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Craig Hill, 1934-2012: Motorsport loses a great friend

Published November 8, 2012

In the same week that the Castrol Tower was torn down at Old Mosport, about 200 friends and family gathered at a banquet hall in Oakville to bid farewell to “Mr. Castrol,” Craig Hill, who died Nov. 1 at age 78.

The tower, which started its existence in 1962 as the Esso Tower at what now is branded Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, was demolished Monday to make room for more pit stalls in anticipation of a NASCAR series race there in 2013.

The “celebration of life” for Hill, who won two national class racing championships in the late-1960s and early ‘70s before going on to direct marketing and promotion for Castrol Canada Ltd. (now Wakefield Canada), took place Wednesday.

While chatting with many in attendance at the celebration — and trust me, there was lots to celebrate when it came to Hill’s wonderful racing career, which started in stock cars at Pinecrest Speedway in 1952 and continued through sports cars and single seaters on road courses before ending in a Can Am TQ midget — I was reminded of our first meeting.

It was in 1970 at the long-gone Lord Simcoe Hotel at King St. and University Ave. in downtown Toronto and Hill, John Powell and Al Justason (who also died this year, on Sept. 1) were talking up an upcoming Formula A and B race at Mosport. While interviewing Craig, he’d set me straight on something pretty important.

“A good racing driver can race any kind of car,” he said. “It might take a bit of getting used-to, but talent is transferable.”

This was in reference to a remark I’d made about midget and Indy car driver Jigger Sirois showing up at Brainerd International Raceway with an old McLaren Can Am car for a U.S. Road Racing Association race and how dumb was that?

After being on the receiving end of what essentially was a mild dressing-down from Craig, I never made mistake again.

My tribute to Craig has been online since mid-week (you can find my columns and blogs at either wheels.ca or thestar.com/sports) so it’s time to hand off the baton. Here’s what others had to say:

“When my dad was racing, my brother and I got to travel from one end of this country to the other. How lucky could two kids be?”

“My association started with Craig as our English on-camera driver/host along with French driver/host Gilles Villeneuve in the Formula Atlantic series that was televised on CTV’s Wide World of Sports. And with Castrol support, Craig . . . found the money to help me produce the CASCAR Super Series that aired on Sportsnet, Speed, TSN and CBC.”

“I remember when we were both driving for Team Triumph, Craig in the TR, myself in the Spifire. Group 44, Bob Tullius’ team from the States, decided to come up to Mosport one race weekend to show us how it was done. Big mistake. Both Craig and myself beat them up pretty badly. Needless to say, they never came up again.”

“Craig was Ludwig Heimrath’s teammate on the Triumph racing team at Sebring in either 1964 or 1965. He also had the fastest Triumph GT6 I ever saw.”

“We both enjoyed all aspects of motor sports — road racing, oval track, asphalt and dirt. In winter months, we would watch 16 mm race movies from the Castrol archives and get together with Jim Paulson (RIP) and Bob McAllister (RIP) to watch the Daytona 500 on television.”

“It was an Atlantic race or Formula B in Debert, N.S. It was raining like hell and when I asked him about the slippery conditions, he said :

‘It was like driving on snot. And I swear I saw a lobster scurry across the track.’”

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