It was a crazy racing weekend.
At the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, during the WEC Six Hours of Spa, they were racing high-powered sports cars through rain, hail and snow. I do not believe I have ever seen a car race where it snowed. One May, years ago, there was a photo in the Globe and Mail that had been taken by the late Hans Gulde of racing driver Gunther Decker steering his Formula Ford around Corner 8 at what was then Mosport Park and there were snowbanks on either side of the circuit.
Who knows? If this keeps up, Pirelli, Bridgestone and Goodyear might have to start producing snow tires for races held in the spring and fall.
On this side of the Atlantic, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was in action at the Mid-Ohio track near Columbus. Although it didn’t snow, it was close to freezing and it had been windy and rainy. It stopped and the sun came out just before the race started Sunday but it had not been a weekend to remember.
There are just two weeks before the clan will gather at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Victoria Day Speedfest Weekend. Let’s hope spring really kicks in by then. I know most, if not all, of the short-track speedways in southern Ontario are either open or soon will be. But while the drivers might be having their jollies, the fans showing up are in their parkas and wearing winter gloves and sitting there praying for warmth.
It ain’t fun.
Okay, let’s get down to business. The Canadian success story of the weekend has to be open-wheel star Parker Thompson’s performance in the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup U.S.A. at Mid-Ohio. The Red Deer, Alta., ace won the Porsche race Saturday and finished second Sunday. Not too shabby for a kid who’s just learning to drive racing cars with roofs. (He’s won, or is leading in, two open-wheel championships and was second last year in the Pro Mazda Championship, part of the Road to Indy open-wheel racing ladder. And get this: in 79 career starts over all platforms, Thompson has 20 wins and finished on the podium 40 times. Those are Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart percentages.) And the guy who finished second on Saturday and won the race Sunday is yet another Canadian, Roman De Angeles of Windsor, Ont.
Bravo to both those young guys.
The disappointment of the weekend has to be the bad luck suffered by Richmond Hill’s Megan Gilkes, who crashed out of the very first race in the all-female W Series Championship that was held at Hockenheim in Germany. Finland’s Emma Kimilainen got out of shape going into the hairpin on the first lap and Gilkes, who started 14th, ran into the back of her car, putting them both out. Neither one was injured, thank goodness. The winner was Jamie Chadwick of England.
In an interview before the season started, Megan told me that while she wanted to win the championship, she fully expected to take a few races to get used to driving the powerful Formula 3 cars that are being used in the series. So I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news About the crash. In fact, I thought, all the great ones crash at the start of their careers – Hunt, Tracy, et al – so all Megan has to do is pick herself up, dust herself off and get ready for Race Two. She’ll do better. You watch.
Scott Maxwell is arguably Canada’s finest road-racing driver. His son, Ryan, won his first kart race of the season at the weekend. Like father, like son, apparently. . . . .
Rain forced postponement of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup race at Dover, Del., until Monday. The green flag will wave, weather permitting, at noon. TSN will cover it live. Chase Elliott, who won the Talladega 500 a week ago, will start from pole. . . . .
Christopher Bell, who really should be racing Cup (and Indy cars, if I’m honest), won his third NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season at Dover Saturday. And Johnny Sauter won yet another race in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, also at Dover. . . . .
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s No. 8 TS050 hybrid of Fernando Alonso, Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi won that race at Spa Saturday and sealed the world championship. Nobody can catch them going into the 24 Hours of Le Mans. . . . .
Kyle Kaiser, an Indy Lights champion of years gone by, will be one of 36 drivers vying for 33 starting spots in the Indianapolis 500 when qualifying is held in two weeks. Juncos Racing, which will run him, made the announcement at the weekend. . . . .
Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron teamed up to drive a Penske Acura ARX-05 Dpi to victory in Sunday’s Acura SportsCar Challenge at Mid-Ohio. Nothing like keeping it all in the Acura family, eh? A Penske Acura with Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor, won this race a year ago. Then they didn’t win again till Sunday. There’s a big Acura plant just around the corner, by the way. . . . .
In GT Le Mans racing, Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, as they did a year ago, drove their Porsche 911 RSR to Victory Lane at Mid-Ohio. In the GT Daytona class, Jack Hawksworth and Richard Heistand drove an AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 to victory. AIM, of course, is AIM Autosport of Woodbridge. Nice to see Canadians do well. . . . .
Cup driver Clint Bowyer is a card. Maximum Security got robbed of the Kentucky Derby win on Saturday (he didn’t impede the horse that couldn’t catch him and finished second and then got the win on the DQ – and it was that jockey who complained . . .) so shortly after, Bowyer Tweeted: “If for some dumbass reason I don’t win tomorrow, and run second, I will be protesting.” Those stewards, who are about as bright as the stewards in Formula One, do not realize the can of worms they opened with that really dumb decision. . . . .
Steve Torrence, the defending NHRA Top Fuel champion, won the 39th annual Arby’s Southern Nationals Sunday at Atlanta Dragway. Ron Capps won the Funny Car runoff, and Andrew Hines won the Pro Stock Motorcycle race. . . . .
Mark Marquez rode his Honda to victory in the MotoGP race at Jerez in Spain. By finishing first in the Spanish Grand Prix, Marquez took the lead in the world championship by a single point. . . . .
GOODBYE TO DEAN McNULTY
In this industry, it’s often out of sight, out of mind. A reporter, a columnist, a feature writer or a photographer stops working and they might have written millions of words over a lifetime in journalism and even been “must reads” in their day and yet when they die, they’re lucky to get a couple of paragraphs of tribute in the paper.
