Fort Erie project could pave way to NASCAR series

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:37 PM ET

After more than five years of promises and delays, it looks as though the Canadian Motor Speedway project will get the green light to start construction of a one-mile banked oval race track in the town of Fort Erie.

The track, when completed, is expected to bid for one of NASCAR’s top three touring series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

The last major hurdle was jumped on Monday when the Ontario Municipal Board dismissed appeals by community groups opposed to building the race track.

The speedway, for those out there who have forgotten about the project, was designed with the help of four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, will seat 60,000 and, if work started immediately, could be up and running in 18 months.

Now it must be said that there are still obstacles that the track owners — led by Toronto businessman Azhar Mohammad — have to negotiate, the foremost being an environmental assessment.

It is, however, hugely encouraging that the local group — calling themselves the Citizens Coalition of Greater Fort Erie, who were the main opponents to building the race track in the town — are now on side with the track’s management.

Mohammed, in a statement released by Fort Erie officials, said the project is a win, win for everybody involved.

“CMS is very excited about the decision by the OMB ... and that the conclusion reaffirms that our project addresses and implements matters of provincial and regional interest,” he said.

“This will be a world-class facility that will attract visitors from all over North America. We are very anxious to begin the next steps in seeing the speedway become a reality.”

While one would like to think that NASCAR would want to jump at an opportunity to race on an oval in Canada — especially in heavily populated Southern Ontario, there are several things standing in the way of that happening.

One is the fact that International Speedway Corporation owns and operates two major racing facilities — Watkins Glen International and Michigan International Speedway — within driving distance of the proposed CMS.

And ISC is controlled by the France family, the same family that owns NASCAR.

So it would be extremely presumptuous to think NASCAR would sanction a race in Fort Erie at the expense of its races at the Glen or MIS.

Not to be forgotten in this is the major redevelopment at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, formerly Mosport, just 80 kms east of Toronto, that is currently underway.

At the same time the OMB decision was being announced in Fort Erie, bulldozers were at work at CTMP, where for 50 years the Castrol control tower has been the nerve centre at Canada’s foremost natural road course.

On Monday it was reduced to rubble as part of CTMP’s multi-million facelift.

A new complex across the track from the old Castrol tower is in its final stages of construction.

CTMP will now be able to expand pit lane to handle 43 cars — which not coincidentally — is how many cars start NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races.

The Bowmanville, Ont., track is also expected to be granted a Truck series race for next season.

One would have to believe NASCAR would not be handing out a second Canadian date for the Fort Erie track.

A suggestion that has been made before is that either CTMP or the proposed CMS go after the IZOD IndyCar Series to sanction a race.

FINISH LINES

Speaking of Canada and NASCAR, there will be a Canadian at the head table when NASCAR hands out its Sprint Cup season championship hardware at Las Vegas Nov. 30. Comedian Howie Mandel will handle the host duties for the evening at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel ... Jimmie Johnson’s win at Texas Motor Speedway also marked Chevrolet’s sweep of the Manufacturers’ Championship Award in all three NASCAR National Touring Series for the fourth time. Chevrolet has accomplished the feat of winning the three titles in 1996, 1998, 2005 and now in 2012 ... Brian Vickers has signed a contract to race for Joe Gibbs Racing full time in the Nationwide Series in 2013 with sponsorship from Dollar General.

FERRARI BOSS DEMANDS BETTER RACE CAR

The boss of bosses for the Formula 1 Ferrari team has issued orders that winning at the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., next week is a must.

Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo ordered a team meeting after Fernando Alonso came second Sunday behind winner Kimi Raikkonen at Abu Dhabi.

The win reduced Alonso’s deficit behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel — who finished third — to just 10 points.

Di Montezemolo praised Alonso for driving the Ferrari from seventh in the grid to a podium finish, but criticized the team for not giving the two-time champion a good enough race car.

“Yesterday Fernando produced his umpteenth great race of the season, in which he again gave 120% and he managed to fight for victory right to the end,” Di Montezemolo said on the team’s website.

“But it’s clear that we have to do more for the coming races. That is what I requested today of (team principal) Stefano Domenicali and his team: We have 10 crucial days ahead, during which we must do everything to arrive in Texas with a car that can fight for the victory.

“Words count for nothing. This must be our target.”

DEAN’S RANT

The final 20 laps, with two re-starts, at Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway were as exciting as any in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.

Watching Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battle door to door and know what was on the line made for wonderful racing.

However, the 300 or so laps before that, were mind-numbing with lap after lap after lap of single-file racing.

NASCAR, race promoters and drivers have got to figure something out to get fans’ attention for all of the race, particularly on the 1.5-mile ovals that dominate the schedule.

There have been a multitude of suggestions on how to do this, the most prominent is to shorten all race to 300 miles.

But local promoters, like TMS’s Eddie Gossage, would have none of that, saying his fans want the longer races.

Another suggestion would be to make all those 1.5-mile ovals restrictor plate tracks like Daytona and Talladega to bring the field closer together.

That solution is hated by drivers who argue — rightfully so — that restrictor plate racing is dangerous and might produce fun racing, but it also produces huge crashes.

An answer, however had better come soon or huge swaths of empty seat like there were at TMS will become the norm.

BOWYER HOPED FOR WRECK AT TEXAS

The results show that Clint Bowyer finished sixth in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

At any other race, a good showing by the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing team, but not on this day because Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski — Bowyer’s rivals for the championship — finished first and second, respectively, pretty much dropping Bowyer out of contention.

There was a moment, however, at TMS where Bowyer thought he had a chance — but only if his rivals wrecked — and they almost did — banging on one another on the penultimate lap.

“It would have been awesome,” he said.


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