London, ON - "If I don't make money I'm gone." Reports Peter Gibbons, driver of the number 1 Canadian Tire car and two-time CASCAR Super Series Champion. "I have to make a living at it [CASCAR racing]. We've got a big sponsor but we have to spend...
London, ON - "If I don't make money I'm gone." Reports Peter Gibbons, driver of the number 1 Canadian Tire car and two-time CASCAR Super Series Champion. "I have to make a living at it [CASCAR racing]. We've got a big sponsor but we have to spend more on our image so it's as tough for me as it is for the little guys."
Gibbons is speaking about the level to which the competition has risen in CASCAR, Canada's premier motorsports series. The 2002 season has seen five different winners in as many events, and any given event sees at least fifteen cars line up with a legitimate shot at winning. Gibbons, a regular front-runner, has seen his 2002 championship hopes all but dashed due to a string of bad luck in the opening events, both mechanical and with on-track incidents. While most CASCAR drivers do not make their living driving race cars, Gibbons is unique in Canadian motorsports in that his CASCAR race team is his core business.
"We have a full time team who travel across the country doing show car appearances for Canadian Tire. We do hundreds of appearance each year. It's a full time business. I'm just working on taking care of our sponsor, and we'll keep trying to win races. We always have a better second half of the year. But it's getting so competitive, and every team is making it that way. It used to be that you could show up and be competitive with a few hundred bucks, but it's so far beyond that now."
Pete Vanderwyst, driver of the number 99 Exide Batteries car, has had a strong start to the season and currently sits sixth in the championship battle. For Vanderwyst, staying at the front of the increasingly competitive series is paramount.
"So far we're confident that we're doing what we said we'd do." Reports Vanderwyst. "We wanted to improve our quality and finishes. The reliability has been there from the guys working hard on the equipment. I've listened to advice I've been given on my driving style and I've tried to take an aggressive bone out of my body and put in a few passive ones and I think it's worked."
But staying at the top of such a competitive field is no easy task. And for Vanderwyst, raising the profile of Canadian motorsports is almost as important as winning on the track.
"The competitiveness of CASCAR is second to none in Canada." Says Vanderwyst. "Talking to competitors in the US about the level of competition, the appearance of our cars, the level of our tech [CASCAR technical inspection], the sanctioning body, and the professionalism of our teams I would say we're in the top five in North America. I would say we're third in North America in the preparation of our cars and appearance of our package."
Many Canadian motorsports fans may not realize the level of competition that they have access to right in their own back yard. But the series recently received a major vote of confidence, as six NASCAR competitors have decided to make the trip North to compete against the best Canada has to offer on one of their race weekends off.
"I think it's fantastic for us to say we can support this in Canada" Comments Vanderwyst of the NASCAR rivals. "I think it's great for CASCAR and great for Canadian motorsports in general."
Vanderwyst will supply the race cars that NASCAR competitors Johnny Benson and Tony Stewart will use in the race, effectively tripling his work-load prior to the race.
"I've spent a lot of time on the phone with Benson to build that relationship. These guys have so much experience with how many races they run that this type of relationship can be really valuable for me to learn from. I'm trying to learn new tricks in car setup and race preparation from him. But really I think this event is not only good for CASCAR and Canadian motorsports, but good for the fans."
The CASCAR stars are currently immersed in the most difficult time of year for the teams, in which they face four unique racing challenges in four weeks. The drivers faced off two weeks ago on the Mosport road course, and returned to the legendary facility the following weekend to compete on the 1/2 mile Mosport oval track. Vanderwyst scorched the CASCAR track record in qualifying to take poll position and eventually finished sixth, while Gibbons ran at the front of the pack all night until mechanical woes forced him back in the pack, eventually finishing twenty first.
The CASCAR stars will head to Cayuga to take on the NASCAR drivers this weekend for the Canada Day Shootout presented by Dodge, along with the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 50 Qualifiers, on June 30th, and then prepare their road course cars once again as they head to the Molson Indy Toronto, where they are the Saturday feature show.
That will complete a line up of three of Canada's premier motorsports events, with another of the countries marquis race weekends, the Molson Indy Vancouver, just a few weeks down the road. Canadian race fans are encouraged to learn more about CASCAR at www.cascar.com. Fans can learn more about Peter Gibbons at www.petergibbons.com, and Pete Vanderwyst at www.vanderwystmotorsports.com.