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Christmas gifts for motor racing fans

It's that time of year again when motorsports writer Norris McDonald devotes his column to making Christmas gift suggestions.

Anybody who knows me knows that when it comes to motor sport, I love to:

A. Go to races.

B. Write about racing.

C. Read about racing.

D. Watch movies about racing.

And it gives me almost as much pleasure, at this time of year, to recommend gifts you can give your loved ones that can be found in the above four categories.

So, without further ado, here are some suggestions for Christmas 2010.

Many Southern Ontario race tracks, and promoters of special racing events, have tickets available already for their 2011 presentations. Check your favourite speedway’s website for details but don’t forget about a couple of heavyweight attractions.

For instance, tickets for the Honda Indy Toronto — the 25th anniversary of Indy car racing through the streets of the city, by the way — are available for gift-giving. The 2011 race will take place from July 8-10, with prices ranging from $30 for Saturday general admission to $423 for gold seating the whole weekend in the Lake Shore Lounge.

For a full list of prices, and to purchase tickets, visit hondaindytoronto.com/tickets or call 1-877-503-6869.

Mosport always has tickets available at Christmas for the upcoming year’s events and the big attraction in 2011, of course, will be the American Le Mans Series weekend, which next year will be held July 21-24.

To purchase tickets and/or holiday gift certificates, call the Mosport Hotline at 1-800-866-1072 (Monday to Friday from 9 to 5) or email info@mosport.com

And if you think your loved one might be more interested in participating, as well as, or instead of, watching, how about considering a “Thrill of a Lifetime” gift certificate, starting at $295, from the Bridgestone Racing Academy at Mosport?

That’s where they strap you into a Formula Ford and turn you loose. For more details, dates when the thrills are on offer, and prices, etc., go to race2000.com/giftcertificates

Now, once again, let’s take a tour of the specialty shops I’ve been known to frequent – this year in alphabetic order:

CAR BUFFS AUTO GIFT CENTRE Square One, Mississauga 905-949-9707

Owner John Cuschieri always tries to have something a little different to get you into his store, which really has everything for sale from motoring books and CDs to toys and clothing — not to forget the framed, autographed pictures of world-famous drivers.

“This year, I have a 1/18th Mercedes-Benz SLS here at the shop that’s covered with over 7,000 Swaroski crystals,” John says. “There are only 250 available world-wide. It retails for $1,800.”

Okay, John. I’ll pass that on.

“I have Sebastien Vettel world champion caps and tees for $55 and, speaking of Formula One, I have the FIA F1 DVD review of the 2010 and 2009 seasons — the 2009 season wasn’t available last Christmas — for $29.95.

“Finally, your readers might be interested in the 3-D car wall shelves I have here. They’re the front end of American classic cars, ’57 Chevy, ’59 Caddy, ’69 Charger and so-on, and they’re eight inches high and about three feet wide and they retail for $119.95.”

Sounds interesting, John. I’ll be in for a look.

COLLECTOR STUDIO MOTORSPORT GALLERY 136 Yorkville Ave., Toronto 416-975-5442, collectorstudio.com

Owner Morry Barmak reminds me of Indiana Jones.

As “Indy” searches the world for lost artifacts, so does Morry. But instead of Holy Grails and crystal skulls, Barmak tracks down things like the driving suit Steve McQueen wore during the filming of the 1971 classic movie, Le Mans, and a Simpson crash helmet that Gilles Villeneuve used during some practice sessions with Ferrari but never during a Grand Prix.

Regarding the McQueen suit, Morry says it took him 13 years to get hold of it (gee, it only takes Harrison Ford about two hours. . . )

“It’s a two-piece Nomex cream uniform made by Hinchman of Indianapolis,” Morry says. “The uniform bears the name ‘Michael Delaney’ (McQueen’s character) as well as the pertinent sponsors — Gulf, Heuer, Firestone — and the American flag. It’s fully documented.”

Morry says he was as surprised as 99 per cent of Villeneuve fans (including me) to find that Gilles had worn a helmet other than the familiar Bell helmet (1977-’79) and the GPA (1980-’82). “But during testing in 1979, he wore my Simpson Bandit helmet and I have photo documentation of him wearing it.”

Wow. But that’s Morry.

For prices, etc., you will have to phone or email him. Have your credit card ready.

MINI GRID 608 Mount Pleasant Rd., Toronto 416-488-7663, minigrid.com

Racing driver Scott Maxwell owns this mid-town Toronto shop and says that his big seller every year at this time is the Autocourse F1 Annual, in which everything you would ever want to know about every one of this season’s Grands Prix is included. And the pictures are wonderful.

Scott says you can pre-order, as the book won’t arrive till Dec. 17 (which is the case every year, by the way). It will retail at Mini Grid for $85.

Oh, speaking of Formula One, Scott says he has a good supply of Ferrari Rosso Corsa 211 calendars. “This is a very high quality calendar and is the official Ferrari F1 calendar,” Scott says. It can be yours for $45.

