Mosport, Mecca for World’s Top Drivers
Moss, Clark, Hill, Stewart, Hulme and McLaren — the list goes on
By Frank Orr, Special to The Toronto Star
Perhaps the most surprising part of Mosport’s 40 years of existence is that it happened – all.
Maybe even more amazing is that, in 2001, the property is not a goat pasture.
That a road-racing circuit built on a farm where the main crops were rocks, thistles and burrs, known for decades locally as “Old Walter’s place,” more than a bit out there in nowhere, under-financed from the start with a fiscal history snore undulating than its 2.46 (3.96 km) miles of asphalt, made it to the new millennium is extraordinary.
Just how long ago Mosport – a contraction of the words motor sport-was built is demonstrated by the fact that the land was purchased for $26,000, likely the last time 450 acres (182 hectares) anywhere in Ontario sold that cheaply.
But through much of the next 40 years, notably the 1960s and ’70s, a who’s who of auto racing tried to master a track as challenging as any ever built. Perhaps the best testimony to Mosport’s difficulty was that no driver of sane mind ever declared that “I have this sucker whipped.”
Ludwig Heimrath, the Scarborough Porsche ace who, like many Canadian drivers, had talent larger than the stage on which to show it, once summed it up well when he said:
“Even after you drive well and win at Mosport, you can’t ever figure you’ve solved that track because just when you think you have all the answers, it jumps up and bites you on the backside.”
Perhaps the early joy of having a track where races could be staged that attracted the world’s élite strengthens the nostalgia. But the ’60s and Mosport were, simply, the best of times for racing fans.
Auto racing was a wide open game then, with no high fences between tine various series and no rigid, high-salary contracts to lock in drivers to once series.
On free weekends, the Formula One guys would flit across the Atlantic to drive big banger sports cars or compete in the Indianapolis 500.
Jimmy Clark, Graham Hill, young Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren, Chris Anon, Denis Hulme, John Surtees, Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez and Dan Gurney would be in the Monaco GP one weekend, in the field for the Players 200 at Mosport the next.
NASCAR ace Richard Petty would accept a few bucks in appearance money and run in a stock car race at Mosport in the rival U.S. Auto Club series.
Especially memorable were. the Group 7 races that brought the best of what then were two schools of racing, the U.S. traditionalists for the roadster Indycar series — A.J. Foyt, Lloyd Ruby, Rodger Ward — against the top F1 guns, with Texan Jim Hall and his latest invention tossed in to add to the interest.
Who can, forget Hall’s “vacuum cleaner” Chaparral racer, his pioneering the automatic transmission and that first model with a high wing.
Much inspiration. for the Can-Am series, so great for a few years, came from the success of the big bangers at Mosport, then, came the Trans-Am sedans and the Formula 5000 series.
For the gang of auto racing fans behind the birth and hectic early years of Mosport, the great moment came in 1967 when the first Canadian GP F1 race was held at the track.
It was an extraordinary year for Mos-port with the first Indycar race on a road circuit in June and the GP in August. Both attracted huge crowds, but ru-mours that some fans needed a month to get home because of the traffic turned out to be false.
It was only three weeks.
While Mosport’s birth and clinging to life were the products of many people’s efforts, one man stands out in the track’s history — the late Harvey Hudes.
He was the accountant for Canadian Track and Traffic Magazine and head of the group that purchased the track in 1966. Hudes often joked that he knew nothing about racing, saying: “I was a number cruncher who figured a four- wheel drift involved snow.”
Eventually, Hudes and his partner, lawyer Bernie Kamin, wound up as owners of Mosport.
Thanks to Hudes’ marketing and promotional genius, they managed to keep the track open through the thin times for racing in the 1980s.
An adviser to many drivers, Hudes claimed his proudest moment came in the early ’90s, when a day of Canadian road racing in seven national series, all extinct now, produced a splendid program.
In one man’s reflections, the best race ever at Mosport was the September, 1965, Group 7 event in which Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall traded the lead repeatedly throughout the confrontation.
A wonderful moment came in the 1960s stock car race in which Al Unser Sr. scored the first major victory of his superb career.
Richard Petty’s borrowed Plymouth quit out near Moss Corner during that race, and the driver figured the battery was dead.
He sprinted across the infield to the pits, picked up a fresh battery and a wrench, carried it back to the car for installation to finish the race.
Interesting point: One reason for Mosport’s construction over 1960 and ’61 in that rural site was the projected four-lane highway that was to run from the north side of Toronto to Peterborough, passing close to the Mosport property.
It didn’t happen but now, 40 years later, a proposed extension of Highway 407 will be close to the track.
Frank Orr, now retired, covered motorsports for The Toronto Star, including many races at Mosport. – Reprinted with permission. Originally published in THE TORONTO STAR Saturday, May 19, 2001 page G27
Paul Tracy, CART driver:
“Mosport has always been a good track for me. It was where I had some of my earliest wins — I wrapped up the Formula Ford Championship there when I was 16. I basically learned to race there, and I think it has led me to where I am today. It is the toughest track in the country and one of the most challenging tracks in the world.”
Ron Fellows, LeMans series driver:
“Mosport is such a challenging track; the speed of the corners and the elevation changes make it high risk But if you can race well at Mosport, you can race anywhere. Only LeMans is as challenging. The highlight for me was winning the pole and setting the lap record in the Ferrari sports car in 1997, but it was also the site of my first Trans-Am victory.”
Patrick Carpentier, CART driver:
“Oh for sure, you need big b—-, I mean a lot of courage, to race at Mosport. It’s a great track, very fast and exciting, but you have to be very, very careful, too.”
Bobby Rahal, boss of Jaguar F1 racing and former race driver:
“I started racing there when I was 18, but my best memory was driving flat out around the circuit in a Can-Am car. I still can’t believe the speeds we did back then. Of course, I also raced against Gilles Villeneuve in Atlantics. The track definitely separates the men from the boys! It’s also the place I met the girl who became my wife.”
Scott Goodyear, IRL driver:
“The Porsche Turbo Cup series was a highlight, of course, but I look back on it as a great training ground for my career.”
Richard Spénard, driver-coach and veteran race driver:
“I had many great battles, particularly with Ron Fellows. One year I drove in four different race cars on one weekend! Mosport is one of the toughest tracks in the world.”