Canada is geographically a large country with a relatively small population, yet it has still managed to produce its fair share of great race car drivers. From the legendary Gilles Villeneuve and his son Jacques to Paul Tracy, James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens, Bruno Spengler, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Scott Goodyear and Greg Moore (trust me I can go on!), Canada has definitely punched above its weight in the sport. But there is no doubt that the vastness of the country, the overwhelming dominance of hockey in the sporting consciousness and the fact that most drivers at some point in their young careers have to move to the US or Europe to advance their career makes finding sponsorship a definite challenge.
Luckily, we (yes I am Canadian) still manage to host three of the biggest racing series currently running on our shores with F1, Indycar and IMSA making annual visits so our racing heritage continues to run deep. We have a small but vibrant national racing scene and in the last few years drivers from our Team Canada Scholarship program have acquitted themselves well at Brands Hatch but there can always be more done to promote and support young Canadian driving talent. This is where the proposed Road to Racing program comes in.
I actually spied the Road to Racing logo on the side of Jonathan Wooldrige’s F1600 car in August and immediately my curiosity was aroused. In order to find out more about the program I spoke with Neil Braun, the driving force behind R2R and the plan to get a Registered Canadian Amateur Athletics Association (RCAA) going. Neil took some time away from his busy schedule to give me some insight on what he and his colleagues have planned and how you can help.
Motorsport Prospects: Who is this program aimed at? Is it age-restricted? For cars or to promote somebody out of karts?
Neil Braun: The Road to Racing (R2R) mandate is being created to support Canadian amateur motorsports athletes. Some of the programs we plan to run are:
- Identify talented young karting athletes and provide some level of financial assistance as they move up through karts,
- Provide financial support to select drivers moving into F1600,
- Sponsor an annual Team Canada Scholarship representative from top level F1600 talent to drive in the Formula Ford Championship and Walter Hayes Trophy in UK,
- Support Team Canada Scholarship in selecting drivers through a shoot-out style competition.
These are just some of the ideas we are working on now.
MP: How would the selection process work?
NB: RCAAA is still in its formative period, and the specifics around selection are not firm, but I anticipate a committee of well-connected motorsports Individuals would provide guidance. We have former champion driver and current Porsche Canada Chief instructor Kees Neirop on our board who will provide direction. This selection process could also include a shoot-out style competition for a Team Canada Scholarship bursary, and a needs-based assessment for the karting and F1600 financial support. We want to assist worthy athletes to get to the next level regardless of the financial status of their family.
MP: What benefits are there for the financial supporters of the program?
NB: Many people financially support drivers through business sponsorships simply for the love of the sport. The RCAAA will give the opportunity for individuals or family foundations to also support an incredible sport and receive a tax deduction. I also believe that we will see top level professional Canadian drivers in INDYCAR or IMSA or other series as a direct result of this effort. My wife and I have supported some drivers over the past years in Porsche GT3 Cup, F1600 and the Team Canada Scholarship and have really enjoyed getting to know them and see their progression as drivers and individuals. It’s our plan to connect our donors with the stories of our athletes and give them the opportunity to cheer them on.
MP: What benefits are there for the driver(s) selected?
NB: Firstly, the financial support is critical to many young drivers. But our intent is not to just pay their way. Our plan is to also mentor and assist them in preparing a marketing pitch for businesses and expose them to the business side of motorsports and require that they raise some money themselves. Those life and business skills are invaluable regardless of what their future holds.
MP: Where are you as far as progress for the scheme? Start-up, pre-launch, launch?
NB: There is a group of us who are members of Area 27 Motorsports Park and are motorsports fanatics who have formed a working group and raised some money and are planning to start the legal process of creating a RCAAA this fall. RCAAA stands for Registered Canadian Amateur Athletics Association, which is a specific form of charitable organization. Most sports in Canada have a RCAAA which raises money to support amateur athletics, from hockey, to football to badminton. But not motorsports…until now.
We’ve engaged a philanthropy consultant and a lawyer to navigate the application process and hope to be raising funds in a year and start funding athletes shortly thereafter.
MP: How does this compare with the Team Canada Scholarship program?
NB: Brian and Kelly Graham have really done amazing things with the Team Canada Scholarship and it’s our intent to work with them and sponsor an additional driver, and potentially the additional Walter Hayes Trophy race. TCS really was one of the catalysts for R2R and supporting TCS will be one of our key programs. My wife and I had the privilege last year of attending the Formula Ford Festival and seeing how TCS operates and the level of competition. It really is a fantastic event and can be a huge steppingstone in a career.
MP: Any plans for the near future as far as fundraising?
NB: Yes: On Sunday, September 20th, Spitfire Racing and Area 27 will be hosting a fundraising event with all proceeds to launching Road To Racing. The day will be an exclusive lapping and coaching track day. There will be 12 spots available to members and accredited guests for a day of advanced lapping coaching. Academy 27 instructors will be on hand to provide coaching and instruction on advanced driving techniques.
Members and accredited guests may also select a lapping only day without coaches’ critique. There are 30 available spots for the lapping only portion of the day. The instructors have graciously volunteered their time for this program and all proceeds are being held in trust towards establishing Road to Racing Motorsports Amateur Athletic Association. You can get further information and purchase tickets to the event here.
You can get more information on the Road to Racing program on their Facebook page here.