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Targa Newfoundland isn’t postponed, it’s over

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

It was announced in recent days that the 2019 Targa Newfoundland has been postponed for a year. It is my sad duty to report today that, barring a miracle, it is dead.

Which is really a pity. The Targa – and the Newfoundland rally was one of only three recognized “Targa” events in the world (that’s correct; the world) was unique. It was brilliant and a wonderful adventure attracting support from the automobile industry, the motoring press and the people of Newfoundland, who embraced it.

Residents of 70 communities in that province threw themselves into the Targa. They allowed the roads around their towns to be closed to regular traffic on the days that the participants raced through and pitched in as volunteers – more than 2,000 of them – to make it a success.

The Targa was conceived by Toronto Star Wheels automotive writer Jim Kenzie and his ace public relations buddy Doug Mepham. They were returning from the Targa Tasmania one time and as they flew across the Pacific from New Zealand – and alcohol might have been involved – they said to each other: “Hey, why not hold one of these rallies in Canada? In fact, why not in Newfoundland?”

Others took it over and made it the success it enjoyed for awhile – sometimes guys who are good idea people are not necessarily the ones you want running things – and the Targa Newfoundland had limited success. And I’m not saying that to sound negative but the fact of the matter is that other than in Newfoundland itself, it never really caught on in either the country or the world.

Sure, Kenzie wrote lots of stories about it in Toronto Star Wheels. Once, when Maj.-Gen Lewis MacKenzie (Rt’d) entered, he wrote a story for the National Post’s Driving section and they gave it great play. Petrina Gentile covered it for the Globe and Mail’s Drive section while she was competing in it. So people tried.

But did you notice something about that previous paragraph? The Targa never made the front page or front section of the Star. Ditto the Globe and the Post. It didn’t make it into the sports sections of those publications, either. The only people who were aware it was even being held – other than the Newfoundlanders – were the minorities of newspaper readers attracted to those automotive sections.

To my knowledge, none of the CBC, CTV or Global national newscasts reported on it. It didn’t make it into Macleans’s magazine. I could go on, but you get my drift. In short, it didn’t have a national presence. Nor an international one, either. I don’t think it ever made the pages of Autosport – and that’s a shame. And while there were some Real Racers who entered the Targa, there was never a “name” in the lineup. And by that, I mean a name that people around the world would recognize. No Sebastien Ogiers or Sebastien Loebs ever entered Targa Newfoundland.

If you look at the Targa’s website, you see some sponsors. What you don’t see are big, national sponsors like Petro Canada or Molson’s.

The PR people did everything they could to drum up interested outside of Newfoundland. A few years ago – and don’t tell me this wasn’t a stunt – a competitor showed up wearing a Marlboro driver’s suit. He had on a Marlboro hat and a Marlboro jacket. He stuck out like a sore thumb. And we all know that it’s illegal for motorsport events to promote cigarettes. Naturally, one of the Targa’s PR people notified the smoke police in Ottawa and, as expected, the excrement hit the fan.

The smoke police notified the event that if the driver didn’t take off all of that Marlboro paraphernalia, the Mounties would be dispatched to shut down the Targa. At which point the Targa PR people sent out another press release. It was a good try, but even that didn’t get the attention of CBC’s The National or the CTV National News.

And therein, of course, lies the rub. Newfoundland is a wonderful place and the people are even better. But nobody in central Canada gives two hoots about them. Or any of the other Maritime provinces either. Quick: name the premier of Nova Scotia. See? You can’t. And that’s because you never hear anything about Nova Scotia or New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland unless they get hit by a hurricane or get buried by snow (unless Toronto gets buried by snow, at which time that news becomes more important than the Maritime storm news).

The national media – and us, by the way – should be ashamed by this state of affairs. It’s through media, after all, that we learn about anything in this world, and particularly what’s happening in our own country. Targa Newfoundland is dead today because of this lack of interest.

As my old friend Peter Trueman used to say on his Global newscast: “This is not news, but it is reality.”

And how unfortunate is that?