My colleagues and I arrived via media shuttle from the designated media hotel. Entering the Allstream Centre we headed up the escalator to the “Tim Horton’s Media room”, where a table of timbits and fresh coffee awaited us. We were greeted by a table of volunteers from race partner Toronto Tourism, who handed us our BPA free water bottle (we are after all a green city, using a green facility for the weekend) and a data stick containing a digital visitor guide with everything we would need to get us around this fair city. There was also a map at the table, and information on all of the attractions within the core of the city, including Summerlicious! We do after all have to eat, and having someone there to answer questions, make suggestions, and help with reservations was great! Especially for first time visitors to the city.
And then I woke up…
I was hoping that someday I, or one of my colleagues, would be able to open our post race review with that paragraph. It is after all my home race, once one of the jewels in the crown of top level open wheel motor racing in North America. But as much as I’ve voraciously denied it over the last handful of years, and fought with every ounce of my being to promote, defend, and improve the event (I do a post-mortem every year with a laundry list suggestions) those days are gone and they aren’t coming back anytime soon, if at all.
(*for the record: media shuttles ended years ago, Tim Horton’s has never sponsored the media room, and Toronto Tourism has never provided swag bags or info, this is just a fantasy version of the “Welcome to our City/Race” I’ve wished for for years* )
I was so complacent coming out of the weekend, that I wasn’t even going to bother with this blog/recap. Previous recaps have fallen on deaf ears for years now, so why bother. But I wanted to have something to look back on and point to a year from now either as a triumphant “look how far we’ve come” or as a “well, it’s not surprising” (hopefully it won’t be the latter)
Something is just… off.
I was thinking maybe it was me this year. Maybe the mental/emotional state I’ve been in leading up to the weekend had tainted my joy/excitement, so I was biased. I even tried to muster up a phony state of “hyper-cheerleader” mode the night before the weekend kicked off. But it just wasn’t there. In fact the hype wasn’t anywhere in the city prior to or during the event.
My “nephew” ;-) and colleague Tony DiZinno very eloquently expressed my opinion/words in his piece today. (the Detroit vs Toronto section) (actually I agree with the whole damn thing)
Yes, I know it’s unfair to directly compare one event to another, as each one is unique in it’s facilities and promoters, but this year… this year… I don’t know. There just seemed to be a sense of “meh… whatever *shrug*” in Toronto.
The On-Track schedule was jam packed. (over packed in my opinion with 7 series, 13 races) I’m guessing they make a pretty penny from each series for use of the track and facilities, so the more the better right? To some maybe, but I think having a bit of a break on track would have offered up more of an experience off track. Then again, with the lackluster presentation around the grounds, maybe it was best to keep everyone distracted by the constant drone of engine noise…
I’m not going to review, compare or contrast the on-track stuff. There are enough arm chair drivers/race stewards out there analyzing the shit out it, so I’m not going to jump on that noisy bandwagon. (again, fwiw, TdZ spoke for me in that regard too)
My reflection will be with the event itself.
There was a definite disconnect when it came to the “event” part of the race weekend. (Ironic when speaking of a street race where the main “insult” over the years has been that those attending are “event” fans not race fans) It’s like the writing was on the wall coming into the event, and the absolute bare minimum was put in motion to pull off the weekend, without any extra expense or effort.
Already gone were the days of street parties, restaurant and bar tie-ins, and well attended media kick offs. Next went the multiple beer gardens and entertainment stages on the grounds during the weekend.
Soon gone was the party and fun atmosphere of “Thunder Alley”. Followed by the rows of neatly laid out selections of vendor booths selling great food, sponsor related gear, and handing out samples, etc… (though come to think of it I did get a free sample of travel sized men’s deodorant and body wash)
Last year they tried to revamp the weekend a bit, adding “Fests”. This saw the return of a couple of Craft Beer gardens, a site wide liquor license, and two separate areas of some of the cities most amazing food trucks.
This year, walking around the grounds behind the grandstand, one got the impression that the vendors that did show up to participate for the event were told to “park it anywhere” when they arrived as there was no rhyme or reason to the layout whatsoever (and yes, the giant gaping hole/construction site can account for some of that, but it was mapped out last year, and there was a better set up on the grounds) There were only a handful of Food trucks (half of which were chain restaurant trucks, not the local independent ones) and one beer garden. There was a Fire-Fit competition, but with the heavy on track schedule, I wasn’t able to catch any of that. Apparently there was some sort of lumberjack competition too… (can anyone verify that?)
Anyway, the whole “fest” thing confused many, according to some I talked to at the track, as they thought they were separate events off site. (only highlighting how poorly they were executed at the track) We have a lot of festivals in the city on the weekends in the summer. In fact Toronto’s Festival of Beer is happening this coming weekend… but I digress…
Back to the race fan experience…
We’ve become used to being treated like the red-headed stepchild by the series itself (apologies to red-headed stepchildren everywhere) with the lack of Fan Village set up. At least in previous years there was an attempt at a set up, as weak as it was, but this year there was nothing. Added to that the absence of the Verizon Technology Booth and charging stations on pitlane, glaringly missing as it is acknowledged during every race broadcast south of the border (last time I checked all phones could use a charge, not just Verizon phones) To my knowledge Verizon is still looking at entering the Canadian market… so why the snub? Especially from the new SERIES sponsor. Target, an associate team sponsor, embraced the Canadian market a year before they arrived, with full signage at the track, and branded giveaways. (I still use my free Target travel grocery bag everywhere!) So where’s the love Verizon?
As usual, there was a sad makeshift IndyCar swag merch booth with but a skeleton selection of wares. None of the individual team or driver merch trailers make the trip (too much hassle at the border apparently) but I guess that’s ok, because we can order that stuff online, or get it at one of the American events that most of us travel to (that’s right, we have no problem making the trip across the border to support US events)
And besides, we could get the Toronto event branded swag at the … on no, WAIT… There weren’t even ANY Event souvenirs!!
Wanted a t-shirt that said “Honda Indy Toronto”? you had to sign up for a grocery store credit card. That’s right. No pins, no mugs, no t-shirts, no jackets, no lanyards. Nothing for anyone to purchase to commemorate the weekend besides the program. (which by the way PRN did a stellar job on once again)
Hell, we don’t even get any scanner rental love up here anymore. (something that would have been useful for the stands full of people wondering what the fuck was going on both Saturday and Sunday)
It was a who’s who of “who??” “celebrities” being driven around in the back of the pick up trucks behind the drivers, with our embarrassing joke of “Mayor” bringing up the rear. (way to taint our event by association doofus) FYI, every news outlet used their entire allotted “talk about the Honda Indy” time to run clips of his slothiness in the back of the truck riding around the track, gut hanging out, jacket flapping. In case you were wondering? There IS such a thing as BAD publicity.
Then came the most horrifying version of O’Canada I’ve heard in a long time. At least pre-race ceremonies (as lacking as they were) would be capped off by the signature, spectacular fly-over which Toronto is known for… or not.
Not even a fucking traffic helicopter to buzz pitlane for those of us looking to the sky in anticipation.
Now, I certainly wasn’t expecting a personal thank you for attending and covering the event. (Kudos once again to the powers that be in Detroit for that extra special touch) But with all of the rumours and speculation circulating regarding the future of this event, one would THINK, this year of all years, that the promoters, or at the very least Charlie Johnstone, would hold a post event wrap up press conference in the media centre. (which happens every year and at most events on the circuit) to quell the rumours, and perhaps lay out the steps being taken/suggested for the future, so we all have something more than a shrug and an “I don’t know” in response to questions from readers and fans.
So there is it. The weekend started with a whisper and ended with a whimper.
One would think that if this were in fact potentially the “last hurrah’ for this event, that the powers that be would want to go out with a bang! Creating desirability for current partners to re-up and future partners to jump on board, or at the very least to leave everyone wistfully longing for it’s return (see Baltimore) rather than sadly acknowledging that it was time to put the old girl down…
I would be remiss if I weren’t to acknowledge the “good” as well.
To all of the drivers, crews, and teams, (and their families) who bring their A-Game and skills to the streets of Toronto every year, and put on a stellar show for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Big ups and a hearty thank you to all of my Honda Canada peeps. A++ effort all around, in particular your support of Make-A-Wish Canada. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The fine folks at Torchia Communications. I know your hands are tied a lot of the times, but you guys put in a fine effort to work within those limits to make our jobs easier on the weekend. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The Keg Steakhouse. Once again, two stellar meal experiences for me and my out of town guests over the race weekend. (the same cannot be said for our experience at Jack Astor’s on Saturday night… )
and the heartiest thank you to my all of my colleagues who do make the time and effort to travel to my fair city to cover this event, contributing to the city coffers with your tourist dollars ;-) Safe travels my friends. See you on the other side of the border soon.