Track was a dirty disaster but paved the way for success

There have been several major setbacks in local motorsport over the years.

Though presented and developed with good intentions, these costly mishaps succumbed to government intervention, financial difficulties and lack of foresight. Examples that failed to showcase racing as intended include the proposed Spider race facility in Flamborough, the International Stockcar Alliance, the Hamilton Formula Atlantic street race, and several attempts to build a major race track in Niagara.

Another folly was the attempt to hold a major Sprint Car and Midget racing event on the dirt oval track in Mosport in 1989.

The owners of Mosport Park (now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) led by Harvey Hudes returned from a trip to California to watch dirt track racing and built a half-mile oval to showcase the best in Sprint Car racing with a World of Outlaws race along with a visit from the USAC (United States Auto Club) Midgets. The event was known as the “Northern Shootout” and the new track was nicknamed “Ascot North”.

This was a great starting point for Mosport, known for its world-class road course that had showcased the best of Formula 1, IndyCar and sports car shows.

The new oval was built with the help of a California track expert and trucks loaded with local clay were taken to the highway. The Midgets would go to the track on July 15, 1989 and the WoO the following day, and both races were part of their respective season schedules. Drivers like Rich Vogel, Johnny Parsons and Roger McCluskey were ready with their Midgets, and Jeff Swindell, Jac Haudenschild, Andy Hillenburg and others were ready to do battle with their Sprint Cars.

The Midgets, a smaller class of race cars similar to Sprint Cars but without wings, came to the new surface for practice on Saturday afternoon. After a few laps, the cars were digging tracks in the corners and piling up the top layer, including large rocks that would be dangerous for the drivers.

Officials and drivers from Mosport, USAC and WoO walked around the track and found it all unsafe.

“The clay brought in turned out to be almost sand,” said Dave Cook, the event’s general manager. “Everything had to be cancelled.”

Mosport retained the services of the California Dirt Road track planner and the local clay from around the Bowmanville area track used in the construction of the new track was not suitable for a racing surface.

“As we all know, the event has been canceled,” said Myles Brandt, President and General Manager of CTMP, who has worked at the facility for decades. “Harvey spoke to a gentleman in Indianapolis who was a job preparation expert who came to see me, who explained why the type of clay we were using wouldn’t work and it would be very difficult for us to find the right clay anywhere close at Mosport.”

So the July event was cancelled, but there’s a happy ending to it all. Brandt said preparations were quickly made to smooth out the dirty surface and the USAC and WoO cars returned in September for a successful race weekend. The 30-lap Midget feature was won by Ohio’s Gene Lee Gibson, while Florida’s Wayne Hammond and Michigan’s Gary Fedewa took the win in the 30-lap double Sprint Car feature.

And for the next 24 years, the oval track in Mosport hosted regular weekly races for a variety of oval track classes and showcased some of the best touring series, including CASCAR, NASCAR, ACT (American-Canadian Tour) and the ISMA Super Modifieds until it closed in 2013 to make way for a driver development circuit.

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