George Webster’s race listings: Passion for racing sparked second career
Is this race at Bristol the day race or the night race? What time zone is Formula One in this weekend? And which network is it that’s showing IndyCar these days?
Fortunately for Canadian race fans, the answers to these questions and many more can be found in the popular feature George’s TV Listings for Race Fans, which returns to wheels.ca today after a holiday season hiatus.
The man behind the listings, 73-year-old George Webster, is a lifelong resident of southern Ontario and a true gift to the Canadian motorsport world.
The concept of the TV listings began simply enough. In the early 1990s, Webster was a member of a racing-themed forum on CompuServe, a predecessor to the Web. When another user started compiling weekly television listings for race fans in the United States, Webster thought it would be helpful if he did the same for Canadians.
In 2001, as his collaborator retired and the Internet gained steam, Webster realized the potential for serving a wider audience.
“I set up a website on my own and started publishing listings for a U.S. and Canadian audience,” he recalls. “I called it RaceFanTV. I ran that for about eight years and got some donations, got a bit of advertising, but I never really got a lot of money out of it. It was just a labour of love.”
Eventually, Webster’s website was purchased — for a modest sum, he concedes — and he continued to supply content as an employee. When he walked away at the end of 2011, he fully intended to quit entirely.
But as a new season was set to begin, Webster felt a void. He approached Toronto Star Wheels, and the feature has been a cornerstone of wheels.ca’s motorsport coverage ever since.
As for Webster himself, there is a great deal more to him than meets the eye.
His extremely broad and deep pool of motorsport knowledge stretches back to 1955, when his love of racing began in rural Huron County between the pages of magazines: Mechanix Illustrated, Motor Trend, and Road and Track, to be specific.
In Road and Track, Webster found an ad for a race in Edenvale, Ont., organized by the British Empire Motor Club.
“Because I wasn’t old enough to drive, I talked my brother into driving up to this race,” he says.
“I was full of all this stuff about American cars that Tom McCahill (of Mechanix Illustrated) had told me. I get there and there are MGs, MG TCs, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys and Jaguars.
“But there was this one Ferrari race car, and it seemed like it was a foot high off the road and it went twice as fast as everything. It was just like a religious conversion for me. I went from being an American car guy to sports car guy, and totally committed to road racing.”
That commitment spanned many years, as Webster became deeply involved in racing.
After stumbling into an officiating role with the London Auto Sport Club in 1957, he became an officer of the Canadian Automobile Sports Clubs, Ontario Region, eventually becoming race chairman for Ontario and joining the national executive.
By 1969, the politics had become too much for him. He walked away and re-evaluated his involvement in motorsport.
“I want to be near the action,” Webster recalls thinking. “I want to have credentials, but I don’t want to be a race official. I thought, ‘I know what I’ll do: I’ll be a photographer.’ ”
Through his connections at F1, Webster attended the very first U.S. Grand Prix in Long Beach, Calif., as a photographer. He sent those photos to a now-defunct publication, Wheelspin News, based in Mississauga. He became a contributing photographer, and eventually a writer, covering F1 for them for six years.
Webster also acted as chief steward of the Canadian Grand Prix from 1977 to 1980.
Toward the end of that stint, however, disillusion struck again; this time with F1 and its inability to handle the controversy of the ground-effect skirts.
“It was extremely dangerous,” he says, “and they didn’t seem to be able to respond in a meaningful or timely way to that threat.”
This caused Webster to again step back and take stock of what racing meant to him at its heart.
“I read a quote from somebody who said that, ‘In Formula One, it’s the young guys who drive because the bravest driver wins’,” he says. “Well, that’s not racing.”
“I’d started covering NASCAR for Motoring News, and I thought, ‘It’s old guys who are winning,’ guys who at that time were approaching 40.
“I figured out what’s obvious in retrospect: If old guys win over young guys, it’s not bravery; it’s intelligence. It’s smarts.”
This revelation caused Webster to shift his focus from covering F1 road racing to covering NASCAR and Indy car racing.
In addition to Wheelspin and Motoring News, he spent two years covering CART for National Speed Sport News under the guidance of Chris Economaki. And he contributed to local magazine PRN’s second issue in 1988, and still writes for them today.
Perhaps the most amazing part of Webster’s story is that, throughout it all, he worked full-time as a high school teacher. His worlds did occasionally collide.
“My students knew that I was interested in racing, whether they liked it or not,” he recalls. “But I didn’t tell the stories of how I could go to the Daytona 24 hours or the Daytona 500, and be in class on Friday and Monday, which I did many times.”
Despite the many career paths Webster has walked, he comes across as enduringly humble.
“First and foremost, I’m a race fan,” he says. “If I wasn’t doing this, I’d wish somebody else was doing it for me. I think I’m the only source in Canada of TV listings for race fans, so I’m happy that I can share my passion with them and provide this service.”
Check out Webster’s TV Listings for Race Fans, which returns to wheels.ca today.