Toronto IndyCar race needs help again

My involvement with the biggest auto racing show in the GTA/Metro Niagara goes back long before the first actual “Molson" Indy Toronto in 1986.

While working at 680 CFTR Toronto, now 680 News, in the 1980s, an effort to rewrite auto racing in our vicinity was announced, as promoters wanted to bring The IndyCars, or ChampCars, the stars of the famed Indianapolis 500, to the streets of the provincial capital.

This was extremely exciting news for me, having been an avid IndyCar fan since childhood, so I knew I had to get involved with this high-velocity adventure.

Before that could happen, however, the plan had to clear several hurdles, in a mini-version of the current fight we face building The Canadian Motor Speedway.

Ironically at the time, I lived in the area directly adjacent to Exhibition Place, where the track would be built, so I saw and heard some loud opposition to the race from some of my neighbours.

However, the detractors were put in their place at a memorable Toronto City Council meeting. Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan listened patiently to opponents tell council an IndyCar race in Toronto would end life on the planet as we know it.

Then it was Danny’s turn to expound the positive virtues of the show.

When Danny started his presentation, opponents started heckling. In his best polite Kentucky aplomb, Sullivan told the hecklers “Y’all shut up!" He had listened to their confused and inaccurate reasons why the race was a detriment; now, they were going to listen quietly as he countered their claims and unfounded fears.

Council agreed with Danny and voted the Toronto Indy into reality, and the biggest names in IndyCar racing – Unser, Rahal, Andretti, Fittipaldi, Sullivan, Mears and Foyt – brought a loud and proud big-league auto racing tradition to our doorstep.

Local Torontonians added intensity with Scott Goodyear and Paul Tracy drawing hometown applause.

I had the privilege of calling The Toronto Indy on the track public address system with the late Jim Paulson from 1986 through to the birth of The Raceline Radio Network in 1993.

The race worked through a rough period, when internal politics split IndyCar racing into two warring factions, and attendance and car counts waned.

The Toronto dash had to go dark completely in 2008, when the divide in the sport, although healed, happened too late to get a workable date at the CNE.

Seven-time Toronto Indy winner Michael Andretti and his promotion company brought the race back to life, and the event is starting to get the old spark back.

Since ’93, Raceline Radio, and our Toronto network co-flagship station Sportsnet 590 The FAN has featured live trackside radio coverage of the race weekend, bringing guest drivers to our location, up front and personal with race fans.

This year, we plan to do the same thing, but a new challenge has surfaced.

We will need to work around the intrusion of The Pan-Am games, which announced they would be building event venues at Exhibition place for the games in July, forcing Indy promoters to move the race a month earlier as a single event after a couple of seasons of double-headers.

The 1.75-mile (2.8-kilometre), eleven-turn street course is unaltered, but the site around it has been compressed. An expansion of BMO Field, and a hotel under construction have also pinched down the elbow room.

It has forced us to go to a unique, cell phone remote system to the IndyCar paddock/pit area to get our driver interviews on the air.

The other challenge is the fact home-town hero James Hinchcliffe will have to miss the race, as he’s still recovering from that horrible crash while practicing for The Indianapolis 500.

It remains to be seen if not having “The Mayor of Hinchtown" will affect attendance at the 29th edition of “The Roar by The Shore," the 2015 Honda Indy Toronto. Thomas Tales/NiagraNews

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