the then Champ Car World Series headliners as the most popular race of the weekend.
But racing politics — as in the Champ Car team owners hated the thought of playing second banana to the stock cars — ended that relationship. Now, five years later, peace is at hand.
It helps that Honda Indy general manager Charlie Johnstone and his bosses Kim Green and Kevin Savoree recognize the importance attached to the Canadian Tire brand.
“There is no question that Canadian Tire brings a lot to the table,” Johnstone said. “This is a Canadian institution that has a long and rich history of motorsports.”
Johnstone was quick to point out that the Honda Indy crew had targeted the big red triangle folks from the start to be part of the “new” IndyCar weekend in Toronto.
“Race fans will be more than pleasantly surprised at what we have in store of them this year,” he said.
“Canadian Tire, for example, will have the name rights of the pit row area as well as a showcase for its products in the newly created Canadian Tire paddock area.”
Such additions are needed.
Last year’s return of racing to the streets of Toronto after a one-year hiccup wasn’t near as smooth as anyone would have hoped. It, in fact, flirted with disaster.
The move to woo Canadian Tire into the show as well as retaining Honda Canada as its principal partner can be only termed great news.
As Canadian Tire automotive boss Allan MacDonald said Thursday: “Racing is part of our DNA.”
Of course, the other significant deal Canadian Tire inked this week was with JR Motorsports boss Kelley Earnhardt — who manages the team for her brother Dale Earnhardt Jr. and co-owner Rick Hendrick.
That contract will put Fellows — Canada’s all-time top NASCAR driver with six wins in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series — in the No. 88 Chevrolet at Montreal on Aug. 28-29.
Let’s not forget Scott Steckly and Mark Dilley, divers of the No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge and the No. 9 PartSource Dodge in the NCATS.
Both of those drivers will get support for all of the NCATS races this season. And both are looking forward to the Honda Indy Toronto, a home race for both.
“It’s a great opportunity for our fans and sponsors,” Steckly said.
“I grew up on ovals but I just love the challenge that will be driving our (stock) cars on the Indy street course.”
All of which should make for a “back to the future” moment in Canadian auto racing history.