Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Montreal, au revoir?
How in the world did NASCAR just lose Montreal?
Here it is: http://bit.ly/SKaKet
There it goes....
Negotiations gone awry?
Negotiations just botched?
Strong-arm tactics rebuffed?
Power play in progress?
Blind-side hit? Looks that way for this sport.
Maybe it's time for a few penalty shots in this deal.
First off, NASCAR appears a step behind at the moment on several fronts. It's mid-October and the Nationwide and Truck tour schedules have yet to be released, and the 2013 Sprint Cup calendar just came out.
Why so slow? What's really going on behind the curtains?
Montreal by night, with NASCAR haulers leaving Gilles Villeneueve after the race for the trek back to North Carolina (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Did Montreal just not work for this sport?
Formula One seems to make it work just fine.
And for the past six summers NASCAR's Nationwide series has played to a nice crowd of 60,000 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, on the scenic Ile de Notre Dame, in the heart of the oh so picturesque and sophisticated French-Canadian city.
Remembering that day a few years back that Ray Evernham flew us up to Montreal to watch George Gillett's Canadiens, playing in the Centre Bell, one of the world's busiest arenas, classy and with such high-tech wizardry...
Remembering how Robby Gordon opened NASCAR's run in town with that wild display of emotion back in 2007....
Marcos Ambrose can make any NASCAR road race exciting, particularly Montreal. Remember his classic battle with Carl Edwards? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
How can this sport afford to just throw away a market of four million people?
An international market at that. Really the only international market this sport has at the moment.
Is NASCAR really abandoning Montreal to Bernie Ecclestone and the F1 brigade?
Why in the world did NASCAR's negotiations here drag on so long anyway?
Hey, maybe this sport just doesn't need Montreal and its four million. NASCAR already plays in-or-around 13 of the 14 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. Maybe Montreal, though it is the 15th largest city in North America, is simply superfluous.
Then again, maybe Jacques Villeneuve simply didn't pan out for NASCAR as a drawing card.
And after all, Toronto, with six million people, is a larger market than Montreal.
Ron Fellows: the legendary Canadian driver, winner at Montreal, now owner of Toronto's Mosport (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR officials say they hope to be back in Canada eventually with a big league event.
Thinking Mosport: http://bit.ly/OcYCq7
At the moment the most likely scenario for this sport would be a deal with Ron Fellows, the NASCAR-loyal driver, a world-class road racer who runs most all the NASCAR road courses, Cup and Nationwide...and who last year bought the Mosport track -- an hour northeast of Toronto -- with partner billionaire developer Carlos Fidani.
That might work well for this sport. Great town and all. But it doesn't look like a 2013 deal, though there is some talk about a NASCAR Truck race at Mosport.
A Truck race on a road course? In fact there is talk about Trucks running as companion events with the Grand-Am series -- as zany as that sounds. It's enough to make someone wonder just who is in charge of things these days.
A sunny NASCAR summer afternoon in Montreal, with the city skyline prominent (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
This sport's marketing is sometimes suspect, and maybe Montreal is one of those cases.
The NASCAR line, for drivers, car owners and track promoters, and sometimes sponsors too, is pretty blunt and basic: we've got the show, and we'll let you play the game.
Maybe Francois Dumontier, the Montreal promoter, simply didn't play the game right. Maybe he tried to strong-arm NASCAR into giving him a Cup date. Remember how well that 'Cup date' debate played out for Bruton Smith and Texas back in the day?
The city of Montreal owns the Isle and the track, and Dumontier has the lease, for the two race weekends each year the city allows.
Dumontier has other problems too at the moment; one of his subsidiaries just filed for bankruptcy, with $5 million or so in unpaid bills, one reason Indy-car isn't going back to Edmonton.
And Dumontier seems to be saying he never really made any money on the Nationwide races in Montreal.
But then part of NASCAR's responsibility to its race teams and sponsors is to provide the promotion and marketing and television packages that help them go out and sell sponsorships. And lately that part of the deal should be called into question -- tour sponsors appear to either be leaving -- Dodge, Office Depot, Diageo,Red Bull, Aflac, US Army, UPS -- or just shuffling over to another team, recycled.
Losing Montreal won't help things.
Montreal promoter Francois Dumontier: a bluff called? But NASCAR loses a major market. A big league poker game gone awry? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
But then maybe this Montreal fiasco is a good launching point for a larger debate about the Sprint Cup and Nationwide and Truck tours, and maybe too the soon-to-be merged sports car world of NASCAR Grand-Am and ALMS.
Star crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who runs Tony Stewart's team, took one look Friday afternoon at a copy of the new 2013 Sprint Cup schedule and, partly in jest, tore it in half: "Now this is what we ought to do with it -- which half do you want to run?"
Zipadelli laughed, waving half in one hand and the other half in the other.
The point was clear: the Cup schedule is just too darned long, with too many races, 38 weeks of Cup racing, from Valentine's Day till Thanksgiving.
Want a break?
Let's see, think we've got Easter open. And maybe a weekend in late July.
One issue: how to keep all 23 Cup tour track promoters happy and busy.
NASCAR can't get much closer to the heart of a city of four million people than this (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Uh, but maybe we should be looking at the stands and counting fans, and checking TV ratings, and see if NASCAR Sprint Cup racing is simply oversaturating the country.
Just about everyone at this point of the season is simply flat worn out. And yet we've still got Sunday's typically nerve-wracking 500 here, and then Charlotte next Saturday night, and then Kansas City, and Martinsville, Va., and Fort Worth, Tex., and Phoenix, and finally Homestead-Miami.
Oh, by the way, can you guys squeeze in some Tuesday-Wednesday testing the next month or so too? And be sure to have those new 2013 chassis under that new 2013 sheet metal.....
Goodyear tire engineers and tire builders will be working overtime through Christmas, it looks like, to start stockpiling tires for next season....which remember kicks off Jan. 10th with three or four days of Daytona testing for the Feb. 16th Daytona 500.
Here's the 2013 calendar. What would you change? What glaring mistakes do you see?