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Motorsport Hall of Fame welcomes Dick Foley and Michael Andretti

Michael Andretti (left) discusses his car's performance with a crew member in the pits at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2001.

Robin Jerstad/REUTERS

The Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame welcomes its 2012 crop of inductees at its gala on Saturday, with Montreal's Dick Foley headlining the list of seven new members.

A more than worthy inductee, some motorsport fans might wonder why Foley isn't already in the hall. The fact that he was the only Canuck to start the first ever Daytona 500 back in 1959 should be enough to get him in. For reasons known only to the Hall of Fame, his nomination never made it through the selection process. So, rectifying that oversight with his belated induction is welcome and somewhat scandalously overdue. By the way, Foley finished a respectable 32nd out of 58 starters in the maiden Daytona 500.

His more famous — although many might argue it was infamous — achievement has to be causing the biggest pile-up ever in NASCAR when he instigated a 37-car wreck on the opening lap of a modified sportsman race at Daytona on Feb. 13, 1960. Foley lost control at the front of a huge pack in Turn 4 and chaos ensued. When the dust cleared, there were cars strewn everywhere on the track and the infield, and even one in the lake in the middle of the oval – but miraculously, no one was killed. Foley retired in 1962 and later became a track owner when he bought Quebec's Riverside Speedway.

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The other 2012 inductees joining Foley are sports car racer Rudy Bartling of Courtrice, Ont., rally driver Robin Edwardes of L'Orignal, Ont., rally competitor Paul Manson of Toronto, stock car racer and racetrack builder Ben Docktor of Calgary, and stock car racers Norm Ellefson of Spokane, Wash. and Greg Sewart of Halifax.

In the International category, IndyCar racer turned team boss Michael Andretti becomes the fourth to be inducted, joining previous inductees Bobby Rahal, a four-time Championship Auto Racing Teams (commonly known as CART and later Champ Car, which was swallowed IndyCar in 2008) champion, famed designer and racer Carroll Shelby and long-time Formula One medical officer Professor Sid Watkins. Michael Andretti is the son of 1978 Formula One world champion Mario.

In two decades of CART racing, Andretti took the chequered flag 42 times, including 10 wins in 32 starts in Canada. Along with a record seven victories in the Toronto Indy at Exhibition Place, Andretti also won three times on the now defunct False Creek street circuit in Vancouver. In CART, Andretti also raced three times at the Sanair Super Speedway in Saint-Pie, Que. and once at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.

Andretti retired from active racing following the 2003 Indianapolis 500, but stayed in the paddock as a team owner. His team has taken two IndyCar titles with Dan Wheldon in 2005 and Dario Franchitti in 2007.

Andretti's connection to Canada continued in 2012 when he signed James Hinchcliffe from Oakville, Ont. to race for his team. The 25-year-old racer will also be the guest speaker at the gala.

When he gets to the podium, Hinchcliffe might still be on a high from last weekend's fabulous performance on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., where he qualified sixth – though a penalty for an engine change put him 10 spots further back on the starting grid.

Undaunted, Hinchcliffe slowly weaved his way to the front and was lying fifth on the final lap when his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay tried an overly ambitious passing move on third-placed man Takuma Sato. The cars touched wheels, with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver nosing into the tires. Hunter-Reay was penalized 30 seconds for his aggressive move, which elevated Hinchcliffe into his first career podium finish in third.

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The IndyCar sophomore may also be sporting a clean shaven face for his address at the gala, after promising to remove his beard when he scored his first top-3 finish.

So far, hiring Hinchcliffe has looked like a great decision for Andretti. After three races, Hinchcliffe lies fifth in points with 95, and he is just eight markers out of second overall. The IndyCar points leader is Penske's Will Power with 127. Drivers get 50 points for a win. Hinchcliffe's teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay is sixth on 81 points while Andretti's son, Marco, is back in 18th overall with 45.

Hinchcliffe will need to talk fast and Andretti won't have much time to savour his new honour, as both must get back to Indianapolis to prepare to fly to Brazil next week for the Apr. 29 race on the streets of São Paulo. Last year, Hinchcliffe qualified 11th and finished ninth in Brazil driving for the now defunct Newman/Haas team.

The Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame opened in 1993 and has about 100 inductees from all forms of motor racing from across Canada. It is run by the Canadian Motorsport Heritage Foundation, which took over the hall three years ago.

The 18th annual Hall of Fame Gala takes place Saturday at Toronto's On the Park Events & Conference Centre. Tickets are $195 and may be purchased by calling 905 852 6764.

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Motorsports columnist

There's an old saying about timing being everything in racing and Jeff Pappone's career as a motorsport correspondent shows that it also applies to journalists covering the sport too. More

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