ISA stock car series was over before the starter’s flag waved

On June 30, 2002, the “largest” stock car race was held in Canada. It was the largest in terms of fans, big-name drivers of the sport, and promotional hype.

The event was also a beta test run for the introduction of the most audacious and controversial race series in the country.

With temporary seating along the back stretch of Cayuga Speedway, close to 20,000 fans invaded the Indian Line facility, parking as far away as Nelles Corners. There were six then-current NASCAR Winston Cup drivers at the Canada Day Shootout, including . They and 38 other drivers were at Cayuga to compete in a 100-lap CASCAR Super Series race.

The NASCAR personalities were brought in to race by a Brantford-based group who believed Canadian fans would flock to such an event.

Since 1966, Cayuga (now Jukasa) Speedway had presented some of the top names in racing with many Cup stars, but never with so much promotional effort. Looking across the track from high in the stands provided sights and sounds never seen at the paved oval. It was truly a momentous event in Canadian racing.

And the storybook line continued to the actual race, where Hamilton native Don Thomson started on the pole and stayed on the point for 92 laps of the contest, only to have his tires fade and allow Matt Kenseth to win.

The event was a big success, and the organizers proceeded with plans to take the Canada Day Shootout format across the country in a new stock car series to be known as the ISA, or International Stockcar Alliance.

Early in October of that year, the ISA was formally introduced to the world. At a press conference worthy of a Hollywood production, the cars, stars, and race venues were announced at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheater. Along with several local drivers, some NASCAR Cup drivers were on hand, along with examples of the race cars built to compete.

Some of the ISA’s corporate sponsors included Exide Technologies, Molson Sports and Entertainment, and Sun Media Publications. Private investors who had provided a great deal of money for what they believed was an exciting new chapter in Canadian racing were also at the amphitheater.

The new-style cars were powered by V8 engines on a 109-inch wheelbase chassis and featured a wing on the rear deck. Not only were traditional cars from the Big Three (GM, Ford, Dodge) to be built, the ISA was thinking on a global scale when makes such as Volvo, SAAB, and Jaguar could be developed into stock cars.

At the time, these European makes were tied in with US carmakers (Jaguar with Ford, SAAB with GM) and the US powertrains could have been used. An ISA-spec Toyota was featured at the press conference to provide some credence to this line of thinking. This was innovative and out-of-the-box thinking at the time.

The 2003 ISA schedule was to feature 10 events across Canada, including races at both Molson Indy weekends in Toronto and Vancouver, and a pair of races at Quebec’s Sanair Speedway. Six of these races were to feature major NASCAR and IndyCar racing talent.

Teams were signed up, cars were built, and a test and tune session with these new cars held that fall on the now-gone oval at Mosport (now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). All was in ready for the opener in May of 2003.

But, as the snow melted away early in 2003, so did the ISA.

The investment money was spent too quickly and with little accountability. Baby steps should have been taken with building the ISA, such as toning down the NASCAR driver appearances, racing at smaller venues other than the largest shows in the country, and running as an affiliate with an established and familiar oval series such as the American Speed Association (ASA).

The series collapsed before a wheel was turned into competition. Ironically, many aspects of the ISA car were later adapted into NASCAR Cup cars, items such as fuel-injected engines, independent rear suspension, and rack and pinion steering.


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