NASCAR, Formula One will be available on regular cable TV, but you’ll pay extra for other series

I have good news and bad news about that.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald January 27, 2020

The auto racing off-season is finally over. For those of you lucky enough to have the Velocity channel on your cable system, you will be able to watch the entire IMSA 24 Hours of Daytona that starts Saturday afternoon and concludes exactly a day later. Which brings me to the first topic of today’s wide-ranging racing catch-up column: what will be available on “free” TV this year and what you will have to pay a premium to watch.

I have good news and bad news about that. But first, we have to define our terms.

Everything costs money these days. Basic cable, regardless of your provider, costs around $25 a month. You can usually watch major NASCAR, F1 and the Indy 500 and Honda Indy Toronto races on basic cable. Sports packages, movie packages and so-on cost extra and that’s where you’ll find your F1 and NASCAR add-ons (practice, qualifying, etc.). Cable or satellite companies will also place some niche programming (sports car racing, for example) on channels that aren’t part of their many packages and don’t normally attract a lot of viewers to force the few fans that are interested to ante-up. They do this, simply, to generate sufficient capital to justify carrying those channels.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, the good news is that things will remain pretty much status quo as far as TSN’s coverage of our favourite sport is concerned. The full Formula One package will be back – Friday practice, Saturday qualifying and 4-5 hours of coverage Sunday that will include the actual race. TSN’s F1 coverage will begin with the Australian Grand Prix on March 13.

A TSN spokesman added that European Formula 2 races, which were added to the TSN schedule last year and preceded F1 races on race day, would be back again in 2020.

Good news continues for NASCAR fans. The full and complete NASCAR Cup championship will again be televised by TSN, as will races in the Xfinity Series. Cup racing will include practice and qualifying.

The season will get under way in two weeks — Feb. 9, to be exact — with Daytona 500 qualifying and the running of the Busch Clash. (Hooray! Despite numerous name changes over the years, I’ve never called this race anything other than the Busch Clash, so I’m glad to see that they have gone full circle and are calling it again what I’ve been calling it all along.) The Daytona 500 qualifying races on Thurs., Feb. 13, will precede what sportscaster Ken Squier calls the Great American Race , the Dayyy-tona Five-hunnert, which will go to the post on Sunday, Feb. 16.

Can’t wait.

Finally, TSN will again broadcast, on tape delay, all races in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series for late-model stock cars that will determine the national driving championship. That series will get under way in May at the Victoria Day Speedfest, held annually at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The only NASCAR racing series not on TSN is the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, which is the property of Fox Sports. If your cable company doesn’t offer the Fox Sports Racing channel, you’re out of luck. TSN has tried to pry the trucks away from Fox but the American firm isn’t interested, which is a shame, considering the truck series races at CTMP every Labour Day weekend and Canadian Stewart Friesen is one of the series’ biggest stars.

Finally, the Mopar CSBK National Motorcycle road-racing series will return to TSN with all races on tape-delay.

Now the bad news. Unless new NTT IndyCar Series owner Roger Penske decides to do something about it (doubtful), only a few of the series’ 17 races will be available on so-called regular TV. There could be a last-minute surprise. But unless something like that happens (an intervention), IndyCar fans will either have to continue to pay extra for a premium Sportsnet channel or subscribe to a Rogers Internet streaming channel.

It is an irritant, to be sure, but when you get right down to it the only “free” racing coverage available is F1 and NASCAR. If you want to watch IMSA sports cars, you have to pay extra to get Velocity (although TSN broadcasts an hour of highlights after each race), just like you do to watch the Indy cars.

And I fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Before long, F1 and NASCAR will only be offered on premium channels, too. And whether it’s two years, five years or 10 years, baseball and hockey and NFL football will all be premium offerings as well.

It’s the way of the world now. We might not like it – but we’d better get used to it.

Speaking of Formula One, we will have two Canadian drivers running the whole world championship series for the first time in history this season (Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi) and there are rumours that there could very well soon be a second Canadian team owner In F1 after Lawrence Stroll. (No guessing, now . . . .)

Latifi, who signed to drive for Williams, announced in recent days that the number on his car this season will be 6, after Drake’s calling Toronto “the Six.” Said Latifi: “If you live in Toronto, you have either a 416 or 647 area code, so that’s why it’s called “the Six.” Silly me. I always thought it was because present-day Toronto is made up of the six old municipalities – the city plus Etobicoke, York, East York, North York and Scarborough. Hence, “the Six.” But what do I know?

Hey, didja see where McLaren poached one of Williams’s main sponsors? Those folks in F1 are a lovely bunch, eh? I still maintain the real reason McLaren went back to IndyCar was to get their claws into Arrow Electronics and that at some point they will desert the American series to concentrate on F1 and they will take Arrow with them. You watch.

