Tag Archives: Honda Indy Toronto

Ok then… guess I should recap…

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)

Pre-race…

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.

Post-race…

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.

Nope. Nothing…

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…

FOOTNOTE:

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.

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3 More Sleeps till the 2 in T.O.!

There I was, work done, feeling antsy, unpacking my suitcase from the weekend, thinking… “geesh, I won’t be driving to another race until Mid-Ohio”… then I remembered, THE CIRCUS COMES TO MY TOWN THIS WEEK! No travel required!!!

Still in possession of my sweet little CR-Z courtesy of Honda Canada, I decided to drive down to Exhibition Place on Monday see what was happening at that track.

When I got there, there was a lot of activity. Roads were closed, men were laying cable, building structures, directing workers… and I wandered around, camera in hand, trying to “blend in”
*note to self, keep hard hat in trunk* Continue reading

Ok Toronto, Time to Step it up.

I tend to put blinders on, and sometimes get a little “cheerleadery” when it comes to my home race.
I mean, who wouldn’t.
You want to support your “home team”
You want to encourage people to come to your event.
But… it’s time to take the gloves off me thinks.
Not in a “negative nellie” way, but in a “come on gang, we can do a hell of a lot better” way. Bear with me if it is one long run on sentence, but  I’ve had a week to mull this over, and I have a lot to say.

Unless you had your head up your ass last weekend, there was no denying that attendance was down this year. All three days. I thought maybe it was just my imagination, so I polled a few of my colleagues at the track, and looked back at previous photo galleries. Nope. Definitely down.

Of course, long gone are the days when the daily gate was proudly and boastfully posted on the wall in the media centre, so there are certainly no hard numbers to compare. Sure, the suits say all the right things pre-event;  all their targets have been met or surpassed, etc… but the proof is in the pudding. The pudding being the bodies on the property, and bums in the seats. Continue reading

Where to Eat in T.O.? *the cliff notes*

Seems to be the most popular question in my twitter stream this week, and scrambling to answer in multiple 140 tweets is proving brutal. So… here you go gang. Here is a generalized listing, featuring choices mostly in the core, where I figure most of y’all will be sleeping the next few days, with concentrations of restaurants of many genres, which should satisfy all tastebuds. I did up some really remedial Maps/legends for you to peruse, print, etc…

I’ve concentrated on the Entertainment District (if you are staying at Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt, etc… you kids are on restaurant row! The world is your Oyster!) and the St. Lawrence Market District.

You’ve got everything from multiple coffee shops, and mom & pop take out places, to sports bars, to 5 star restaurants. And a vast selection of “street meat” carts (which we Canucks enjoy after a night of drinking!)

For the restaurant rows, I didn’t list venues on the maps in detail, but I’ll outline a few choices below Continue reading

2 more days til MY sports season begins

alright… Got all of that Football stuff out of your system?

Good, because now it’s time to concentrate on some real sports entertainment! Racing and Cars!

That’s right, over the course of the next week, things kick off in a big way, especially here in Toronto.

First up, this weekend is the annual Canadian Motorsports Expo, or CME as it’s known in these parts. In a stroke of genius, the powers that be decided to push the date from it’s usual dreary January weekend, to the second weekend in February.

Why is this important? Well, a number of reasons, but the main one being it’s close proximity to the Canadian International Auto Show (that kicks off next Thursday, and I’ll be there too) This makes it a great lead in to the automotive season here in Toronto. Plus, the football season is done (apparently they played their last game during the Madonna concert last weekend) leaving a good portion of the male population wanting something to do on the weekend besides tackle their “honey-do list” 😉 And, though they could never have predicted this, the weather has been ridiculously pleasant this winter. (of course now that I’ve said that, there will be Snowmageddon this weekend)

At first glance at the handy electronic version of the show program
There looks to be a much larger presence this year. The layout appears to have changed substantially, and there certainly appears to be a larger corporate footprint mixed in with the smaller “mom & pop” operations.

