Racing News

Newgarden wins IndyCar race but Claman De Melo makes waves. Hinch makes . . . sponsorship pitch? Auto writer wins fifth award – for horse racing reporting.

Written by Norris McDonald

They finally finished that IndyCar race in Alabama Monday afternoon and it ended the same way it did on Sunday when it was red-flagged: it was pouring with rain.

After 22 laps of the 90 scheduled for the Grand Prix of Albama Sunday, race officials opted to postpone the event until Monday after most drivers complained that conditions were too treacherous.

The winner Monday was Penskie Racing’s Josef Newgarden, with Ryan Hunter-Reay second and Canada’s James Hinchcliffe third. Another Canadian, Robbie Wickens, who also happens to be Hinchcliffe’s teammate, was fourth. Sebastien Bourdais, who won the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, finished fifth.

The race was restarted in brilliant sunshine and Newgarden just took off on everybody else. There was some good dicing back in the pack, though, and some moves, in particular, featured a third Canadian in the race, Zachary Claman De Melo, who bulldozed his way past several other drivers.

If he keeps that up, he will soon earn the nickname Chrome Horn II (or 2), after another well-known Canadian racer, now retired, who was first saddled with the moniker. Yes, it was Paul Tracy, who came to be known as the Chrome Horn. Now a television racing analyst, he signaled approval of some of Claman De Melo’s moves.

Claman De Melo finished 19th, two laps behind the winner. He was penalized those two laps Sunday when his crew worked on his car during the first of the two red flag periods, a no-no. But judging by his performance, which was full of joie de vivre, which one can only expect from a native Montrealer, young Claman De Melo has got a bright future ahead of him.

Now, before I leave IndyCar, I must acknowledge the Tweeters and emailers who took me to task for voicing disapproval of Hinchcliffe’s crack about peeing his pants. (Of course, Conor Daly pointed out that IndCar finally made the ESPN SportsCentre broadcast – it rarely, if ever, does – but it was to report on that, not on the racing . . . exactly as I predicted. However . . .)

Among my critics was my wife.

“You were wrong to pick on him like that,” she said. “I heard what he said and I knew exactly what he was doing: he was making a pitch for sponsorship – from the makers of Depends.”

As Jimmy D. said: Everybody wants ta get inta da act.

Perry Lefko, a veteran sportswriter for more than 20 years at the Toronto Sun who now contributes to Automotive News Canada and consults with the Canadian International AutoShow, has won his fifth Sovereign Award for outstanding horse racing reporting.

The announcement was made Thursday, April 19, during a Canadian Jockey Club dinner at the Palais Royale on Toronto’s western waterfront. That’s Lefko, with his latest trophy, in the photo at the top of this column, which was taken by his friend Peter Gross.

Lefko’s award-winning story was about jockey Laurie Gulas of Welland, Ont., who rode three-year-old filly Free Vacation to victory in the 1999 Breeders’ Stakes to become the first female jockey to win a Canadian Triple Crown race.

She was on top of the world but then a combination of poor lifestyle choices and an addiction to painkillers sent her life on a downward spiral.  Lefko’s story details how she’s turned her life around after serving more than six years in prison.

The story appeared in the Sports section of the Toronto Star on Aug. 19, 2017.

Lefko, who studied journalism at Ryerson University, has also published upwards of a dozen books on subjects as interesting and varied as curling (Sandra Schmirler) and pro wrestling (Brett “the Hitman” Hart). His other books have been about football and horse racing.

The Jockey Club of Canada was founded in 1973 by industrialist and Windfields Farm thoroughbred horse breeder E.P. Taylor (Northern Dancer) to serve as the international representative of the Canadian Thoroughbred industry.

Well done, Perry.