The (Secret) History of Mosport.

This is the second in a series of posts about the histories of various North American and European race tracks.. The first in the series was posted lasted week and covered Watkins Glen. 
Paying Attention: Canada. Oh Canada. There are a lot of very neat things to like about our neighbor to the North.
Here’s a short list.
Ice Hockey.
Big Snow.
The Trans  Canada Railway.
The Mounties (and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon).
Northern Lights.
Helicopter skiing.
The Canadian Rockies.
Big Forests.
Nova Scotia.
The Canadiens and the Maple Leafs.
Toronto (where our story starts).
It’s all good.
Plus–A rather brilliant group of comics:
Jim Carrey
The fab but late John Candy
Martin Short
Dan Aykroyd
Seth Rogen
Lorne Michaels the man who brought us Saturday Night Live
And, of course, two of the greatest athletes of all time, Gordie Howe (“Mr. Hockey”) and Wayne Gretsky (“The Great One).
To the above distinguished list of very great things about Canada,  we must add Mosport, now re-branded and re-named as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
This is a legendary race track and it’s seen more than its’ share of legendary races.
But first, some basics: The key thing you need to know about Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (located in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada), the site of this weekend’s TUDOR United Sportscar Championship race, is how to pronounce it.
No, not the word Canadian, or the words “tire” or “park”, but the name “Mosport”, which is how most people still refer to the track (the track has been known as Mosport Park and Mosport International Raceway, prior to the latest nome de brand).
Mosport is prounced “Mo-Sport” (an abbreviation of the terms Motor Sport -see middle of the current track name). It is not pronounced “Moss Port”. Pronounce it correctly amongst your racing pals and your track cred rises immediately.
Nomenclature lesson done, now to the background.
Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (known, from this point forward in this column, as Mosport) is a 2.459 mile 10 turn road course. The track was opened in 1961 and cost $500,000 to build (initially). It is fast, (brakes don’t get a huge workout here), it is dangerous in the dry and treacherous in the wet.  Mistakes here can be very expensive and very painful. Read Rick Mayer’s column to get an engineer’s perspective.
Mosport is and has been an amazingly productive and versatile race track. Take a look at all the various motor sports events that have been contested at Mosport:
FIA Formula 1 (1961-1967, 1969, 1971-1974, 1976-1977)
FIM Road Racing World Championship (Motorcycles) (1967)
Can-Am (1966-1967, 1969-1974, 1977-1986)
USAC Championship Cars (1967-1968, 1977-1978)
FIM World Superbike Championship (1989-1991)
United Sports Car Championship (2014-present)
NASCAR Canadian Tire Series (2007-present)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (2013-present)
Pirelli World Challenge
IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge
Mazda MX-5 Cup
Porsche 944 Cup
Canadian Superbike Championship
Canadian Touring Car Championship
Toyo Fires F1600 Championship
Canadian Historic Grand Prix
In other words, if it has two or four wheels,  a place to sit and people race it, it’s probably been raced at Mosport. It’s a staple, a regular, a standard, a track to test your car, your tires, and your nerve.
Legends have run here. Anyone who ever saw the “Bruce and Denny Show”, which was Bruce McLaren and Denny Hume, blasting around the track at Mosport during the Can Am series in twin orange McLaren M8S’s powered by big, loud, V8s has seen motor sport Nirvana.
Stirling Moss, the brilliant English driver who was fast in everything he ever raced, from rally cars to F1, won the first race at Mosport, a two heat event, in a Lotus 19. He’s beloved in Canada (as he is the rest of the world) and so when a little bit of re-engineering turned a hairpin on the course into two separate corners (turns 5 & 6 for those keeping score) to provide more interest for drivers and a better show for the spectators, the revamped right hander was named “Moss Corner” in honor of Sir Stirling. But—and this is crucial—the track is not named after Moss, and thus the pronunciation lesson in the preceding paragraphs stands.
