In Conversation with Ron Fellows 2012

By Kye Wankum

Ron and KyeCanadian Tire Motorsports Park… say what?

I recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Ron Fellows, together with UCR Photo Editor, Eshel Zweig. Rather than using a structured interview format, we simply sat down over coffees to have an informal chat. Once again, Ron, ‘the mayor of Mosport’ displayed his famous nice-guy-attitude that has won him the adoration of many, many fans the world over. Even though he is a very busy man these days, once he got talking, he seemed completely unhurried and relaxed, taking his time to explain the ins and outs of the circumstances surrounding his racing career.

Most of us know Ron Fellows from his championship-winning ways in the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans and at Daytona with the prominent yellow GTS class cars from Corvette Racing. However, his racing career has now spanned several decades and he made his name in racing long before this particular factory ride. Ron started out in karts, moved on to Formula Ford and then Formula 2000, before taking a nine-year hiatus to work as a natural gas pipeline worker and replenish the proverbial coffers.

“Ron surprised all of us …that he… had aquired Mosport…”

Ron came back to racing in the 80s to launch his professional driving career, which first found him behind the wheel of a showroom stock Camaro in the GM Player’s Series from ’86 to ‘92, where he took the Driver’s Championship in 1989, along with a popular race win at Mosport.

From 1987 through 1997, Ron became one of the most successful SCCA Trans-Am Series competitors ever, with 95 starts, 40 podium finishes, and 19 wins. His Trans-Am career began with the Roush team in Ford Mustangs, continued with Buzz McCall Racing and then Tom Gloy Racing in Riley & Scott Mustangs, and culminated in a drive in the GM Camaro for his final two years in the series.

Since 1995, through to the present day, Ron has been a favoured hired gun for road course races by various teams in the NASCAR Truck Series, Nationwide Series, and Sprint Cup Series, for a total of 57 starts. These teams have included Dale Earnhardt Junior’s JR Motorsports (Nationwide) and Tommy Baldwin Racing (Sprint Cup). As of November 22, 2011, Ron holds the record for most wins by a foreign-born driver in NASCAR’s top three series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Trucks) with six: four in Nationwide and two in Trucks. Ron is not a complete stranger to Porsches either. In 1990 he was a regular competitor in the Rothmans 944 Turbo Cup, competing in six of the eight rounds, and in 1998 he teamed up with John Morton and John Graham in the C.J. Motorsports Porsche 911 GT2 to finish the 12-Hours of Sebring 9th overall, 3rd in class.

Also in 1998, Ron became the primary development driver of the GM Corvette Racing C5-R program that I mentioned above and, as such, is a charter member of the championship-winning Corvette Racing team. He did the initial testing and development of the car, and scored Corvette Racing’s first ALMS victory in September 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway. Ron won the ALMS GTS drivers championship in 2002 and shared the title with teammate Johnny O’Connell in 2003 and 2004. He and O’Connell finished as runners-up in the GT1 driver’s championship to their Corvette Racing teammates Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta in 2005 and 2007.
In 2007, Ron began a new phase in his career as an ambassador for Corvette and a technical advisor to GM Racing. He focused on endurance events with teammates Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen, and ran the Mosport round of the ALMS at his home track with former teammate Andy Pilgrim. Fans voted Ron “Most Popular Driver” in the ALMS in 2004 through 2007 – the only driver to win the prestigious award four consecutive times. He was named to the AARWBA All America Racing Team in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 2007, Chevrolet introduced the limited edition Ron Fellows ALMS GT1 Champion Corvette Z06, the first signed special edition in Corvette’s history. A resident of Mississauga, Ontario, he has been instrumental in setting up the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship, a series that helps young Canadian drivers make a connection to professional racing.In October of 2008, the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School was launched at the resort-style Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Las Vegas, Nevada. The school is now ‘The Official Performance Driving School of Chevrolet’, featuring Corvette ZR1, Z06 and Grand Sport models.

In 2010, Fellows drove the Cragar Wheels Corvette in three World Challenge sprint races, winning twice. One of the victories was at his home track of Mosport International Raceway.

Most recently, in June of last year, Ron surprised all of us with the announcement that he, along with two partners, had acquired Mosport International Raceway.

In opening our conversation, I mention to Ron that everyone I speak to is absolutely thrilled that Mosport is once again Canadian-owned and that he is a partner in the ownership group. I was aware that Ron was scheduled to be the speaker at the UCR social in March, two weeks hence. I mention to him that one of our board members recently commented that if Ron Fellows was going to be the speaker, we would have to move to bigger premises. Ron is just that popular, no matter what the car brand loyalty may be.

