When sporting halls of fame deliberate on who to induct, they not only look for the stars of the game but also – and maybe even more importantly – for the people behind the scenes who built the franchises or contributed to the growth of the industry.
Tonight at a gala ceremony at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame will honour seven new members – and two of the new inductees fall firmly into that “builder” category.
Tony Novotny of London, Ont., is the man who unified late-model stock car racing in this country in 1981 when he created the Canadian Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (CASCAR).
After 25 years at the helm, Novotny stepped aside last year when he sold CASCAR to NASCAR – and the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series was born.
There are people with ideas who don’t act on them and then there are the real movers and shakers in our world and Novotny fits smack in the middle of that latter category. Yes, others may have dreamed of a national series for stock cars but Novotny did something about it and the rest is history.
Somebody else who was a walker and not just a talker is another of tonight’s inductees, Jack Christie of Keswick.
Christie created not just one national racing series, but two: the Canadian Tire Formula 2000 championship in 1981, which ran for seven years and had 56 entries at its peak; and the Rothmans-Porsche Challenge (later Turbo) Cup series in 1986, which lasted for five years.
An interesting sidebar is that Christie convinced Porsche’s head office to use the Canadian model to launch similar series in other countries – Germany, France and South Africa, for instance – and the Porsche 911 Super Cup program that still exists in Europe today is a direct offshoot of Christie’s Canadian brainwave.
Both Novotny and Christie were involved in their various series in ways other than inventing and promoting.
For instance, Novotny grew distressed with the low level of professionalism shown by the late-model community in the late 1970s. Drivers were racing in uniforms that looked like they’d never been laundered or dry-cleaned and the race cars themselves were often dented and dirty.
So when he started CASCAR, Novotny declared that all car bodies would be made of fibreglass – no dents allowed – and the car, driver and crew would have to pass inspection for appearance before being allowed on the track.
To ensure that sufficient fibreglass bodies were available, Novotny started his own fibreglass-fabricating business on the grounds of Delaware Speedway near London, which he owned and operated for many years.
Critics would argue that Novotny had it many ways with CASCAR – that he ran the series with an iron fist and you couldn’t participate unless you purchased your “car” from him. But his defenders would just as quickly add that having to do business with the boss was preferable to not having a national series.
Christie was perhaps more altruistic in his relationships with the drivers who raced in his series. At various times in their careers, Christie has been business agent for Ron Fellows, Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy, Patrick Carpentier and the late Greg Moore, among others.
Said Goodyear, in a letter supporting Christie’s nomination:
“Over the years, Jack was a mentor, a guidance counsellor, a manager, an attorney, and most of all a great friend. I’m not sure I could have navigated my way to the top of the sport without the assistance of Jack.
“He played many roles in my career, whether promoting my abilities to teams, arranging tests, working out contractual terms and then writing contracts for both team agreements and personal endorsement contracts. Our relationship was almost one of father and son.”
Others to be inducted tonight:
Alain Labrosse of Montreal was a champion motorcycle racer who went on to race cars, to manage circuits and racing schools (Shannonville), to represent drivers as a business agent (Alex Tagliani, Andrew Ranger) and to promote racing events (Champ Car in Montreal).
Billy Matthews of Vancouver, one of Canada’s many unknown motorcycle heroes, won the prestigious Daytona 200 twice.
The late Scott Fraser of Halifax, who was killed in a snowmobile accident, was one of the Maritimes’ most promising racing drivers when he died.
Ted Gryguc of Woodbridge was Canada’s leading outboard motorboat racer of the 1980s and 1990s.
Geoffrey Goodwin of Edmonton was an outstanding western Canadian drag racer.
KART SERIES CANCELLED
Shocking news from the world of karting. The Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship has been cancelled for the 2008 season.
Said Fellows in a release published on the Canadian Karting News website:
“While our championship, which started seven years ago in 2002, has touched several hundred karters in a positive way, I have a responsibility to Sunoco, our other corporate supporters and the karting community that we continue to provide growth and opportunity.
“During the previous six seasons, we have more than met our goals and objectives through the karting series as well as through our entry-level car racing program – Sunoco Team Ultra 94.
“At this time, I feel that we need to spend more time to better evaluate the competitive needs of the sport of karting in Ontario and how best to provide value to the karting community and our sponsors. …
“For 2008, we will continue our support of karting in other ways and look hard at the future beyond 2008.”
The cancellation of the Fellows karting competition leaves just the Brian Stewart Racing Karting Championship available in Ontario for competitors to challenge themselves.
Norris McDonald writes on motorsport every week in Wheels. firstname.lastname@example.org