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The old Mosport control tower and media centre were demolished recently to make way for a bigger pitlane and upgraded garages at the Bowmanville, Ont. track. (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park)
The old Mosport control tower and media centre were demolished recently to make way for a bigger pitlane and upgraded garages at the Bowmanville, Ont. track. (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park)

Motorsports

Ron Fellows looks back fondly as Mosport upgrades to draw bigger events Add to ...

When the old Mosport control tower and media centre were demolished to make way for a bigger pitlane and upgraded garages, track co-owner Ron Fellows was nowhere to be seen.

Although his head told him all the change was inevitable and needed to attract more prominent series to his venue, losing a part of the track’s history tugged more than a bit on his heart.

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“I did not go out there when they took it down,” he said.

“It was always a neat place, but unfortunately in today’s world it was terribly out of date. It’s necessity based on the need for more room on pitlane. It’s always been a problem and it was always on the list.”

While bulldozing the existing structures was always in the plan, the upgrades to the track became more pressing after NASCAR announced earlier this month that its Camping World Truck Series would race at the venerable track next Labour Day weekend. It will be the first road course event for the trucks since 2000 when they ran at Watkins Glen International in Upper New York State. Coincidentally, Fellows won the truck race at The Glen in 1997 and again in 1999.

Last year, Fellows, along with Trailcon Leasing president Alan Boughton and Orlando Corp. chairman Carlo Fidani, bought the Bowmanville, Ont., circuit from Don Panoz. Boughton was bought out by the other two partners over the summer. It was officially renamed Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) in February.

Although the arrival of the truck race at CTMP was music to Canadian stock car fans’ ears after they learned last month that the Nationwide Series event in Montreal would not continue, Fellows initially thought its end might throw a spanner in his works.

“When Nationwide went away from Montreal, I was concerned about the negative effect on our ability to get a major NASCAR event,” Fellows said.

“My early chats with NASCAR were based on the fact that the success of Montreal races had the Toronto market being considered as well. That event continuing to operate was more of a positive for us.”

NASCAR’s second tier series raced on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal for six seasons beginning in 2007. Although successful on track, Octane Management suddenly announced in October that it would no longer be the race promoter because it could not make money staging the event.

Being able to stay in Canada and move into the Toronto area was hugely attractive to NASCAR, which said it wants a long and lasting relationship with CTMP.

“We are happy to be able to remain in Canada for the seventh straight year with one of our national series,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR managing director of racing operations.

“The numbers speak for themselves. The Canadian fan base is extremely passionate about the sport and obviously we are tapping into a big portion of that base just being outside of Toronto, so it’s huge for the business as well.”

The venue has been pretty good for Fellows too, which is why seeing change – even if it is sorely needed – is tough sometimes.

Fellows’ love for the track began more than three decades ago as a spectator and then he continued the romance as a driver. Along the way, his racing career became inseparably linked to the 10-turn, 3.96-kilometre road course that has hosted almost every form of motorsport from Formula One to stock cars to superbikes.

When it was still known as the Mosport International Raceway, it was the scene of Fellows’ first drivers’ championship, his maiden Trans-Am Series win, a world sportscar victory with Ferrari, and several chequered flags in the American Le Mans Series. In 2009, he scored an emotional victory in the Sports Car Club of America world challenge during the track’s 50th anniversary year.

The storied racetrack continues to undergo a multi-million dollar facelift begun late last year after the new ownership group took possession of the facility. This fall, work began on a new state-of-the-art “event centre” which will house a media centre and luxury boxes for corporations to entertain VIPs.

The plan is to create a facility that has all the modern amenities needed to host just about any kind of road racing event. The only series that’s likely off of CTMP’s radar is F1, although the European-based Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters continues to make noise about holding events in North America. Now that the German touring car series has a pair of homegrown drivers in the field – 2012 series champion Bruno Spengler of St-Hippolyte, Que., and Guelph, Ont.’s, Robert Wickens – racing in this country becomes much more attractive.

Closer to home, there is now a void in Canada when it comes to the Nationwide Series, which was well-received in Montreal and always put on a great show. Fans wondering if the truck series’ move into Canada means that a Nationwide date for CTMP can’t be far behind will have to be patient, Cassidy advised.

“I’d say stay tuned for the future – we will never rule out anything,” he said.

“You know one door closes and another opens and that is certainly the case here. Sure it was a great event in Montreal we were up there for six years and had some good races, but we are in a new market – it’s a bigger market – and it’s going to be a great race for the truck series.”

While he’s now a track owner and hasn’t done anything yet about finding a ride in next September’s race, the lure of the inaugural NASCAR truck series race at CTMP may be too much for Fellows to resist.

And in case anyone is wondering, NASCAR’s 2013 rulebook has gone to print and there’s nothing in it that prohibits track owners from winning one of its sanctioned races at their own circuit.

“That’s good to know,” Fellows laughed when told that he was in the clear.

“I haven’t really thought about it and I will likely do some NASCAR road races next year. I am happy for the track, for [his partner] Carlo [Fidani], and for Canadian Tire that we have NASCAR coming to our track and whether or not I actually race in it is a ways away from being decided. But, I would not rule it out.”

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