By Debra Rutherford
You could hear thunder on the waterfront of Toronto, even in brilliant sunshine, as powerful, turbocharged Champ Cars roared along Lakeshore Boulevard and knifed through the twisting roads of the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.
Over 160,000 spectators participated in this four-day event, bringing the city millions of dollars in revenue.
The Molson Indy represents a “Celebration of Life”. We were able to forget the weather, the job, and the terrible news on television and involve ourselves in partying, honouring worthy individuals and vibrating to the roar of mechanical marvels, charging across the track at 300 km/h.
The festivities began on Thursday night with MOTORFEST, where we had the opportunity to meet the impressive drivers and their incredible machines. The fans, hungrily sought out their heroes, who patiently shared their time with us. This free event permitted sponsors such as Bridgestone, Dodge and Molson to receive thanks from the fans for their funding of this magnificent weekend.
Friday’s black tie formal Gala Dinner, at the Liberty Grand became the social highlight of the event. Mingling with the Champ car drivers, team owners, other athletes and the business-political elite of the province, made all of us feel privileged. Our “homeboy” Paul Tracy was the worthy recipient of the prestigious Racing Achievement Award. Everyone cheered and we were so proud of him.
Then it was off to Montana’s for the outdoor “Indy Concert”, where great musicians and entertainers drove the crowd wild.
For the better part of the weekend, I was fortunate to have my daughter, 11 year old Savanah, with me. Never before had she been at a car race. She was never a fan; but she was demanding some “quality time” with her mom. Quality time it was, as our nostrils filled with the pungent smell of rubber and our ears had to be shielded from the exploding rattle of high revving engines. Despite these minor details, we were thrilled by it all and learned from the concentration, determination, courage and co-operation of the racing teams.
Pattie Mayer is a professional racecar driver and I was delighted to be taken by her, in an official Pace car, for two laps of the track. I felt like I was in a “Twilight Zone”, as we ripped around the track at over 210 km per hour, while she calmly reminisced about her two small children at home. What a thrill!
Paul Tracy sponsored an annual “Blow-out” party at Wayne Gretsky’s Restaurant. The fans milled around Blue Jays Way, as race drivers rolled in with stunning motorcycles and exotic sports cars.
You can’t have a celebration without a Beauty Pageant and the “ Miss Indy” competition brought out the usual whistles, hoots and hollers from the appreciative crowd. The winner goes on to represent Toronto in later pageants. Tension was slowly rising on race day as the crews scurried about in preparation.
Suddenly two CF18 fighter Jets screamed over the crowd, at only 500 feet. Then we heard the pronouncement of those classic words “Gentlemen Start Your Engines”.The racing turned very desperate and only a few cars remained unscathed at the end of the race. Sebastian Bourdais, of France, winner of the race, sounded like a grateful survivor when he said, “ I am glad I was up front, it really sounded crazy out there”. One of the owners of the winning teams, Paul Newman, was certainly aware of the dangers in the race as he nervously paced back and forth until the race was won.
Second place finisher, Jimmy Vasser, stoically said of the race, “?we were focused on keeping our noses clean”.
Our wonderful Patrick Carpantier took third place, in this grueling trial of speed and exertion.
What a weekend! What a great time! We can hardly wait till next year!