NASCAR’s roar won’t return in 2013

 

 
 
 
 
Jacques Villeneuve raced in several NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But those days are over.
 

Jacques Villeneuve raced in several NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But those days are over.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

MONTREAL — NASCAR racing arrived in Montreal in 2007 with throaty, angry 700-horsepower engines roaring beneath the heavily decalled hoods of 43 cars.

These machines banged and hammered memorably off each other for six years, through heat and torrential rains with their radiators hissing, crushed sheet metal flapping, and occupants' tempers flaring.

On Friday, NASCAR left town as loudly as a car coasting out of gas, the race promoter surrendering his rights to an event when it became clear to him that he'd forever take a financial bath on it.

NASCAR's Nationwide Series NAPA 200 will not return to Montreal, the governing body and local promoter François Dumontier parting ways.

And while both sides pretty much agree on the facts of the porce, the spin they put on them are predictably different.

"A stand-alone Nationwide race here doesn't have the attraction to make it a profitable event," said promoter Dumontier, head of Octane Management. "After some discussion with NASCAR, I made the business decision not to go ahead for 2013."

From Daytona Beach, Fla., NASCAR senior vice-president (racing operations) Steve O'Donnell suggested that his company was surprised by what it says was Dumontier's rapid about-face on the future of the Montreal race.

Dumontier's Octane firm uniquely promoted the NAPA 200 for just one year, having co-promoted from 2009-11 with U.S.-based International Speedway Corp. The first two editions of the race were run by ISC and long-time, now former Formula One Canadian Grand Prix promoter Normand Legault.

Dumontier says that the race has lost money from its first green flag.

"But on track, we had a spectacular event," he said. "I thank the fans, my sponsors and NASCAR. We had a good relationship, which, outside of business, is still there. I love working with them, they're nice people who know what they're doing. But at some point, if the race is not making (financial) sense, I can't do it."

NASCAR's departure for now halves the racing action on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the historic track on city-owned Île Notre-Dame. The facility is permitted to host two motorsport weekends annually, its Jean Drapeau Park home a popular in-town summer destination for families.

There's been growing speculation that the German-based DTM series, featuring heavily modified Audis, BMWs and Mercedes, might be coming to Montreal to join F1 as the second race weekend.

But Dumontier said Friday that, for now, he is focusing on organizing next spring's Canadian Grand Prix; any possible DTM date would be down the road.

O'Donnell said that the door is never closed to his sport's return to Montreal. But consider the odds of NASCAR's comeback to this city about as good as the repatriation of baseball's Expos, which moved to Washington, D.C., eight years ago.

"I can tell you it's a bit of a surprise to us," O'Donnell said of NASCAR's exit. "We certainly feel like we've had a great run in Montreal and anticipated being back next year, if not many years beyond that. That was our intention."

In the end, it seems that Dumontier made NASCAR an offer the governing body couldn't accept.

Simply, the promoter didn't feel he could attract enough fans/revenue to the island circuit on a Friday-Saturday race weekend featuring only Nationwide drivers, NASCAR's Sprint Cup superstars running elsewhere or taking a rare weekend off.

O'Donnell said that Dumontier suggested he couldn't make a financial go of a race in Montreal unless his Nationwide date was twinned with a Sprint Cup race or was switched to a Cup event.

Furthermore, O'Donnell said, Dumontier told NASCAR he wanted a Sunday event, not a Saturday on which Nationwide normally runs.

"We had a sanctioning call (for a 2013 date) about a month prior to this summer's event," O'Donnell said. "Everything was great."

By that time, after lengthy efforts, Dumontier had been able to secure $800,000 in funding support to promote this year's race, the cash coming from the governments of Canada, Quebec and Montreal, as well as Tourisme Montréal.

"That was tremendous," O'Donnell said. "We'd planned to do a big promotional event before the race with our drivers to embrace the governments for their support. But that was cancelled last minute by the promoter. That was a surprise but again, we didn't think too much of it and went into the event feeling good."

To put the story in fourth gear, a debriefing call a few days after the Aug. 18 NAPA 200 didn't go well, Dumontier again pitched the Sprint Cup/changed date idea and NASCAR turned him down on both. About a week ago, Dumontier emailed NASCAR to say he'd not be promoting a 2013 race, ending the sport's six-year Montreal run.

Octane Motorsports Group recently was givenprotection. According to Dumontier, this would "protect assets and liquidity we have in the company to be distributed among creditors" following OMG's withdrawal as promoter of the open-wheel Edmonton Indy, many unpaid bills left in the wake.

But Dumontier stressed Friday that OMG is not tied to the companies he holds to promote NASCAR or Formula One. NASCAR's exit is not related, he said, to financial difficulties elsewhere.

So NASCAR, which with much fanfare in 2007 replaced Montreal's Champ Car World Series, is now gone.

"Canadian fans are huge supporters of NASCAR and it's very important for us from a national-series perspective to be there," O'Donnell said. "So we'll certainly explore all avenues to do that. Who knows what the future brings? But it's unfortunate it didn't work out in Montreal."

Even with the 2013 Nationwide schedule within weeks or less of official release, Canada might yet welcome a race. Look no further than Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, formerly Mosport Park, in Bowmanville, Ont., north of Toronto as a likely site.

Track co-owner and part-time NASCAR road-course racer Ron Fellows, the hugely popular veteran who won Montreal's sodden NAPA 200 in 2008, said he was disappointed by the loss of Montreal from the calendar, but would aggressively court a NASCAR date for his track.

Meanwhile, loyal stock-car fans who flocked to this city's race are devastated by the departure. Nationwide drivers and teams will be no less unhappy; they loved coming to Montreal, enamoured by the city's cosmopolitan flavour and amazed by fans who endured monsoon rains without leaving the grandstands, hanging in for wheel-banging action that never failed to materialize, six different drivers winning the six races.

"It's most disappointing to us from a fan base," O'Donnell said. "Their enthusiasm has been awesome to see. It's something we want to continue (elsewhere) as part of our schedule.

"We think the Canadian marketplace is a big part of what makes NASCAR what it is in North America. That's something we're going to work hard to make sure that continues on the schedule next year, and for many years beyond that."

If Montreal race fans want to be a part of it, they'll just have to get in their cars to go see it.

Dstubbs@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: @Dave_Stubbs

 
 
 
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Jacques Villeneuve raced in several NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But those days are over.
 

Jacques Villeneuve raced in several NAPA Auto Parts 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. But those days are over.

Photograph by: Dario Ayala, The Gazette

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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