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Racing Roundup: $1M purse for Jukasa, Dixon too quick on the trigger, Kimi to McLaren (?!) and all the racing news

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

When I wrote in Toronto Star Wheels on Saturday how much I admired Jukasa Speedway owners Kenny Hill and Jerry Montour for Thinking Big – they’d put up a $50,000-to-win prize for this weekend’s Canadian Short Track Nationals at the Hagersville-area oval – I didn’t realize just how big they were really thinking.

Okay, are you ready for this? This is How Big.

They are planning to post a $1-million purse for the Nationals in 2021.

That is One Million Dollars. Except for the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 – maybe the U.S. Nationals NHRA race – there is not a $1-million purse in North American auto racing.

This year, the total purse was $174,000. The main event, the Pro Late Model 200, featured the 50 grand to win and last place paid $2,000. $5,000 went to the winner of a 50-lap Super Stock feature and on Saturday there had been two support-race features. So the $174,000 paid for four races.

Next year, the total purse will be $300,000. In 2020, it will be $500,000 and in 2021 it will be $1 million.

Jukasa General Manager Alex Nagy told me on Sunday night that no decision had been made on how much first-place money will be paid going forward but that it will be a good percentage of the total purse and a “substantial amount.”

And the Nationals will not necessarily be held every Labour Day weekend, either. The aim will be to have as many top-notch stock car drivers as possible show up to race so the Nationals will be scheduled on a weekend when the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series is off.

Frankly, any racing driver worth his or her salt would be wise to put those races on their schedules. If big-block modified drivers can be making waves in the Camping World Truck Series or winning indoor midget races in Tulsa, Okla., it is not beyond the realm of possibility that – say – an Indy car driver like James Hinchcliffe might seriously consider taking a shot at some of the big money on offer at Jakusa. I mean, why not?

In other news, the track known for years as Cayuga Speedway – thanks to the late Bob and Leone Slack, it was known as the crown jewel of Canadian short tracks – will be undergoing some renovations during the off-season. Nagy said the aluminum had been ordered and grandstand seats would all have backs as of next season. And a bridge over the backstretch from the infield will allow fans to get into and out of the infield during races without having to wait for track crossings to open.

And improvements to washroom facilities, particularly for women, are also in the cards.

Southern Ontario has needed a beautiful speedway – a really beautiful speedway – for years. This is not a knock at places like Flamboro and Sunset and Peterborough or any of the dirt palaces scattered throughout the province. But Jukasa is close to all the major population centres as well as the border, so it has an edge.

And face it, friends. This is the final nail in the coffin of that speedway in Fort Erie, the one I never believed was ever going to be built in the first place.

Meantime, Bubba Pollard of Senoia, Ga., won that $50,000 – although in his money, it was a paltry $38,000. Carson Hocevar finished second and Brian Campbell was third.  Quebec racer Patrick Laperle was top Canadian and he finished fourth.

Here are a couple of quick notes from Jukasa: Bubba Pollard is not a full-time racer. He told me in an interview that the family has a sanitation business in Georgia and that takes up the majority of his time. He says he only races on weekends, normally, but will go further afield when there`s a reason. The Jukasa race was a reason. He goes to races with his parents, his wife Erin and their 2-year-old daughter, Mac (short for MacMillan – and that’s their photo, above. Mac was not happy because her Dad had taken her off a four-wheeler to have her picture taken and she was not happy – AT ALL). “We have fun racing,” he said, adding that he has no interest in going to NASCAR, where “it`s all politics.” . . . . . Mike Smith, who played Bubbles on Trailer Park Boys, was the Grand Marshal. He said that he’d “wanted to do this my entire life . . . Drivers” and then the microphone cut out before he could finish the “start your engines” command.  He’s in good company. At the last CART race at Nazareth Speedway, Roger Penske was Grand Marshal and he said “Gentlemen,” before the mic cut out. . . . . Noah Gragson, the Camping World Trucks racer who caused the ruckus at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last Sunday when he tried to pass his teammate on the last corner and failed, spinning them both out, was in the pits at Jukasa but not to race. He was there to act as a spotter for one of the American racers. . . . . . Although 63 cars were entered, and Nagy told me last week he expected around 55 to actually show up, only 44 were there. So only four went home without some moolah as the big feature started 40 cars and last place paid $2,000. . . . . . Most of the cars that didn’t show were from south of the border, including former NASCAR star Sterling Marlin. There`s something about the Canada-U.S. border that spooks some Americans. Several years ago, the Borg-Warner people didn’t want the Indianapolis 500 trophy to be sent to Canada for a display at the Canadian International AutoShow. But then they let it go to Japan after Takuma Sato won the the 500. Go figure. . . . . . Two Canadians who were giving it their best shot Saturday night, only to come up short, were Jason Hathaway and young Quebec racer Raphael Lessard. They both crashed. Lessard then left for Winchester, Ind., for a race there Labour Day Monday afternoon. Busy boy.

