NCTS has grown up

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:04 AM ET

BOWMANVILLE - After five seasons the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series has become this country’s only truly national racing series.

Born out of the defunct CASCAR Super Series — that was for most part built on races in and around Southern Ontario — the NCTS broadened its base year by year since its inception in 2007 to where it now has events in six provinces.

And the men and women behind the wheels of the 3,000-pound stock cars are equally diverse.

On Sunday in the Vortex Brake Pads 200 at Mosport International Raceway and throughout this season there will be drivers from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec competing for a spot on the podium.

All of them agree that their chances of moving on to international fame and fortune in the racing world are now better because of what NASCAR has brought to the Great White North.

Isabelle Tremblay, from St. Hippolyte, Que., never envisioned herself as a stock car driver; she, in fact, grew up a fan of Formula One and Jacques Villeneuve.

But like her hero, Trem blay now sees NASCAR as her ticket to her dreams as a professional race car driver.

“I started out wanting a career in open-wheel racing,” she said. “But now I am convinced that NASCAR will be my future.”

Tremblay, who will drive the No. 07 Groupe Breton Brunet/ADF Ford on Sunday at Mosport, is still keeping her options open competing in the Formula Tour 1600 series this season as well. And in her first competition in the F1600 car this season, Tremblay won at Circuit GIlles Villeneuve at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Jason White, a native of Sun Peaks, B.C., said his No. 21 A&W Dodge program would not have gotten off the ground if there was not a series like NCTS to race.

“Sponsors are looking for exposure and the Canadian Tire Series gives them that,” he said.

White said that one of the attractions that the NCTS offered him was the opportunity to race at the most prestigious racing venues that Canada has to offer.

There will be races this season at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, home of the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, Exhibition Place (the Honda Indy Toronto), the Grand Prix of Trois Riverers and twice at Mosport, Canada’s most historic track.

Next year the series will be back at the Edmonton Indy, where it was huge success the past four seasons but got caught up in the on-again, off-again, on-again negotiations between that city and the race promoters that delayed a confirmed race date this year.

It was watching his dad win at the Honda Indy Toronto and compete in Edmonton that gave 18-year-old Noel Dowler Jr., of Sherwood Park, Alta., the inspiration to go NASCAR racing this season.

The youngest driver in the NCTS, Dowler comes from a karting background and will compete at all of the road courses on the schedule in the No. 5 EMCO Dodge.

“This is the biggest series I have raced in so far,” Dowler said. “The cars are a handful, but it is really fun. I love that I can race against the best stock car racers in Canada here.”

Alex Tagliani, whose NCTS win at Edmonton two seasons ago revived his IndyCar career, has already raced once this year in a stock car and wants to do the double — race in NASCAR and IndyCar — at the Honda Indy on the July 9-10 weekend.

Finish lines

Qualifying for Sunday’s NCTS race was cancelled Saturday after rain was forecast for the second of two sessions. NASCAR officials ruled that it would be unfair to the second group, who would have had to run laps on rain tires, producing much slower times. The starting grid will now be set by championship points, putting Scott Steckly on the pole in the No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge, with Don Thomson Jr. on the outside of the front row in the No. 8 Farmers Feed Families Dodge. The No. 84 Chevrolet of J.R. Fitzpatrick would start third, but he will be put to the back of the grid because he missed Saturday practice to race in the Nationwide Series at Road America. D.J. Kennington moves up to that spot in the No. 17 Castrol Edge Dodge.


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