Years ago, when I was working on a column about stock car racer Mark Dilley, who was driving in a support race for that summer’s Molson Indy, we got talking about the number of people who attend motorsport events in Ontario every year.
Even we were surprised.
When you add up all the oval speedways (dirt and asphalt) and road courses (but leaving out Canada’s largest venue, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, plus the drag racing facilities, motocross courses and go-kart tracks), and then multiply the number of spectators and spectator events, the total is – to be frank – mind-boggling.
Dilley and I were guesstimating but we weren’t far off. According to an economic impact statement ordered by the Ontario Motorsports Promoters Group, an average of 120,000 people attend motorsport events during summer weekends every year (we have a lot of motorsport facilities in this province). That works out to 2.4-million people and the total economic impact on the province is $58,488,372, which is not a kick in the pants.
Here’s why I’m throwing these statistics at you today. Because all those people attend all those races at all those facilities, you would think the provincial government would be aware and somewhat interested, wouldn’t you? Fifty-eight-million-plus smackeroos isn’t hay. And while there are some in the government who are aware of all this, and get it, there are not enough of them and certainly not the people who count, like the MPPs who make up the inner cabinet.
Now, the motorsports industry, like everybody else, is aware that COVID-19 is a deadly disease and everything – from barber shops to small sporting goods stores – is shut down at the moment. But, at some point this year (fingers crossed), the province is going to come back to life.
Chances are it will be a slow opening. Grocery stores will only be able to operate at (I’m making this up) 50 per cent capacity. Only ‘X’ number of people will be able to attend a wedding, and so on. The motorsport industry would like to know where it’s going to land on this list so that it can start planning accordingly.
And the sooner the better because it’s been down this road before. Everybody was shut down a year ago last March and it was a summer of frustration.
“We put together our first plan last May, to open up with no spectators,” said Mark Rinaldi, owner of the Brighton Speedway, who took the lead with the promoters’ group, “The idea was to get track days for the racers, to let them do some practicing, which is what happened.
“Then we put together a plan with spectators. We had a meeting with the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries but they wouldn’t commit to anything. We pushed for a capacity-based plan rather than a hard cap. They came back at the end of June with a hard cap. You have Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) and Ohsweken (Speedway) and a hard cap of 100 people at those places is ridiculous.
“We lobbied hard all summer and never did get anywhere. Finally, in November, we got another meeting. That was when the government came in with the colour-coded system for the province. I said, ‘Let’s build a plan around this colour code. So, if you’re in green, maybe you get 50 per cent capacity, orange maybe 20 per cent and if you’re locked down, you’re locked down.’ We called it the Back to the Track Plan. Everybody, and that includes the government, agreed we should make that plan. But then I got no response and now we’re back at square one.”
Rinaldi said he and others worked really hard on the plan, which detailed everything from traffic flow to lineups for washrooms. “But they’re guidelines; every track has to take them and apply them to their own situation so long as they meet the intentions of the regulations. Having said that, I made it as detailed as possible. Anybody who wants to ask a question is going to have to work really hard to find something to ask about,” he said.
In a strange sort of way, Rinaldi feels as if he’s let his fellow track operators down. “We’re not any further ahead than we were last year,” he said. “I’m not expecting that we’ll get any special treatment. But what I do want to know is when we go back to green, yellow, orange and red, what can we do that makes any sense? If the plan we’ve come up with is completely out of touch, then tell me and give me some feedback.
“That’s the frustrating thing: you get the tracks to buy into this plan and we don’t know whether we’ll be allowed to use it. We just want to open up and do what makes sense. Last year, they let a 10-screen movie theatre have 50 people per screen for a count of 500 people. It makes no sense that an outdoor facility can have 400 fewer people than a movie theatre.”
He’s right. If you agree, call or write your MPP and request that they ask the minister in charge, Lisa MacLeod, to either give Rinaldi and the other promoters an answer or some feedback. In fact, you could clip (or print) out this column and mail it to her. Somehow, she and the others have to get the message.
Norris McDonald Special to Wheels
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