What am I looking forward to? The discussion!
Yes, it’s the annual meeting of the motorsports minds. The who’s who of Canadian (Ontarian?) motorsports journalists hold a Q & A panel each year (Saturday), while I, the “who the fuck is that chick?” of Canadian motorsports journalists, sits in the audience and heckles… er “asks questions” 😉
There are actually things to talk about this year! In years previous, much of the discussion at the CME amongst my colleagues and friends amounted to nothing more than speculation because as you well know, other than the mega teams, very few deals are signed, sealed and delivered in January. This year of course was a bit of an anomaly as teams were eager to secure drivers sooner rather than later to take advantage of the limited testing of the new car, a time sensitive priority with the first race 46 days away. (not that I’m counting… but I’m counting)

Speaking of the new car; you can get up close and personal with the DW12 at the show courtesy of the Honda Indy Toronto, who themselves will once again have a presence after a year absent from the show. Come down, ask about the car, ask about the race, get revved up for July!!

oh, right, you want to know about drivers?

Ya, they have those too! As is the case currently in North America, it’s all about NASCAR, (there really is no accounting for taste 😉 ) so much of the special guest action is NASCAR centric (hey, they’re probably footing most of the bill too, so good on them) This year features both CDN & US stars who will feature prominently throughout the weekend: Carl Edwards, Robert Yates, Randy LaJoie & Scott Steckly But don’t fret Open Wheel/Road racing fans, CME stalwart Ron Fellows will be there again (should be interesting to pick his brain about Mosport) and the most important feature, for me anyway, up and coming open wheel SUPERSTAR (though he’s always been one in my book) James Hinchcliffe! (he’s there on Sunday)

So, it looks like I will spend a good portion of my weekend on the fricken Go-Bus to and from downtown to the fricken boonies about behind the Airport to the International Centre. (my biggest complaint about this show, especially as a non-driver) (no, the irony of that is not lost on me) On the bright side, at least I know once I’m there, I will have plenty of sights and sounds to occupy my time! But don’t just take my word for it, come check it out for yourself!

And be sure to say HI! if you’re down there. Tweet me a hello @whatimthinking

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t…

I’m going to have to tackle my home race in a couple of posts me thinks, because there is so much to say and talk about, and I don’t want to get overloaded or sidetracked in just one post.

So lets just get this stuff out of the way first.

The armchair critics out there, those that not only bitch about this genre of racing, but many of whom will also openly admit they haven’t and wouldn’t even consider attending one, pan “street courses” as boring, non-challenging parades amongst many other descriptive labels.

Their blind with rage hate of this type of event seemingly clouding their judgment in such a pre-conceived way that they are unable to actually see the positives when the event is actually good! (both on and off track)

There is so much vitriol rolling around on all my stops on the inter-webs today both publicly and privately about how awful the event was, and how damaging to the sport it was,  Blah blah fucking blah. From the raving you would think that 9 cars finished the race, 6 people were in the stands and there were only 12 laps of green flag racing.
It was quite the opposite actually. Continue reading

So the event itself…

was not much of an event at all. Aside from zero general promotion until the Tuesday of race week, there was also distinct lack of fanfare when you arrived onsite.
I don’t even know why I’m about to bother with the following post, other than the persistent nudging from my inbox to “tell me what you thought!!”

so here goes I guess… Just a little snippet of what I saw, heard, felt..

Gone was the giant “Welcome Race Fans” inflatable, the turn styles, the souvenir stand, the program hawkers…
In it’s place two guys yelling at cars and a line of rent-a-cops in yellow shirts that looked more like they were blocking the entrance than welcoming you to what used to be a world class event.

Inside the door a couple of tables with photo copied signs. One where you could buy tickets (in theory, if you had the patience to wait while they tallied your purchase by abacus) and one for will call. But don’t try to leave tickets at said will call for anyone. It’s not “that” kind of will call. (WTF kind is it then?!) Imagine how happy I was when I found out that I couldn’t leave the free tickets (gold seats I was handed the night before by someone in the organization to attempt to paper the place on Saturday) at the Will Call, but rather had to walk the half hour from the Pitlane to the front door once my guests arrived. (see you could no longer access the pitlane from both ends this year, or at the mid point) (oh not wait, if you were a relative or a pit lizard you could access midway, but we in the media who HAD to be on pitlane to do our jobs had to walk to the far end to access it…) (but I digress)

Oh and don’t try to find customer service either. There was none. That’s right, the one thing that made this event stand apart head & shoulders over the others, the amazing Customer Service, was but a memory.