Talking about Toronto-area race drivers, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville has signed to represent high-tech firm Genesy and to race in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 in May. No word yet on the team that will run him or whether there will be enough left over in the budget for him to race in the Honda Indy Toronto next July.

Over the years, oval track racers have often found the four months between December 1 and April 1 to be too long between drinks. So they had to find a place to race. Many would head for the paved New Smyrna Speedway or the dirt Volusia Speedway Park in Florida to race late models, modifieds and sprint cars during February’s Daytona Speedweeks, while others would head west to Phoenix International Raceway for the Copper Classic, where stock cars, midgets and supermodifieds would line up to do battle. Everybody had a good time.

But a new gathering of the clan has since materialized. Called the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, it’s held inside an industrial fair arena in Tulsa, Okla. Drivers of midget race cars compete on a 1/4-mile dirt oval speedway. Around 350 entries are received every year from full-time midget series drivers as well as from drivers who normally race in NASCAR, IndyCar and the NHRA. In short: just about everybody. A week of preliminary races – heats, dashes and features – are held to whittle the field down to the 24 (plus optional starters) who will take the green flag for the A Main.

The 2020 Chili Bowl was held last Saturday night and those fortunate enough to have MAV-TV on their cable package got to see it. Won by NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Larson, he had this to say in Victory Lane (paraphrase): “This is a message to NASCAR and to Daytona, I have never been more excited to win a feature in my life.”

That’s how important real racers are treating this race.

One Canadian was entered this year, Holly Porter, who made it as far as the B Main a week ago Wednesday night before being eliminated. Frankly, to have made it that far is a real feather in her cap. But by the time the 2021 Chili Bowl rolls around, Rob Howden, who’s publisher and editor of eKartingNews.com and part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network announcing team, wants to see at least one more Canadian in the field.

His pick? Parker Thompson, 21, of Red Deer, Alta., who’s been making waves – and winning championships – in formula cars, sports cars and touring cars. And Thompson is champing at the bit to get out there, Howden says, adding: “I want to do this for Parker, who’s a great young Canadian racer and I want to do it to publicize the Road to Indy program where Parker has been racing in recent years.”

Chili BOWL

To do all of this, of course, takes money. Not a ton, but some. As well as partnering with a top team, which would prepare a top car, Howden has to prepare Thompson for the challenge. He has to send him to a midget/sprint car dirt oval driving school so that when he takes to the track in Tulsa next January, he won’t get eaten alive. And he wants to enter him in a couple of warm-up races, too, to get him feeling even more comfortable.

Jeff Fields of Brandit Designs was among the first out of the gate to get involved in this project. He’s already sent Howden a design for the car and uniforms for what Howden plans to call Team Canada.

So, would you like to get involved? You can reach Howden via Twitter at @RobHowden. And if he pulls this off, I might just have to go out to Oklahoma for the Chili Bowl and cover it.

OK, moving right along. Here are a couple of quick items:

Treyten Lapcevich, son of Jeff and younger brother of Cayden, who was the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Rising Star a few years ago, has the budget to run a minimum of three races in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series this year. Treyton, a gifted student as well as being a marvellous young athlete, is expected to make his Pinty’s debut at the Victoria Day Speedfest at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in May.

Billy Foster, inducted into the Hall of Fame as the first Canadian to drive in the Indianapolis 500 when it turned out he was really the sixth, was killed while practicing for a NASCAR stock car race at Riverside, Calif., 53 years ago this week. Billy, of Victoria, B.C., was great pals with Mario Andretti. One year, they bought a used McLaren Group 7 car together, took it to the Nassau Speed Weeks and took turns driving it in races. Andretti swore after Foster was killed that he would never again get close to another race driver, the heartbreak being almost too tough to take.

Billy Foster

Tom Cuzzilla Sr., who raced at Pinecrest and the CNE Speedways back in the day, winning four stock car championships along the way, has died. Born in Windsor, he is particularly remembered for winning a feature at the long-gone Wasaga Beach Speedway by taking the checkered flag while his car was upside down and spinning backwards across the finish line.

Norman (Bubby) Jones, who won races in USAC (nearly 30) and CRA sprint car competition (two championships) back in the 1980s, has died. Jones said the highlight of his career was when he made the field for the 1977 Indy 500, where he finished 21st. A barber by trade, he worked and raced alongside another tonsorial practitioner, Larry (Boom Boom) Cannon.

Oh, and before I forget. My pick to win this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona? Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi and Helio Castroneves in an Acura ARX-05 entered by Team Penske.

Norris McDonald is a former Star editor who is a current freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @NorrisMcDonald2