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Frank Mount drives his MGA in 1961.

Stevens/Kielbiski Collection

Half a century has passed since the flag dropped on a late June weekend in 1961 to start the first Players 200 race and launch the newly opened Mosport Park circuit and Canadian road racing on to the international scene.

A near-record Canadian sporting event crowd of 40,000 turned up to watch European stars Stirling Moss (who won), Olivier Gendebien and Joakim Bonnier in action. But they weren't the first to race on what has since become hallowed pavement for Canadian racing enthusiasts.

There weren't any spectators at all on hand for Mosport's first event, staged by the Oakville Trafalgar Light Car Club a few weeks prior to the Player's 200, as a sort of work-the-bugs-out-weekend for the just-completed circuit. And it attracted just the usual bunch of keen clubman racers - including 20-somethings Frank Mount in his Twin Cam MGA and Walt MacKay at the wheel of his Formula Junior Lotus 18.

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This weekend, a still enthusiastically competing Mount, now 71 and driving an MG TC,and MacKay, 73, piloting a Ford Mustang, will help Mosport International Raceway (as it's now called) celebrate its 50th season.

They'll be competing in the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada's 31st Annual Vintage Racing Festival, which is expected to attract about 180 entries, including about 50 MGs from all eras that will take part in the MG Vintage Racers Focus Event. And MacKay and Mount likely won't be the only long-time Canadian racers on hand for those wishing to renew acquaintances with the stars and weekend warriors who've entertained fans for the past five decades.

Mosport was born of the burgeoning enthusiasm for road racing in Ontario in the 1950s, which was then conducted on tracks laid out on former Second World War training airfields. Having a "real" racetrack to compete on was a dream that began to take form in 1958 when the British Empire Motor Club formed a committee to look into the possibilities of creating a track. This soon led to the formation of Mosport Ltd. - Mosport is a contraction of Motor Sport - which over the next couple of years managed to somehow bring all the disparate elements together - including money, which doubled from an estimated $250,000 - and have asphalt laid in time for the May event attended by MacKay and Mount.

MacKay, who'd started racing in 1957, in an MG TC, actually had his first "drive" on the Mosport circuit in November, 1960, after turning up with friends to see what was going on in the countryside north of Bowmanville, Ont., about an hour east of Toronto.

What they found was a rough gravel roadway, which he says they "bumped around as far as turn three" before being blocked by a couple of bulldozers. "I was absolutely in awe of the magnitude of the undertaking, the long sweeping corners and the elevation changes," he says.

Mount, who started racing in an MG TC in 1958, also got an early taste of the track after being dragooned into taking some Toronto press types for a few fast familiarization laps in a factory Austin-Healey 3000 racer soon after the paving was complete. "Some guys were horrified, some loved it," he recalls.

Typical of road racing tracks of the time, Mosport was a narrow ribbon of asphalt draped over and around sandy, wooded hillsides with little in the way of run-off areas or guardrails. And Mount says only minimal driver safety equipment was required. "I think we needed a roll bar, a lap belt and a helmet, but you could drive in your shirtsleeves if you liked."

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MacKay - whose racing experience had been limited to airfield circuits at Harewood, Greenacres and St. Eugene and an outing on an early variation of the Watkins Glen track - recalls that first weekend this way.

"The weather was perfect and, to this day, I still have a lasting vivid memory of what an incredible feeling it was doing my very first reconnaissance lap around the track in the Lotus 18 - following a long line of cars out of the pit lane, around turn one, down two, up and around three, down four, up into 5A, seeing the first cars in the group rounding 5B and heading up the long back straight. I thought, wow! This is just like the European tracks I had seen in films and in photos in Road and Track. To this day, I consider Mosport to the most demanding track in North America and I'm still learning with every lap."

The only incident he remembers that first weekend occurred during his race. "A Cooper ended up perched on the steep banking on the outside of turn 10 with its driver hanging motionless out of the cockpit. Luckily, it turned out he was not seriously injured."

MacKay finished ahead of the pack in the formula car race and Sam Bird in a Triumph TR3 won the feature race for production sports cars. MacKay went on to finish first in his race during the Player's 200 weekend, and won the Eastern Canadian Formula Junior Championship.

Mount's previous experience had also been at Ontario venues - with one expedition to Watkins Glen - in his MG TC, which gave him "some idea" what a road circuit was like. "But mostly we raced on dead-flat airport circuits. Mosport was totally different, and fairly scary. With no run-off areas, you pretty much had to stay on the track. Going down into Moss's Corner there was nothing off to your right but trees and a creek."

He was also running much more quickly than he had in his old-fashioned MG TC as it was his first outing in his new Twin Cam MGA. The start was a bit hectic, he says. "Especially the pack going over the top of turn two, where it was blind, downhill and off-camber and we all weren't used to it. That was probably the most exciting part of the race."

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He doesn't recall his finishing position, but does remember "what a great feeling it was for us to finally have a road course to run. Mosport was state of the art, world class. And we had lots of fun there. It's always been about fun for me."

For information on this weekend's VARAC Vintage Racing Festival at Mosport International Raceway, go to www.varac.ca or www.mosport.com.

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