Oh, one more thing: It can get cold in Canada in the Fall/Winter/Spring so most of the racing is jammed into a very tight late-spring/summer/early-fall window. All the more impressive to deliver so much racing in so little time. But that’s what it takes to be a legend.
Mosport was originally built by a public company created for that purpose. It has been well regarded from day one, so much so that two prior owners , Norm Namerow (also a publishing executive) and Harvey Hudes, are both members of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. They did many things very right to earn that honor.
Screen shot 2016-07-07 at 5.59.42 PM
Panoz Motorsport Group (headed by Dr. Don Panoz; founders of ALMS and former owners of IMSA) bought the track in 1998. Panoz liked race tracks and at the time he also owned Road Atlanta, and held a long-term lease on Sebring International Raceway, home of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Panoz sold Mosport in 2011 to a Canadian group as he started to wind down his extensive involvement in motor sports, and, later, sold the rest of his motor sports holdings to NASCAR, including the sanctioning body IMSA (should a sanctioning body be owned? Or sold? A topic for another time…), which is now the sanctioning entity for the Weathertech United Sports Car Championship Series.
Canadian Motorsports Ventures (CMV) is the company that bought Mosport from Panoz; it’s composed of business exec Carlo Fidani and Ron Fellows, one of Canada’s best known racing drivers. The new owners quickly put a “naming rights deal” together with Canadian Tire while simultaneously continuing development of the track to make it better for teams, spectators, and, perhaps most important in the modern era of sports, sponsors. In contrast to facilities with few or outdated facilities, Mosport continues to build on its legend. The track was repaved in 2001 to meet FIA specs and the width increased to 48 feet.
The physical nature of the track requires constant attention. The main maintenance problem is the Canadian winter; the winters are harsh enough to change the texture of the track, so it’s never the same track twice. That creates challenges.
In addition to the main race track, Mosport also contains a 1.7KM 12 turn driver training facility laid out by the owners and designers at the on-site Bridgestone Racing Academy. Guard rails, walls, and blind corners were minimized (best not to spook the newbies) on the training track. This part of the track complex was enlarged in 2013 and now includes both a 2.2KM course and a 2.9KM course. The Mosport complex also once contained an oval track, but that has been closed so that the driver training area could be expanded.
If Mosport were just about racing, it would be legendary enough
But it’s not.
Nothing Is Real 
“Let me take you down, cos I’m going to strawberry fields,
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about…
Strawberry fields, forever…”
Strawberry Fields  Written by Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison © SONY/ATV, Harrison Songs LLC
In it’s history, Mosport has been home to two famous (or infamous) music festivals in Canadian history.
The first was the Strawberry Fields Festival held on August 7-10th, 1970. As you might ascertain from the name, a certain John Lennon was involved at the beginning of the festival. Lennon and wife Yoko Ono, working with a local promotor named John Brower, were planning a “Toronto Peace Festival”, but the relevant authorities heard about it, and immediately went into full bureaucratic road block, and denied all the necessary permits. Lennon and Ono left the project, but Brower soldiered on, renamed the event the “Strawberry Fields Festival” (now, where did he ever come up with that name) and made plans to move the event to a town in New Brunswick.
Again, the authorities held up the stop sign.
Brower, however, was not an easy man to stop, and so he deftly re-programmed the event, now named the “First Annual Strawberry Cup Trophy Race”, to include a motorcycle race, and, oh yes, a little music. To avoid another shutdown, he downplayed the music and up-played the racing, but the local government officials were having none of it and Ontario Attorney General Arthur Wishart stepped in to seek an injunction stopping the event, on the grounds of public health and safety (which of course, can apply to every event where masses of people gather, including Black Friday shopping at Wal-Mart).
But, this time, Brower had a calmer presence at the top of the food chain;  Supreme Court Justice D.A. Keith refused to grant an injunction and so, hours before the first act was slated to go on, the event that became known as “Strawberry Fields Festival” was on. And on at Mosport.
And, it was an Event. A three day ticket was $15. From a distance of time and space, it looks a lot like a Canadian version of Woodstock.
