Great Canadian race

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:55 PM ET

Three years ago, who would have thought the Edmonton Grand Prix would become the Canadian crown jewel and the only race to survive in the long-awaited, much-debated, on-and-off merger with the Indy Racing League?

By the time you read this it might be off again, as Paul Tracy insisted in an interview yesterday with Dean McNulty of Sun Media.

But there are plenty of people who believe this thing is finally going down. Mike Harris of The Associated Press reported last night that the deal is in front of lawyers now and is expected to be press conferenced tomorrow.

"I believe the announcement will be tomorrow," said Ric Forest, who along with Bruce Saville, Keith Freiser and Ken Kupsch invested $6 million and change between them that they'll never see again to make this day possible.

SETTING UP THE HOME RUN

If it weren't for those four, who put up the big bucks to get the race set up and running to the point where this could happen, Northlands wouldn't have found itself in position to step up, take over and hit the home run.

"It's well beyond the derailing point now," contends Forest, a close friend of Champ Car Series owner Kevin Kalkhoven who is doing the deal with IRL owner Tony George to end a 13-year war in open wheel racing in which both sides lost and NASCAR won.

"Hopefully we'll know tomorrow," said Forest, one of the four to put up the $3 to $4 million for start-up costs and even more than that to keep it afloat in time for this happy day.

If it is the happy day.

"It's going to be an unbelievable show now," said Forest, who no longer has a vested interest.

"Instead of Champ Car having 17 cars and the IRL having 16, now we're going to have races with the number of cars well into the 20s and some drivers with some name value like Marco Andretti, Danica Patrick and Helio Casroventes."

With Roger Penske, Andretti Green Racing and Bobby Rahal-David Letterman Racing, joining Paul Newman's team with Rahal's son Graham - a Champ Car rookie last year - plus Tracy and some of the other Champ Car teams and stars you've watched here the last three years, there's going to be a lot of sizzle.

The inaugural race here drew 78,080 on the final day for a mind-boggling three day total of 200,050 - a record for any Champ Car race in Canada and a Western Canadian record for any auto racing event, period.

The following year, race day drew 63,921 to give the event a three-day total of 171,391 in attendance.

Last year 60,508 showed up on race day for a weekend total of 167,243.

While Champ Car has generally had the better race events, the IRL has always had the big daddy, the Indianapolis 500. And now the cars and drivers from the Indy 500 will all be here about seven weeks after they race the brickyard.

The merger, if you can call it that, combines Champ Car's most successful events - the street and airport or road races in Long Beach, Edmonton, Toronto, Australia and Mexico City. The impending deal is expected to include Long Beach, Edmonton and Australia this year with Toronto and Mexico City likely to rejoin the combined series the following year.

Edmonton should be excited and delighted with the timing involved here and the special status this race won in such a short span on the track everybody in the sport raves about.

But a word of warning here.

The Edmonton Indy, as hopefully they'll call it now, has been an artistic success but it has yet to become a financial success.

Without Mayor Stephen Mandel convincing Northlands to take it over, the four founders, weren't likely to pour much more money into the thing.

"The government characterized it as a for-profit business. We couldn't get government funding," said Saville.

"The mayor saw that the synergy of Northlands could make it a lot more cost-competitive and change the government characterization."

SPONSORSHIP LACKING

But the big thing is corporate sponsorship. Previous title sponsor deals with West Edmonton Mall and Rexall were for peanuts. Instead of paying seven figures, the sponsors were paying as little as $400,000 and came in too late - around April or May - to get much bang for even those bucks.

"We didn't do a good job of getting corporate sponsorship at every level," said Saville.

"This race is seen in 40 countries. For a main sponsor, you need somebody like Coca-Cola, somebody big with big money. We never did have a presenting sponsor, either. And we were paying $35 a seat for those grandstands."

The minute this thing becomes official, they'll certainly have something to sponsor now.


Videos

Photos