Now, as I mentioned at the start, I also love to watch racing movies — particularly old racing movies. Well, Mini Grid has a bunch of Hollywood car and bike movies that are selling for between $15 and $24.

Among them are: The Big Wheel, starring Mickey Rooney (I fell in love with car racing while watching that movie in 1951; just thought I’d toss that in . . . ), Winning, with Paul Newman (which is a really underestimated racing movie, in my opinion), Viva Las Vegas (with Elvis and Ann-Margret and is one of my wife’s favourites), On Any Sunday (another McQueen film, this time about motorcycle racing), and on and on.

I told Scott about The Big Wheel and he said he might buy a copy for himself.

TORONTO MOTORSPORTS 283 Port Union Rd., Toronto 416-724-7223, tomotorsports.com

I talk to all of these merchants about the state of their businesses (and 2009 was not great, let me tell you; in fact, two shops I’ve written about over the years are no longer open) and this east-end Toronto store’s co-owner, Derrick Mostka, had some revealing things to say.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel for us,” he said in conversation, “but we’re noticing a difference when we order product. Companies up the line are being very careful about what they produce, and how much they produce, and that filters down to us.”

That doesn’t mean Toronto Motorsports doesn’t have lots for sale. Far from it.

“In fact, we have an exclusive,” said Derrick. “We are the only Toronto-area retailer with a supply of the TV show Top Gear’s ‘I am the Stig’ official T-Shirts and we’re selling them for $26.99.”

For fans of Top Gear, that is great news. If you aren’t familiar with the BBC Canada program, A) you’re missing something, and B) it’ll take too long to explain who “the Stig” is. Sorry.

“Something else we’re selling lots of is Sound Racer,” said Derrick. “This is a great toy for sports car enthusiasts who can’t afford the real thing. You plug this into your cigarette lighter, which then sends a signal to your car radio that matches your engine’s revs and it makes your car sound like a muscle car.

“We’re going through a lot of them and they retail for $49.99.”

Thanks Derrick. Talk to you in a year.

TRANSPORT BOOKS AT DRB MOTORS LTD. 16 Elrose Ave., Toronto 416-744-7675, transportbooks.com

Jim Roseborough is the proprietor of this northwest Toronto business and he always has something philosophical to say when I call him for this article.

“Racing has a very long history,” he says. “The urge to get there ahead of the next guy is probably older than the human race.”

Which is true — but what once was considered acceptable is no longer tolerated and this is illustrated perfectly in a book Roseborough has for sale entitled, Woodward Avenue: Cruising the Legendary Strip, by Robert Genat ($39.95).

Anybody who’s been to Detroit knows that you emerge from the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel and go right onto Woodward Avenue, which in the Fifties and Sixties was the place to go if you were looking for a drag race. Wide and smoothly paved, it was a road that went on forever.

Detroit was Motor City then, and the Big Three manufacturers originally conceived the muscle car to please the Woodward Avenue crowd. Roseborough says the book is a great read for anybody curious about street racing back in the day.

Now, while you can buy a Stig T-shirt at Toronto Motorsports, you can get the DVD, The Best of the Top Gear TV Series at Transport Books. There are 10 to choose from in stock and all feature hosts Jeremy Clarkson (a Wheels columnist, by the way), Richard Hammond, James May, the stunt driver known as “the Stig,” and hundreds of cars.

Each DVD runs anywhere from 60 to 100 minutes and retails for $24.99.

PRESTIGE AUTO ART & GIFT GALLERY, 101 Yorkville Ave., Toronto 416-929-9090, prestigeautoart.com

Okay, I said these vignettes would be in alphabetical order but we traditionally end this particular column at Joe Russo’s shop on Yorkville Ave. and so here we are.

Joe is one of the most enthusiastic and animated retailers I talk to each year and always has a tonne of information at hand — chief among them this year being that he expects to move his business next April and asks his customers to keep an eye on his website to find his new location.

But, meantime, Joe has product to move and wants you to know he has Super Cars in stock “and I don’t normally have as many on hand so there are some great deals.”

“I have some Bugatti 16.4 models, six different cars in six different two-tones and they are on sale for between $185 and $200. I have some of the Swedish supercar, Koenigsegg CCX, which has really funky doors and goes for $170.

“I have some wacky Speed Freaks characters, which are hand-painted models from the British cartoon series. They go for $75 apiece. I have a 1/18th McLaren F1 road car available for $200. I have a Porsche 959 in three different colours for $130. I have . . . “

Okay, Joe. Time to wrap this up — and for people to wrap up all those gifts they’re going to purchase from you and the others.

As usual, it’s been a pleasure researching and writing this annual column and I just want to wish everybody reading this:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Norris McDonald writes a

motor racing blog at wheels.ca

nmcdonald@thestar.ca

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