For the money it was quite a line up. Put on your time-travel music helmet and look at this vintage 1970 list of acts:
Procul Haram
Ten Years After
Jose Feliciano
Jethro Tull
The Youngbloods
Luke & The Apostles
Alice Cooper
Sly and the Family Stone
Grand Funk Railroad
Delaney & Bonnie & Friends (don’t know if Clapton was with them for this one)
Sly and The Family Stone closed the festival and, if you have ever seen Sly Stone close a show, you can only imagine the musical chaos and fun that closed the place down.
Attendance was estimated at between 75,000-100,000 people, which is a major league crowd anyway you cut it.
If Mosport only had one big time music festival on its’ resume, the 1970 one would be enough to get them considered for legendary status. But, as they say on late night TV, wait, there’s more.

The Official Poster of The Heatwave Festival at Mosport, 1980
The Official Poster of The Heatwave Festival at Mosport, 1980

Almost exactly 10 years later, on August 23, 1980, the “Heatwave” festival was held at Mosport. It was promoted as the “Punk Woodstock” , the “New Wave Woodstock”, and even the “1980s Big Beat Rock and Roll Party”.
Once again, John Brower, 10 years older and no less persuasive, was involved and for this one he should get his ticket punched into the Festival Hall of Fame AND the Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
Again, the list of acts that performed was top notch; this time  the lineup featured the best of New Wave, Punk, and push-the-edges-rock.
Here’s the list of performers:
Elvis Costello and Attractions
Teenage Head
BB Gabor
Holly and The Italians
The B-52s
The Rumour (no Graham Parker; he went solo)
Rockpile (with Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe)
The Pretenders
The Kings
Talking Heads
All in all, a stellar lineup. Tickets were $20 advance, $25 at the door, and attendance was estimated at 85,000 plus and it’s the plus part that gets most interesting. During a radio interview between Dan Aykroyd and John Brower,  Aykroyd pulled a “Woodstock” and asked Brower if he would let anyone listening to the radio telecast in for free. Brower agreed, and  within an hour and a half another 15,000 fans showed up, pushing attendance up to approximately 100,000.
It was a great music event but, allegedly, there were some ” business mis-alignments”. Ticket stubs (necessary for determining the gate and the revenue ), went missing. When the final counting was done, the  event allegedly lost a million dollars and change. But…there were some amazing coincidences. The entire concert was (accidentally) professionally recorded—despite no rights agreements—by a sound truck that had come to record the set of Teenage Head. Taking the totally right approach—we’re here, let’s get it all—the recording team took it all down and, after a few rounds of give-me-this-and-I-will-give-you-that, the tapes ended up in the hands of recording professionals, were cleaned up and restored, and, according to legend, Teenage Head’s set ended up released about a year or so later. If/when those sets of music are released, look for some gems. The Pretenders doing “Louie, Louie”, The B-52’s  on “Party Out of Bounds”, Talking Heads cranking “Life During Wartime”, and Elvis Costello performing “Green Shirt”  all sound pretty great to me. If you have a copy, please let me know.
There will be no music festival this weekend at Mosport, just a group of the world’s top teams and drivers racing, again, on one of the world’s legendary race tracks. But rhythm is in the history of Mosport, and we’re hoping that the home team–Risi Competizione, can start from their position on the grid and bring it home in front.
The point: Mosport is a legendary track, not just for what happens on the track but also for all that has happened off of it.
The Fine Print: Videos from HEATWAVE Festival via YouTube (Thanks, guys). Elvis Costello and the Attractions version of “Green Shirt” posted by Larry Rulz, shot on VHS, sound through audio board. Pretenders version of “Louie Louie” posted by Adison Fagundes. Again, the sound is through the audio board. Opening Video of Rick Koop in a McLaren turning laps at Mosport, embed courtesy of YouTube, posted by The Racer Channel (support Racer’s amazingly good). All rights reserved. Track Map by Will Pittenger, who was kind enough to place it into the public domain. 

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