Motorsport

Ontario teen tears up tracks in Canada, U.S.

Written by Norris McDonald

The version of this column that was published in Toronto Star Wheels was edited for space and some information was cut out. Here is the unedited version:

The first time I laid eyes on Mackenzie (Mac) Clark, I thought I was looking at Greg Moore.

Moore was a rising young Canadian racing driver with talent, charisma, and ambition. He’d been signed by none other than Roger Penske to start driving for him in 2000 when he passed away on Oct, 31, 1999. Clark is 17 years old and tearing up tracks in both Canada and the United States, not to forget Italy, in go-karts and formula cars. Moore, because of the CART-IRL split, never got to race in the Indianapolis 500. Mac Clark’s ambition is to drive Indy cars for a living and guess which race is Mount Everest on the IndyCar schedule?

Physically, they almost look alike. But it’s the glasses that really do it. Round, with the lenses inside a dark frame (although Mac’s aren’t quite as round). I asked him about the similarities.

“I’ve heard about the Greg Moore thing before,” he was saying the other day on the phone. “I didn’t think much about it but then some friends mentioned it and I looked at some pictures (of Moore) and I said, ‘Yes,’ there is some resemblance.” But other than that, Clark is keen to make everybody forget about Moore, or any other driver, for that matter, and to concentrate just on him.

That might not be too hard to do. Take his 2020 record, when he won the Canadian Formula 1600 championship. He ran 22 races in Ontario, Quebec and the United States, won 18 of them, was on the podium two other times and didn’t finish the final two because of mechanical failure. I told him it sounded better to just say he lost four of 22. Whichever, when he won that F1600 title, he became the youngest driver to do it, beating Paul Tracy’s record by four months that “the Thrill” set in 1985.

This year, he’s racing in the Formula 4 United States Championship Powered by Honda and, to date, 35 drivers have taken the green flag. Clark sits second in the championship at the halfway mark (three races per weekend at six circuits) and, after a fairly disastrous opening weekend at Road Atlanta, has been tearing up the tracks since. At Road America, for instance, he had two victories and a third; at Mid-Ohio, it was two wins and a second. And this year and last, there were track records set and pole positions won.

So how did all this start? How did a 17-year-old turn so many heads while still so young?

Mac Clark is the son of Canadian karting champion Stuart Clark and his wife Michelle. He lives with his parents, younger brother Brodie and a cat, Louie, in the family home just outside Milton. “ ‘Louie’ got his name as a compromise between Lewis Hamilton and Louis Vuitton, for my mom, who’s into fashion,” he explained with a laugh.

Mac just finished his junior year at Milton District High School and is looking forward to his senior year, which will be “intimidating but also exciting. My dad made me promise when I was just starting out (in karting) that I would get an education so I would have something to fall back on. I’m interested in motorsport engineering, so whatever I wind up doing I will still be near the industry.”

Mac said that his interest in racing was a slow evolution. “I wasn’t really interested when I was a child,” he said. “But then I started watching Formula One with my dad on Sunday mornings and got more and more into it. Watching those guys fight it out on the track  sparked something inside of me, so I asked my dad if I could try go-karting. After convincing my mother that it was okay, I had my first outing when I was ten and I’ve been in love with the sport ever since.”

Like so many others, Clark started competing at the Waterloo Regional Kart Club and “fooling around” with his father at Flamboro Speedway on Saturdays and Sundays. “Slowly, as I got better and better, I got more ambitious.” Starting at age 11, he went to his first national karting competition and over the next five years he raced at home and abroad and started winning championships.

In 2019, he went car racing in Formula 1600 with Brian Graham Racing. “It was amazing,” he said, “to see all the spectators come out to watch Formula Ford racing, particularly in Quebec with the Grand Prix (a support race at the Canadian GP) and Trois-Rivieres (a race through the streets of that city near Quebec City). To not have that (in 2020, because of the pandemic) was strange. Definitely an adjustment. I really like meeting new people and hanging out, Hopefully, that will return this year.

“That’s the cool thing of the motorsport paddock. You don’t know someone and how much influence they might have, whether they’re interested in the sport or sponsoring a driver. You make a genuine connection with them and you go from there.”

His big year last year, when there were no spectators or media allowed, was done with David Clubine’s Britain West Motorsports team.  “it was just an amazing year,” he said. “You’ve learned all the basics and now you can focus on being the perfect driver, driving the perfect races. We set track records at Shannonville (Motorsport Park) and Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park). We were a tight knit group. We had a lot of success – me, the car and the team.”

And now the challenge is U.S. F4. “It was the only series we could afford for me to go in and continue developing as a driver. After this, if we have the money, I would like to get into the Road to Indy Series and work my way up to IndyCar.”

And that, of course, is the rub. Money. To that end, Clark has contracted with several companies to find some for him. The management of one includes fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe, who said:

“The first thing that draws your attention to Mac is his results,” Hinch said. “The speed is obvious. Canadian F1600 has always been a competitive series and a great barometer for talent, so witnessing what he did last year shows he is something special.

“But we all know that these days what you do in a car is only half the battle. Where Mac really stands out is his intelligence and maturity outside of the car. He is well spoken and understands the business side of the sport. Myself and SpeedGroup (a company that helps to manage young drivers and also help manage and do logistics for gentlemen drivers) are here to help in that regard, and he’s willing to put the work in off-track.

“I fully believe that with the right opportunity, we will see Mac in an IndyCar one day.”