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Huge crowd watches Fitzpatrick win NASCAR Canada race

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Mosport crowd
I’M NOT A PHOTOGRAPHER BUT I SNAPPED THIS PICTURE WITH MY IPHONE IN AN ATTEMPT TO SHOW THE SIZE OF THE CROWD ALONG THE FRONT STRAIGHT NEAR THE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE    .

J.R. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge won the Vortex Brake Pads 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Sunday, with D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas second and Scott Steckly of Milverton third.

But the story of the day wasn’t the car race but the obvious rejuvenation of what used to be called – for decades – Mosport International Raceway.

What had to have been one of the largest race day crowds in years turned out at what is now called Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, largely because of the marketing skills of the auto retailing giant (customers qualified for tickets if they purchased “X” amount of merchandise at one of the chain’s participating stores) and the obvious efforts made to bring the aging racing circuit up to standard by new owners Ron Fellows and Carlo Fidani.

Mosport was opened in 1961 – the second permanent road-racing circuit in the country after Westwood in B.C. – and went on to attain almost-legendary status for hosting races in the original Can-Am Series, Formula One and Indy car.

While other circuits gave way to “progress” (Westwood became a housing development) or fell into financial difficult (Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant in the Quebec Laurentians) Mosport just kept chugging along but, as the years rolled by, lost many of the major races as well as much of its lustre.

A year ago, Fellows and Fidani (plus a third partner, who recently left the group) purchased the plant and started making changes, starting with the construction of a double transport-truck-wide tunnel that replaced the one-way-in, one-way-out culvert that had been used since – yup – 1961.

Sunday, before the headline NASCAR race, Fellows and his partner, plus Canadian Tire’s Allan McDonald, briefed the media on what’s been happening to date and what’s ahead.

The goal, of course, is to attract as many of the major racing series in the world as possible. Plus, of course, to promote attractions to pay for everything that’s been done to date as well as what’s planned in future.

To that end, a three-day country music festival is planned for mid-August that will feature headliners  Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and the group Alabama. But operating the circuit as a race track is first and foremost in the minds of the owners.

Fellows said that in addition to improving sightlines and other ambiances, a new corporate and media centre would be built overlooking the track’s Corner 10 and work to expand the pit lane to handle 43 cars would start soon.

The 43-car total is symbolic of a NASCAR race and Fellows acknowledged that the circuit has one of either the truck series or the Nationwide Series races on its bucket list.

“It’s an open secret that we would like a NASCAR race (other than the Canadian Tire series) here,” he said, adding that he sees no reason why it couldn’t co-exist with the current Nationwide race held every August at Circuit Gille-Villeneuve in Montreal.

He also said the present half-mile oval (where the Canadian Tire series will race on June 17) is also in the track’s future but that the focus at the moment is on “the Grand Prix circuit. When the work there is finished, we’ll look west (where the oval is located).”

I asked about the name change. Mosport has been an iconic name for 50 years and the decision to change the name to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has not gone down well in some quarters.

“We wanted to bring out our identity,” McDonald said, “and marry it up to the identity and legacy of Mosport. Our ambition for this weekend was to launch (the new identity) right. We wanted to get the tickets out there and the word out there and I think we succeeded.

“We haven’t seen a crowd like this for a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race before.”

McDonald said following a discussion about branding, the consensus was that Mosport should have a new name. “The feeling was that we wanted to mark a new era,” he said.

The feature race of the weekend was a barn-burner from start to finish. Fitzpatrick grabbed the lead at the start from pole-winner (and defending series champion) Steckly and with one or two exceptions was in front the whole race.

At the last corner, Fitzpatrick and Kennington were side-by-side. Fitzpatrick pulled away and then it was a drag race for second between Kennington and Steckly to the line, with Kennington just hanging on.

Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., finished fourth, Louis-Philippe Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres, Que., was fifth, Jason Hathaway of Holland Landing was sixth, Kerry Micks of Mt. Albert was seventh, Jeff Lapcevich of Grimsby was eighth, Robin Buck of Campbellford was ninth and Peter Klutt of Halton Hills was tenth.

For Fitzpatrick, it was his seventh career win in the series and his third at the Bowmanville 3.957 km (2.459-mile) road course. On the day, he led a race-high 39 laps.

The race lead changed hands nine times among six drivers including four times between Fitzpatrick and Kennington in the final 10 laps. The field was slowed due to caution just three times for 11 laps.

The Vortex Brake Pads 200 will air on TSN next Sunday, May 27, at 4:30 p.m. ET, immediately following the Indianapolis 500 and before the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600.

The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will be back on track June 2-3 for the Lucas Oil Grand Prix at Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Que.

In the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin race Sunday, pro auto racer Kyle Marcelli of Barrie was the winner, with Jean-Frederic Laberge second overall but first in the platinum class. Bruce Gregory was first in Gold Cup and Robert Seitz was best in Silver Cup for the second straight day

In Formula 1000 racing, Brandon Dixon of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was the winner. Jeremy Hill of Parry Sound was third.

And in the Canadian Touring Car Series, Matthieu Audette swept the two races in the Super Touring class while Karl Thomson won in Touring class in the first race while Michel Sallenbach was first in the second. Nick Wittmer took the victory in B-Spec on Sunday.

The final race of the weekend saw Florida native Doug Peterson win the SCCCA Trans-Am Series season opener over Peterborough driver Ian Patterson.

Gary Grant, who provides the daily Insider’s Report package for wheels.ca, emailed me late Sunday. Said Grant: “So excited for Ian Michael Patterson (of Petersburg, Ont.) for his second place and even more so for Blaise Csida (of Ballantrae, Ont.) – a long time friend who built two cars out of the top five!!!

Watch a lap of Mosport during Trans-Am practice

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