Sunday, September 1, 2013

Venerable Old Mosport Racing

I recently just watched a Labour Day event that took place at this wonderful race track just north of the town of Bowmanville, Ontario. It has and will always be known to me as Mosport Park (moss-port or mose-port, either will do) as Max Papis referred to it at the NASCAR truck race that took place that weekend. Seems the quality of driver and race was better back in the day before Mosport became Canadian Tire Motorsports Park or whatever it is now. The same thing like the Rogers Centre will always be the Skydome for me. I understand the need for sponsorship money to keep these event locations going but they should learn how to incorporate the historically significant name but that is part of the overall problem that racing, like all other sport, is now just a business so winning at any cost seems to be OK.

And so at this race the final lap and the final turn showed that several drivers just “dumped” the guy that was ahead of them and everyone who did that said they didn't like to win that way, or whatever, except Max, who is an old style racer, who has both the greatest respect for the track and most of his competitors except for the bozo that dumped him in the final corner. And as it turns out the driver's girlfriend gets all bent out of shape and decides she wants to get involved in settling this when it is totally the drivers' argument to settle. She is just another race fan and really overstepped the bounds of that position and quite frankly should be subject to assault and battery charges. NASCAR also has an obligation to sanction that woman from further races if she cannot control herself in a proper manner since it is their job to protect the drivers from uncontrolled fan responses. That type of response will only result in less and less fan contact with the drivers if it repeats itself in further events. 

Kelly Heaphy's moment of anger turned out to be an expensive one.
The girlfriend of driver Mike Skeen lost her cool following Sunday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Canada and slapped veteran road racer Max Papis across the face. NASCAR fined Heaphy $2,500 on Wednesday and banned her from all NASCAR events indefinitely. (source USA Today) (The team crew chief was also fined $2,500)

In the good old days at racetracks all over North America those racers would just be part of the surrounding guardrail structure which was sadly less prevalent than it is today so many drivers’ careers ended in tragedy. I do applaud the efforts of all the racing bodies to make the sport much safer but they have also developed a type of driving style that shows no respect for the other drivers. I think the offending drivers should suffer a large penalty like losing 25 positions and it will stop. NASCAR will finally do something about it in their sport when a major tragedy results because of that tactic and sadly no sooner because they help promote the concept of “If it ain’t wreckin’, it aint’t racin’”. There is some truth to that but it can also result in final tragedy and quality race car drivers are not in infinite supply.

But enough about what they call racing today. Let’s go back and visit Mosport around the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s when I used to go there and arrive on a Thursday to set up our campsite for all of our group to camp down around the base of turn 2 in the infield. Only one public washroom on the grounds that I can remember and they did supply some free firewood that was the first trim from sawmills off of logs. The events before race day were all part of the experience and folks at Mosport were mostly well-behaved not like at Watkins Glen where they threw beer bottles at police and sacrificed someone’s car to the “bog” and just burned it to the ground. But it was at the time of the Vietnam War and young guys of draft age had a reason to party down hard since that could be their final party with friends, so I can understand that behaviour.

There are several great viewing spots at Mosport due the fact that the roughly 2 and one half mile track is cut through rolling hills in the countryside and it is not like many other tracks anywhere in the world. I saw all manner of types of cars from Formula One, Can-Am aka Group 7, USAC Stock Cars, USAC/Indy cars and all the levels of other race classes that were always part of a full racing weekend. Driver’s names included Mario Andretti, Sterling Moss, Denis Hulme, Bruce McLaren, A.J. Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Jim Hall, Bill Brack, George Eaton, Graham Hill, Lothar Moshenbacher, Mark Donahue, Parnelli Jones, and few hundred others that made this track their playground for a weekend.

And a full racing weekend package was about $35 dollars with pit privileges. On the Thursday you were often part of the unofficial crew where you might get lucky enough to roll a few Formula One Tires to the paddock area to help out one of the understaffed crews. It always amazed me that the wheel and slick weighed little more than a couple of basketballs and that was all that was in contact with the track pavement.

And you would party at night around a campfire and meet other folks and watch the ad hoc hillclimb event going up the hill in the infield of turn 2 with the crowd lined up on either side of the straight path to the top of the hill. And they were all quite nimble of foot when one of the “competitors” would start to lose that straight line to the top and no one ever seemed to get hurt. Like a giant ant ballet when they would move out of the way. It was so much fun in those days.