Am I the only one who thinks that Scott Dixon could have waited – say – 30 seconds – before blasting off to get back into the race after being caught up in that first lap pileup at the Grand Prix of Portland in which Marco Andretti ended up upside down.

I’ve watched the replay of the crash aftermath a dozen times and Andretti is upside down, the safety team is in the process of trying to get the car with Marco inside right-side up and Dixon is waving at everybody to get the hell out of the way because he wants to go racing.

I know all about the red mist But a guy is upside down right next to you and seven or eight safety workers are trying to rescue him and a deep-breath-and-count-to-ten might have been in order.

And I love how the other drivers are so quick to condemn somebody for making a mistake, as if they`re always innocent of screwing up. Of all the people who should know how hard those cars are to control, you would think the other drivers might be a teensy-weensy bit sympathetic toward one of their own.

Zach Veach started the accident by cutting the corner where James Hinchcliffe was also going and the ensuing collision resulted in the ka-boomer. I can tell you that Veach didn’t do what he did on purpose; the torque of an Indy car at the start of a race is like being shot out of a gun and Veach was trying as hard as he could to maintain control and the collision with Hinch was just – as they say – one of them racin’ deals.

Marco Andretti has been upside down at the start of a race before. Remember that race they had for a couple of years in Brazil. Marco was upside down at the start of one of those. Both times he’s walked away. Let’s hope there’s never a third time.

That IndyCar race was won by Takuma Sato, with Ryan Hunter-Reay second and Sebastien Bourdais third. Dixon maintained his lead in the championship but the last race at Sonoma is in two weeks where double points will be at stake. IndyCar said Monday that the championship will once again go down to the last race but when double points are up for grabs, that`s pretty much always going to be the case.

For a detailed story of that IndyCar race in Portland, please click here.

Nicholas Latifi of Toronto is peaking at the right time so far as his auto racing future is concerned. He had a fourth- and a fifth-place finish in the two Formula 2 races held at Monza at the weekend. This follows a race win a week ago in Belgium.

Winning a series title by virtue of winning the most races is no guarantee of advancement, as we have seen. Our own Robert Wickens, for instance, was passed over for promotion to Formula One after winning the Renault Formula 3.5 title over Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo.

So Latifi doesn’t have to win a championship to apply to race beside Lance Stroll at Team Canada (now known as Force India) in 2019. He just has to be in the neighbourhood of the points lead, keep his nose clean, smile at the right people and be nice to the media.

I say this because McLaren announced Monday that Lando Norris will replace Stoffel Vandoorne next season. Norris is currently second to George Russell in the F2 championship but has a better PR team.

Talking about Stroll, he needs some media training. He was interviewed after the Italian GP Sunday and stuttered and stammered his way through it. Not good enough for an F1 driver, all of whom (or most, anyway) are excellent public speakers.

Even Kimi.

Say, do you think Kimi might take Fernando Alonso’s place at McLaren next season? They need a veteran driver to help develop Norris and I don’t see another one around. That he can still get the job done, let there be no doubt. A pole and a podium finish Sunday is pretty good for a guy who’s 180 years old.

Despite driving much better than his No. 1 status teammate, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi’s days at Ferrari seem to be numbered. I don’t understand the reasoning. They’ll get a young guy like Charles Leclerc – does he shave yet? – but he won’t be able to go as fast as the Kimster, so what’s the point?  We’ll have to wait and see but the tealeaves are pointing in that direction.

Maybe Kimi and his people should move first – and get him that seat at McLaren. Then he would leave Ferrari on his own terms, which is always preferable.

(By the way, I know about Carlos Sainz being named to take over from Alonso. But who knew Raikkonen would become available? Remember: Sainz was under contract to Red Bull when he drove for Renault so who says that sort of thing couldn’t happen again? In F1, anything is possible.)

