Start your engines, Canada

NASCAR makes crossover to the North

Green means go, black says take a pit stop and the checkered one shows it’s done. But in 2007 all systems are go for NASCAR to rev its engines across the border into Canada.

The U.S.-based National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing may hold as many as 13 races here next year. The biggest one will be a Busch series race in Montreal on Aug. 4, 2007. The official announcement was made on Oct. 2. And fans are excited.

“This is great for us, because if we ever wanted to see a good race we always have to go down to the States, which is a long drive,” said Joshua Breen, a NASCAR fan since he was five. “You can never really feel at home there, either, so it’ll be nice to have a race where we can feel in place.”

Toronto and Montreal were the top contenders vying for the Busch race, only one of two international stops for the series. Ontario has the largest population of NASCAR fans in the country, with 39 per cent of national devotees, as opposed to Quebec’s 24 per cent of fan total. But the final decision took in several other factors.

“Montreal and the Gilles-Villeneuve Circuit where the race will be held has the infrastructure to make it happen,” said Randy Paul, managing director for NASCAR Canada. “They have a permanent road course, whereas Toronto does not.”

Toronto had no chance

Breen and his friends wanted the race to come to Toronto, but they didn’t keep their hopes high.

“It’s always like this, Toronto doesn’t have facilities to house major sporting events besides the trinity: hockey, baseball and basketball,” Breen said. “It’s why we lost the Olympic bid, and why we’ll never have a big NASCAR race though we’re the biggest city in the country.”

But Toronto fans shouldn’t lose all hope. The newly created Canadian Tire NASCAR series, announced just before the Montreal race will hold between 10 to 12 races all across Canada, including some near Toronto. The Canadian Tire Series will replace the previous CASCAR league, the Canadian association.

“We have great drivers Canada, and fans see the relevancy in supporting Canadian drivers,” Paul said . “Which is why having this grassroots series is great because we can call it our own.”

Races to span country

Although no dates or locations have yet to be confirmed or announced publicly, Paul said tentative locations are Barrie, Peterborough and Mosport in Ontario – which are all within a 90-minute drive of Toronto. Other races could be held in Trois-Rivières, Que.; Antigonish, N.S.; Calgary, Alta.; and Kelowna, B.C.

“NASCAR recognises Canada as an attractive destination because it has such a large fan base,” Paul said. Racing buffs can now “adopt drivers because they’re our own.” Paul said the average NASCAR fan will travel six hours for a race. Having races spread out through the country will make them more accessible to everyone, he said.

An official announcement regarding the Canadian Tire series is expected by the end of the month. But for now, Paul said it looks like the first race will be around the first weekend of June. Tickets will go on sale once the formal schedule is announced. Tickets for the Montreal race will soon be available through Ticketmaster. All of the races will be broadcast on TSN, an affiliate of NASCAR Canada.

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