And you would watch practice, walk around the track on the actual pavement when practice was over and the rubber from the tires was still very warm and you enjoyed all the sights sounds and smells that were just everywhere. It kind of had a bit of Woodstock- feel to it for sure.

Let’s take a tour around the track and it starts at the start finish line, of course, where the straightaway starts to descend a little into a sweeping right hander and flattens out into a nice straight away that starts to rise just a bit until it reaches probably the toughest corner on the track which is turn 2 where the drivers crest the blind curve and then start a huge sweeping left hander that is more like a roller coaster decent because it drops quite dramatically into a very fast straight that ends at another almost hairpin right hander (maybe ¾) and follows another short straightaway where the drivers get another roller coaster ride via a short left hander that bottoms out in a valley and climbs up to the most famous turn on the course which is turn 5 or Moss Corner named after the legendary Sterling Moss.

Moss Corner starts out with a very tight right hander that flattens out quite quickly and then drops away a bit (sort of a fall away) as the driver completes the final part of the hairpin turn only to have to make another small left turn adjustment to set up the ride up the hill on what is called the Mario Andretti Straightaway which is sort of appropriate since Mario is indeed of Italian origin. 

The straightaway sort of resembles what would happen if you took a wet piece of spaghetti and through it on a board that had a few different sized rocks under it supporting that board because the “straight” follows the contours of the land very tightly. At just about the point that a car would reach maximum speed at the track, the climb up the hill completely flattens out and sort of weaves to the right a bit and cars can get a little light at that point so the giant wings on the good old 7-litre (427 cu. in.) Can Am beasts were a sight to behold there.

Then the car would settle down into a long sweeping right hander and then a short left hander followed by a short straight that had the pit entrance lane on the right. The straight would then rise into the final right hander (turn 10 I think, by then the numbers got confused with all the minor bends in the Andretti straight) and started to flatten out on the final stretch to the finish line.

There really was no best place to watch any race. The best way to handle that was to walk the entire track on the outside of the track since there were fewer guardrails then and mostly just those large square wire fences you see on farms to keep the cattle away from the roads. And you would undoubtedly run into a friend from university or a local drinking establishment because it was a very happening place back then.

You pretty much brought your own supplies which were lots of different food of course but you needed a good cooler that would keep ice for a few days for all the brown pops (and some ordinary pops) that went in and out of those old quality metal boxes which also worked very well as a campfire stool. I guess our deodorants were pretty good because there were no showers anywhere for the general public and I guess the smell of smoke on your clothes masks that somewhat.  

I miss the old place but am comfortable now watching it on television since I know the racing will be just disappointing to me now. I miss the days of the old CNE stock car races and Mosport where the drivers settled their problems the good old way—not on the track but in the pits. If you dumped someone you got unceremoniously dumped on your can with a well-placed fist or two and that was that. You didn't win at any cost because the drivers knew that the other drivers would just let them have at it because the wrong-doer had it coming to him.

I look forward to the day when Tony Stewart doesn't give in to the NASCAR folks and takes out the likes of Logano, Keselowski and now young Elliot in his “truck” which is just a square race car NASCAR so who are you fooling anyway.

Back in the day, you raced each other on the track and only did moderate beating and banging since the driver often funded and owned the racing team. You settled your differences in a sort of modified Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Well I guess racing gloves could be left on but they didn't need much effort to remove their driving helmet and there was no such thing as a Hans device for head and neck protection.

Racing has made several significant advances in safety and thankfully that has helped prevent many tragedies. Sadly Messrs. Donohue, Revson and Hulme (drivers in the first three cars in the top picture) were all lost in separate racing accidents and that was a risk they knew they were taking in their beloved sport. I can’t really remember any driver of that age purposely damaging a race car so it might also be just a sign of the times when mutual respect was more commonplace and a valued quality in any human being and of course the money wasn't like it is today so it was really just a sport. The business side still was in its infancy.

Funny how financial guys and lawyers seem to mess up sports so much now isn't it. I’d pay money to see Tony Stewart take down Gary Bettman, lol.