Lewis Hamilton won the race in Monza on Sunday, with Raikkonen second and Valtteri Bottas third.

Hamilton was booed by the Italian crowd, which is a natural response when he and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel collided and Vettel wound up spinning off the track. He recovered to battle his way back to contention but missed the podium.

For a detailed story of that F1 race in Italy Sunday, please click here.

Brad Keselowski won the Southern 500 Sunday night, with Joey Logano second and Kyle Larson third. All eyes will be on the Brickyard 400 next weekend, as it is the last race of the “regular” season and the Chase for the Championship field will be set. For complete results, please click here.

Keselowski, meantime, was in the right place at the right time to finally check winning at Darlington Raceway off his to-do list during Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

Keselowski inherited the race lead with 37 laps left after Ross Chastain and Kevin Harvick tangled in turn two while battling for the top spot, then held off Cole Custer all the way to the finish to capture his third NASCAR Xfinity Series win of the season. Tyler Reddick finished  third.

Harvick was furious with Chastain afterward, suggesting the rookie had compromised his future by getting into an accident with him. Chastain’s car owner Chip Ganassi disagreed, however, by saying the reverse was true.

Is Kurt Busch thinking of moving into ownership? His brother, of course, is a veteran owner in the trucks championship and some other, lesser, series. At Darlington this weekend, he told reporters: “No updates (on plans for next year). I do have two contract offers that I’m looking at. It’s kind of the same thing as last year, where the team at Stewart-Haas put me into free agency and it gives me the opportunity to talk to others, and I do have the loyalty and the respect from Monster Energy (his long-time sponsor). As the sport evolves, the sport changes, it’s unique for me too, to understand more about the ownership side and how the different structures are set up, so (there are) no updates right now and it’s just more information for me to digest. We’ll announce things when they get closer.”

My guess? He’s back at Stewart-Haas in 2019 or he could very well buy an existing franchise team and drive for himself.

If I hadn’t been at the Short Track Nationals, I would have been at Oswego Speedway in northern New York for the 62nd annual Budweiser International 200 for Supermodifieds, a.k.a. the Oswego Classic, which was won Sunday by Otto Sitterly, with Canadian Doug Didero second and Michael Barnes third.

Sitterly won $15,000 for his efforts. This is how close the finish was: Sitterly, 1:25:06:557; Didero, 1:25:07:659; Barnes, 1:25:08:288. I could go on but you get the drift. Indy 500 veteran Davey Hamilton was 15th. My old friend, and another Indy veteran, Joe Gosek, was caught up in an 11-car wreck and credited with a 25th-place finish.

Saturday night, Matt Hirschman won the $12,000 NASCAR Whelan Modified feature at Oswego and Timmy Jedrzejek won the ISMA Supernationals. At Lebanon Valley Speedway (Albany, N.Y.) Saturday night, Kenny Tremont won the Super DIRT Series 100-lap feature for big-block modifieds that was worth $25,000.

Ace racing PR man Clayton Johns messages that Matt Farnham of Tonawanda, N.Y., took full advantage of re-drawing the pole and led all 20 laps to score victory in his first career start with the Action Sprint Tour powered by RaceRivalz.com on Sunday night at Humberstone Speedway. The win adds Farnham’s name to the Action Sprint Tour record books as the fifth different winner in series history and the first American driver to claim a win. The win is even more remarkable considering the Empire State driver is normally a 358 Modified driver at Ransomville Speedway and not regular Sprint Car pilot.

At Watkins Glen, the Pirelli World Challenge wrapped up its season with a number of feature races.

After losing Saturday’s race on the last lap, Johan Schwartz redeemed himself Sunday with a sensational Touring Car victory over Canada’s Karl Wittmer.  Schwartz led most of the Saturday 40-minute TC sprint race before Wittmer slid past him in turn eight on the final lap.

Sunday’s Round 12 contest was a similar scenario, but the North Carolina driver didn’t allow Wittmer the chance for a last-lap move with an 0.130-second victory. Wittmer, of Hudson, Que., looking for his third 2018 TC win, tried every angle he could to slip by Schwartz again like he did on Saturday. But the driver of the No. 91 Classic BMW was forced to settle for second.

the TC driver championship, veteran Vesko Kozarov of Salt Lake City, Utah, unofficially captured the TC Drivers’ title by four points over Wittmer, 260-256. Classic BMW won the Team points title with BMW taking the top spot in the Manufacturers’ points.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca