Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Indycars North of the Border Bring Back Toronto Memories

Rick Mears leads Al Unser Jr.past Toronto's Prince's Gate in 1986
It's hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Indycars first raced through the streets of Toronto around Exhibition Place.

While I will be heading south to shoot the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup races this weekend at Kentucky Speedway, thinking back to the trip we took to that first Toronto race in 1986 brings back a lot of memories: most good, some bad. It would be great to shoot Toronto again someday as it is a beautiful city and race fans there have always supported this race with a passion. That passion is what took me and seven other friends there to shoot the inaugural event and I will always remember it. After a 12 hour ride through the night in a friend's van painted in Miller High Life colors, we went straight to the credential office. It was ironic that the border agents asked us if we were bringing any alcohol into Canada and we got a good laugh out of that, especially since the van was painted like Danny Sullivan's car and the race we were on our way to shoot was sponsored by Canadian brewer Molson. It was the first opportunity I had to shoot with folks at the Indianapolis Star and it was just my third year as a racing photographer. Looking back on my pictures now, they seem so primitive and I realize how much I have learned about photography since then.

Downtown Toronto from the CN Tower

Toronto swag bag cover

When we got our credentials, we were given a bag with race swag which I still have, the outside of which had the race logo and Molson sponsor information. We were there in time to shoot some of Friday practice but everyone was beat from the long ride so no one was disappointed to head out to our hotel in Scarborough. One of our contingent knew friends in the area and I remember a nice evening at their home and then the tunnel vision set in for me. All I could think about was being at the racetrack and that didn't turn out so well, as those on the trip can tell you. In hindsight, it would have been better to spend more time having a balanced weekend, but we did get to see some of the city and took the CN Tower tour up to the observation deck at one point. The view from up there was simply spectacular and I recall dinner on Saturday night at a wonderful Italian restaurant which served a multiple course meal family style. I would love to go back and see how much the city has changed since then, and the fact that the IZOD Indycar Series has usually had Canadian drivers represented here, like Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani this year, bodes well for another great fan turnout. Having shot plenty of road and street courses since 1986, it would be fun to go back and see how I could put that experience to use in Toronto where so many great backgrounds exist.

This year's Toronto race starts a three race road course swing for the Indycar series that could tilt the season championship battle either for or against the two main protagonists, Will Power and Dario Franchitti. Power needs to make hay in these three races so that by the time the series leaves Mid Ohio August 8th, he can take a lead into the oval races which follow where Dario is typically stronger. If Dario gets on a roll starting this weekend, he could balloon his current 20 point lead into something insurmountable by the end of August when the last quarter of the season gets underway. Finishing with oval races should favor Dario and he is the man I predicted would win the title in a blog post back in January. The next Indycar race I will shoot isn't until Mid Ohio and then the penultimate race at Kentucky Speedway, so while I am shooting the taxicabs, make no mistake that Indycars are where my heart is. I'll be blogging and posting to Twitter @alleygroup all weekend so stay tuned. In the meantime, here are a couple other shots from that first Toronto race in 1986. 

Mario Andretti, Toronto 1986

Indycar field passes Toronto's Prince's Gate 1986

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