I asked him if that date for the Social was doable for him, since that was also the week of the 12-Hours of Sebring. Ron said that he was indeed going to Sebring but that he had committed to being at our Social quite some time ago and that he would definitely be there.
Upon the question of whether he had ever raced in Porsches, he surprised me by telling us that, not only did he run in the Rothmans 944 Turbo Cup for Downtown Fine Cars for a couple of races (actually 6 out of 8 in 1990) but that, at the start of the Corvette Racing C5-R program, he had raced a 911 GT2 car in the 12-Hours of Sebring. The object of that exercise was to find out exactly how the other manufacturers’ GT2 contenders performed. At that time, Porsche’s GT2 and the Vipers were the cars to beat. Ron shrugs off my suggestion that a rear-engine 911 Turbo would handle completely differently from a front-engine car; no, he used the same braking points, turn-in points, entry speeds etc.; “it’s just a matter of balance”, he says.
Okay, so now we’ve established the Porsche connection…What everybody really wants to know about, is the acquisition of Mosport and how it came about. Was Mosport quietly for sale? How did the ownership group come together? Ron nods his head knowingly. I’m sure he’s been asked the exact same question a thousand times already. It turns out Ron met his partners Carlo Fidani (Orlando Group) and Alan Boughton (Trailcon Leasing) at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Nevada, 45 minutes west of Las Vegas. These two friends are car and racing enthusiasts and fans, and it sounds like they were at the school more than once. Apparently Fidani, at one of these stays, mentioned his interest in owning a racetrack. But, rather than building a racetrack from scratch, Ron suggested that they look at what might be available for purchase. The choice being limited, Ron contacted Scott Atherton of the Panoz Group (the owner of Mosport at the time) and, after voicing their interest, and “Scott picking himself up off the floor”, talks began around the time of American Thanksgiving in November of 2010; in complete secrecy.

Was it a difficult deal to put together? Yes, absolutely. We are talking about grounds of 750 acres, and the involvement of provincial and federal conservation authorities and many other large and small political and community issues, while also trying to hammer out a deal. It took until June 2011.

I had to ask, since it appears to be a big trend in the industry: did CMV (Canadian Motorsport Ventures), the new owners of Mosport envision something like a Motorsports Country Club for the park? The answer is a resounding “No”. Rather, the group is currently investigating all possibilities and requirements for different racing series and governing bodies that they want to attract to the park. That is also the reason that no commitments have been made to restructure garages and paddocks or to build new structures for miscellaneous uses. Ron uses the NASCAR example: during practice and qualifying on Fridays and Saturdays, they will not stop in the pits but will always go back directly to their paddock set-up. This brings different requirements, which cannot currently be met.

Ron points out that, unlike Panoz, who also owned a series (the ALMS) and did not want competing series like Grand Am there, the new owners have to such binding ties. Rather, they are now open for business and have let all the different series know that and have invited them to present their requirements. They will take all of that input into consideration when planning changes to the facility. Only after this exercise will the owners decide on additional structures for garages, shops, etc.

Would Mosport not need larger run-off areas and other changes made in order to comply with regulations from various series? “No”, says Ron. The track is inspected every two years by FIA officials and is rated a number 2, which makes it legal for every racing series except Formula One.

I comment on the fact that earth was being moved almost immediately, once the sale was made official. Yes, for the time being there is some paving that was done in the paddock area but more importantly, there was a new tunnel built between turns 9 and 10. Now tractor-trailer rigs can come and go without having to wait for a break in the schedule. Also, the berm at the outside of turn 10 has been flattened to accommodate a new Registration Building, Media Centre and Timing and Scoring facility. Additionally, corporate viewing suites are planned for this area.

Are the owners contemplating repaving the track? Yes. Carlo Fidani is currently investigating the latest and greatest products for this application and there will initially be some testing areas on the track to try out different products. So, no more concrete patches in the future? No.

I mention the news of the involvement of Canadian Tire as a naming partner. Ron elaborates that Canadian Tire is much more than that. They are a corporate marketing partner with 500 locations across Canada and have been involved in Canadian motor sport for a long time and, in fact, are sponsors of the Canadian NASCAR series as well as one of the competing teams.