Now the talking heads, who got real good at pissing into the wind and telling us it was raining all weekend, insisted there was tons of “activation” pre-event. Yes, if you drink bud, by the case apparently, there where promotions on that.

Firstly, who the fuck drinks Bud if they aren’t forced to at a sporting event.
Secondly, what about the rest of the population that doesn’t fall into whatever that demographic is?
There were no posters or billboards or banners or flags anywhere!
I finally saw a few Budweiser “Welcome Race Fans” signs go up on race week at select bars in the city.
No Subway/TTC activation, other than one IZOD Streetcar which I didn’t see until race weekend.

Gone was the grandstand lined, majestic front stretch. In it’s place ONE grandstand, half the height, with a lovely view of the now TREE Lined front straight.
Gone was the huge turn 10 double beer garden, in it’s place a big open empty area, and a tiny Hooters beer garden.
Gone was the large variety of vendors and food. In it’s place Pizza Pizza stands.
Gone was the nightly off track events, parties, charity events, balls, street parties. (Thank you Hinch for caring enough to throw a post race party!)
Gone was the ATMOSPHERE!! In it’s place, emptiness and silence by 6:30pm each night. I kid you not.

The layout was so bad and awkward and uninviting, I stopped walking the grounds. (not that I had a lot of time to do so anyway cause the half hour walk back to the media centre meant I was mostly held hostage on pitlane so as not to miss any of the action or the shots I needed to get during each session)

The media centre… lol… well, since I have done both Indy and Watkin’s Glen recently, let me tell you… much improvement is needed there.
While they finally took the step of putting the media room and the press conference room in one, :thumbsup: Yay! they dropped the ball with feeding us. (Something that Toronto is notorious for other than the final CC year when they actually feed us half decently)

In addition to the food being mediocre at best (if and when there was any at the times that you could actually eat), there was no place to actually sit and eat it, other than to try to balance it on your lap while sitting in front of your computer in the media room. And true to form, there wasn’t a bottle of water to be found on Raceday. Apparently the fact that it’s July and we work outside for hours at a time failed to register on the caterer, who I’m guessing from the reaction of the AGR folks won’t be hired back next year. Luckily I was able to grab a couple of sports drinks from the Conquest gang post race (yes POST race, approximately 9hrs after I arrived that morning) so I didn’t pass out from dehydration.

I have to give huge kudos to AGR’s Tip Nunn who was on top of everything for us in the media all weekend though. (you go “Big Daddy”)

I was really REALLY hoping to be chowing down on a giant plate of crow this week, having been proved wrong and attending a fabulous event, but alas, I can save the crow recipes for another day.

I don’t want to rip on my home race, any more than I wanted to see it presented with such a lack of… I can’t even think of an appropriate word.

I spent the weekend with visiting media asking me what the deal was, and all I could do is shrug silently. Then I just bit my tongue while those in charge shoveled enough PR lies and bullshit to fill the Direct Energy Centre 3 times over down our throats. My favorite moment was being told to my face that they didn’t give away one ticket this weekend. Funny I said to the person, I was personally handed 5 free tickets from a stack of at least a hundred, to which I was greeted with gaping mouthed silence.
I’m the wrong person to attempt PR spin on. Trust me.

I made the mistake of taking a stroll through my photos of Toronto Indys gone by. It just gave me a lump in my throat. Even the last two CC events, that were on the decline ironically, looked like the Indy 500 comparatively.

I can only hope that the epic failure of waiting until the last minute while arrogantly depending on the misguided notion of Torontonian’s blindly accepting anything thrown at us and coming back in droves, quality be damned, will make “them” sit up and take notice and put a little effort into it next year, because what I saw this weekend was like charging the paddles to 300 and resuscitating a DNR patient… and that breaks my heart.