A few weeks ago, a guy named Clarke Davey passed. He’d been managing editor of the Globe and Mail and publisher of the Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette and the Ottawa Citizen. He’d once shut down the two Southam-owned Vancouver papers for nine months in a showdown with the unions. The unions blinked. He was a talented, powerful man in Canadian newspapers who’d been retired for some time and the Globe and Mail saw fit to devote a whole 10 inches to him.
Not Dean McNulty, who died last Monday at age 70 of leukemia. He hadn’t typed a word in more than two years and yet the reaction to his passing was as if he’d just written the centrespread in the Sunday Sun. James Hinchcliffe and Scott Goodyear both said wonderful words about him in a tribute posted on the racer.com website by writer Marshal Pruett. It’s still there if you want to take a look. The Sun’s other sportswriters, as well as Bill Pierce, the sports editor who’d come up with his nickname, the “Dean of Speed,” also paid tribute.
Dean, along with nine other Canadian media giants, was honoured by the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame at a gala celebration in February. It was announced at that time that he and the others were being welcomed into the Hall, with the formal induction planned for early 2020. I’m so glad, all things considered, that Dean knew he was being recognized for the years of work he’d put in writing about everything from small Ontario speedways to the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s. I was fortunate that he and his wife, Roxanne, were at the same table as my wife and me.
In recent years, the number of employed motorsport reporters in Toronto has dwindled. Jeff Pappone, who wrote wonderful articles for the Globe and Mail for years, was unceremoniously let go one day. Andrew Ross used to do great stuff every week in the National Post’s Driving section until some new managing editor went through the paper and decided Andrew’s stories should be in the Sports section. One problem: the Sports editor didn’t want them so Andrew found himself right out of the paper. If it wasn’t for Toronto Star Wheels, a weekly publication in a daily environment, my motorsport coverage wouldn’t be in the Star. Dean was the last of a vanishing breed of beat reporters whose job, every day, was to research and write about the sport.
He didn’t want to retire in 2016. He told me he wanted to hang in because, “If I go, the Sun won’t replace me. I really want to stay working because, otherwise, there won’t be any regular racing coverage in the Sun.”
But then his brother died, and that got him thinking. Then his son died, and that sealed the deal. He and Roxanne sold their house in Bowmanville and moved to the Ottawa Valley to be near their grandchildren. And then he was diagnosed with leukemia, which finally got him.
Dean and I had a kind of sibling rivalry. I loved the guy – but we were competitors and so while we were newspaper buddies, we didn’t socialize away from the job. I regret that. I still think that everybody is going to live forever, starting with me, and I’ve been cooking up some journalism ideas in recent months and I was going to ask Dean to be on the team. He’d told me in February that the leukemia seemed to be in remission, so I let my guard down. Another sad lesson learned.
He did have an advantage over the rest of us, in that while he was on the job he got to travel to many of the big NASCAR and IndyCar races that the rest of us couldn’t. We’d all make it to Indianapolis, one way or another, and to Montreal for the Grand Prix. But other than that, he was flying while the rest of us were grounded.
But this was the most wonderful thing about Dean McNulty. He never lorded that advantage over anybody. There was never any of the “I’m going to Dover and you’re not” snootiness that other writers – political writers, in particular – exhibit on occasion. Instead, he would take his assigned seat at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the Speedfest, or IMSA, or whatever, and he’d call everybody together and tell us the gossip from the NASCAR garage, or the rumours around the IndyCar paddock. And he’d deliver a punch line and chuckle with glee along with everybody else. He really was a treasure.
Dean didn’t always write about the motor sport. He was a news reporter and editor in his younger years and it was only after he arrived at the Sun in 1979 that he concentrated on sports. And that brings me to one of my favourite Dean McNulty stories.
He’d been sent to cover a soccer press conference. Soccer wasn’t the big deal around here then that it is today and so there was frequently a stand-offish-ness exhibited by the participants when it came to dealing with the press. So Dean, to get the ball rolling, asked the subject of the press conference a question that experts of the game might have considered naïve. The condescension was dripping off the reply. Dean was quick on the trigger.
“Listen you!” he hissed. “It’s my job to ask the questions and it’s your job to answer them. SO ANSWER THAT QUESTION!!”
I can see him now – chin out and eyes blazing. There was no condescension shown him after that.
Pappone, who’s a member of the Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame, represented the Hall at the funeral Saturday in Arnprior. After it was over, he sent me the following note:
“It would be difficult to find someone who loved his job or motorsport more than Dean. He travelled constantly through the racing season and never failed to smile and laugh no matter how grueling it became.
“Dean also cared about the next generation when it came to drivers and reporters. So many young racers in Canada saw their names in print because of Dean, which helped them push their careers forward and find success. And young reporters on the racing beat could always count on a kind word or helpful tip from Dean, myself included.
“His greatest professional love had to be covering races in his own backyard in Bowmanville at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. He simply adored being at that track. I have to thank CTMP co-owner Ron Fellows for bestowing Dean the honour of Grand Marshal for the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 race weekend. I don’t think Dean could have felt more honoured.”
Well said, Jeff. And by the way, Dean: you were right. You retired and the Sun stopped covering auto racing on a regular basis. Not much makes it into the papers these days except the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays (let’s hear it for that kid Guerrero, the superstar with the one hit) and FC which is maybe one of the many reasons they’re all having trouble keeping their heads above water, but I digress.
So long, old friend. As Chris Economaki would write, R.I.P.