Friday, August 28, 2009

Q & A With Canadian Sports Car Racing Ace Ron Fellows

2008 provided one of the most thrilling races in Canadian auto racing which . Perhaps just short in significance to the inaugural Canadian Grand Prix where Canada's Formula 1 great Gilles Villeneuve brought his Ferrari, last year's NASCAR Nationwide race another great Canadian auto racing moment. Competing against the best of NASCAR stock car racing, the technical street course, and powerful weather elements, through this monsoon-like downpour rose three-time 24 hour of Le Mans champion Ron Fellows taking victory of the 2008 NAPA Auto Parts 200 on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Having won 5 times in NASCAR competition just across the border in Watkins Glen, New York, an excited Ron Fellows celebrated around his #5 Chevrolet that the stout team of JR Motorsports provided for the weekend.

In a special honour for this auto racing reporter, defending NAPA Auto Parts 200 winner Ron Fellows kindly agreed to answer some questions about his career. I welcome you to read what I hope are viewed as insightful questions:

1. Having raced in the rain last year at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, if the rain package were fitted for Sprint Cup cars at Watkins Glen this year do you think it would have provided an entertaining race?

Definitely outfitting the Sprint Cup cars for a rain race isn’t any different than the Nationwide Series cars. It would certainly be entertaining as the Sprint Cup cars have 150 more horsepower than an NNS car! NASCAR has yet to decide whether to run the “big show” in the rain on a road course, and I don’t know the reasoning behind it.

2. What does it mean to drive for for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide road races again in 2009? Did the win at Montreal last year make up for that Busch race at Watkins Glen that Dale Earnhardt Jr stole in 1999?

To drive for Dale Jr. and Rick Hendrick is a great honour. And having won in Montreal with the JRM team last year, was a great thrill. I said then that if I didn’t drive another race, I would be satisfied with what I have accomplished in my career. Their team is great fun to be around. I feel like a kid at Christmas. The team is just so well organized, and with some great personnel. And it definitely makes up for the win that got away in 1999! I think...

3. Winning all 6 of your NASCAR wins on road courses, would you like to have more stock car racing opportunities on ovals?

The media continuously talks about the road course ringers – good bad and indifferent. But I’m proud to be the only one that has managed to win any NASCAR races. The reality is, that a team committing to a driver who’s in his 5th decade – with little oval experience – is likely not going to happen for me. Would I like to do more? Absolutely. And I now have the time!

4. Your racing career was obviously built on determination as much as on talent. From the time you raced Formula cars to the international success of winning the 24-hour of Le Mans and your NASCAR victories, could you explain one or several things keys to motivation as you climbed to the highest apex of auto racing?

Thanks. It’s a number of factors. Obviously believing in your ability and proving it on the race track is one. The other factor is convincing corporate supporters that you are worthy of their investment. I have been very fortunate that some of the people that have helped provide career advancement opportunities for me, have become great friends. Bob and Helen McGraw of AER Manufacturing and Jim O’Donnell, former President of Mackenzie Financial, helped get me to a position where I was eventually hired by Herb Fishel at General Motors. From the time I began racing cars at 18 or 19 years old, to the point where I became a decently paid sports car driver, was more than 15 years! I’m not sure I could do it again!!

5. On the same weekend as the Nationwide series race in Montreal, the your past colleagues of Corvette Racing are running at Mosport with the American Le Mans series. Firstly, do you believe this was a poor circumstance for Canadian race fans to choose between two top racing series on home soil? Secondly, what are your feelings about the new GT2 Chevrolet Corvette?

Having two major league car racing events on the same weekend, just hours apart on the highway, is a scheduling screw-up for sure. It’s an absolute shame that race fans have to choose one over the other. But it is what it is, and maybe in 2010 things will be different.

The GT2 class Corvette C6.R, is a work of art. The Pratt & Miller team have done an incredible job with this new entry and it’s absolutely the right move for Corvette. We want to race against the best production based sports cars – like Porsche, Ferrari and BMW. Although about 5 or 6 seconds per lap slower than GT1, it’s still racing, and it’s a much bigger field.

Ron Fellows returns this weekend in the #5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. I pass my thanks to Ron Fellows as well as a special thanks to Lynda Fellows for making this article possible.

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