So what should we be calling Mosport now? “Canadian Tire Motorsport Park”. Ron gives us a quick lesson on the origin of the name Mosport, which of course is an abbreviation of Motorsport but points out that it was important to the owners to not only keep this but also the word ‘park’ in the name. It is a park and an important part of the local community.

I ask Ron if it is correct that he is involved with the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, to which he replies that, yes, he is, but unfortunately he does not get to spend nearly as much time as he would like to on this endeavour due to time constraints. I mention UCR member Rudy Bartling and that he is being inducted this year, and Ron remembers Rudy from all those years of racing at Mosport, saying that Rudy, when it came to Porsches, always did everything strictly by the book. He says this is great for Rudy and that Rudy deserves it.

Ron feels that the Hall needs to expand and strengthen its corporate relationships to bring in funding and to be able to afford a permanent home. I ask about a home for the Hall at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. He replies: “Don’t rule it out.” What a great fit that would be…

I mention Ron’s long-standing relationship with GM. Ron says that he had a relationship with GM already through his family but that when he went SCCA Trans Am Racing with Roush in a Ford Mustang it was because that, at the time, was the most competitive package for him to buy into. When he won the race, which was sponsored by GM in Detroit in 1994 in a Ford Mustang, the head of GM Motorsports handing him the trophy told Ron that he should be driving for GM. Ron replied that he was available. He drove the next two seasons in Trans Am in a GM Camaro.

Ron Fellows is a local boy, done good. He is the ‘mayor of Mosport’ because of his mastery of this racetrack. He’s had popular wins at Mosport in a huge variety of cars, including even a Ferrari 333SP in the World Sportscar Championship race in 1997.

What is next for Ron Fellows the driver? Ron says he’s always enjoyed testing and working with the engineers. He also enjoys his NASCAR drives as they are a lot of fun and, even though he only drives a few races a year, he knows that the teams he drives for will give him a competitive package that he knows he can do well with. Laughing he says that he hopes that GM will bring a third Cadillac for him to drive when the Speedvision Series returns to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this year.

Ron Fellows – Career Highlights (From Corvette Racing.com):

  • Two NASCAR Craftsman Truck wins
  • Three NASCAR Busch Grand National wins
  • 19 career SCCA Trans-Am wins
  • 1989: GM Player’s Challenge champion, runner-up in 1987-88
  • 1997: Overall winner, Mosport IMSA WSC (Ferrari)
  • 2000: First win for Corvette Racing (Texas)
  • 2001: Overall winner in Rolex 24 at Daytona, GTS winner in 24 Hours of Le Mans, five ALMS wins (Texas, Sonoma, Portland, Mosport, Mid-Ohio)
  • 2002: GTS winner in 24 Hours of Le Mans, ALMS GTS champion, seven ALMS wins (Sebring, Sonoma, Mid-Ohio, Washington D.C., Mosport, Miami, Atlanta)
  • 2003: ALMS GTS co-champion (with O’Connell), three ALMS wins (Sebring, Sonoma, Mosport)
  • 2004: ALMS GTS co-champion (with O’Connell), five ALMS wins (Sebring, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Portland, Laguna Seca), one SCCA SPEED World Challenge win with Team Cadillac (Mosport). Voted “Most Popular Driver” by ALMS fans.
  • 2005: Runner-up in ALMS GT1 championship, three ALMS wins (Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma); one SCCA SPEED World Challenge win with Team Cadillac (Mosport). Voted “Most Popular Driver” by ALMS fans for second consecutive year.
  • 2006: One ALMS win (Road America), one SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT win with Team Cadillac (Long Beach). Voted “Most Popular Driver” by ALMS fans for unprecedented third consecutive year.
  • 2007: Ran endurance races (Sebring, Le Mans) and Mosport round with Corvette Racing; one pole and two runner- up finishes in SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT with Team Cadillac. Voted “Most Popular Driver” by ALMS fans for unprecedented fourth straight year. Ran selected NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series road races, finishing fourth in Montreal and Watkins Glen.

Notable: Four-time ALMS Most Popular Driver award (2004 – 07), three-time ALMS champion, two 24-Hours of Le Mans class wins, 19 SCCA Trans-Am wins, six NASCAR wins (2 NCTS, 4 NNS). Web site: www.ronfellows.com <http://www.ronfellows.com/>

Birthdate: Sept. 28, 1959. Birthplace: Windsor, Ontario. Residence: Mississauga. Family: Wife Lynda, children: Lindsay, Sam & Patrick.

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