Children are full of surprises. That’s one of their finest qualities. For instance, many years ago my mother found my four-year-old brother teaching our pet rabbit “how to swim” in our wading pool. This surprised her. As children age their propensity to surprise does not diminish. I doubt, for example, that when I was born my parents thought I would one day mark the death of comedian John Belushi by holding a toga party in their house the one night they were out of town. Nevertheless, there they were the day after asking their 15-year-old son why there were safety pins in most of the bed linen and grape juice stains on several walls.
Not all surprises are dismaying.
I recently had a pleasant surprise when my 17-year-old daughter informed me that she wanted to go to Castrol Victoria Day Speedfest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. She was keen to see the event’s signature race, the eBay Motors 200 featuring round two of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, Canada’s national stock car championship.
This surprised me. It surprised me a lot.
I have not attempted to foster my love of cars and driving in my children. I’ve made a point of it. The automobile in the “Scrolling Twenties” is not the symbol of independence and freedom it once was. Bonding over repairing an engine was never in the cards; I am mechanically inept and would have trouble fixing a stapler. Besides, I felt it best to follow their leads. My daughter has a passion for art and theatre and has never exhibited any real interest in cars or racing. So, her desire to see NASCAR struck me like a thunderbolt.
Turns out, the Canadian Tire where she works part-time was giving out free tickets to employees. She had scooped up a few and wanted to go up with a friend who was obsessed with Formula One. Her friend intended to watch the F1 race on her mobile while watching the NASCAR race in person. At this point, I was wondering if I was on a hidden camera show.
Regardless, I was delighted.
I’ve been to plenty of motorsports. I know that until you have been to a race, whether it’s Superbike, NASCAR, F1 or Indy, you can’t understand what an intoxicating and fascinating adventure it can be. That said, if there is one thing a parent can do, it’s take an otherwise pleasurable experience and drain it of all fun. Would I be that person, “Dadsplaining” NASCAR to teenage girls? Killing a love of motorsport with every reference to tires and tactics?
As it turned out, I was lucky enough to use my stature as a journalist who writes insightful pieces on orange cones to arrange a short tour of Canadian Tire Motorsport Track with its head of marketing, Sam Fellows. Fellows is a racer. He made his NASCAR Pinty’s Series debut in 2021, finished 12th overall in series points and second in the Rookie Championship. He is also the son of racing legend Ron Fellows, who, along with his wife Lynda and businessman and philanthropist Carlo Fidani, purchased the track in 2011.
Sam Fellows drove us around the track, which was designed by Alan Bunting and opened in 1961, and discussed the nuances of the different straights and turns. He explained how, in 1960, legendary F1 racer Sir Stirling Moss recommended that the single-radius carousel hairpin at the south end be squared off into a 90-degree right which would be followed by another right that led onto the back straight. Today these turns (5a and 5b) are one of the track’s signature challenges known as “Moss Corner.” For some strange reason, having the nuts and bolts of racing explained by a professional driver was more interesting to my daughter than if it had been dispensed by me, a person who is afraid of bicycles.
After the tour, we met with my daughter’s friend, who had come up with her father and younger brother. We set up by turn 1, so we could see the cars coming out of the pit and have a decent view of the track, as well as easy access to the food stands nearby. The 51-lap race did not disappoint. The roar of the motors, the smell of petrol and the force and velocity of the high-performance automobiles as they fly past, creates an indescribable music, a symphony played by human being and machine.
In many respects, watching a NASCAR race live, or any motorsport event, is well-suited to conversing with a teenager. There is no pressure to conduct long discussions because the sound of the cars renders speech inaudible every minute or so. My daughter and her friends lined up at the fence and kept track of the drivers and noted the cars with dents. The race was won by 19-year-old Treyten Lapcevich, who, executed a masterful last-corner “bump and run” on veteran racer Marc-Antoine Camirand.
After it was all over, I asked them where their interest in racing began.
“With the Cars movies,” my daughter replied. “Watching all those Cars movies. Lightning McQueen. And then later Ford v Ferrari.”
So much for Hollywood ruining our youth.
In a few weeks Canadian Tire Motorsport Park hosts the 43rd annual VARAC Vintage Grand Prix. It’s a Father’s Day weekend featuring a field of open and closed wheel race cars from last six decades. Who knows, this shared passion for racing may be habit-forming.