Will Toronto Ever Come Back?

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It was twenty-five years ago today that we lost driver Jeff Krosnoff and corner-worker Gary Avrin at the Molson Indy Toronto in 1996. Please keep those two men in your prayers and thoughts today.

Last weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series was scheduled to be racing the streets of Toronto. Unfortunately, the temporary street circuit was never built. The cars never left their respective shops as the teams and drivers began what is now to be a four-weekend break, before reconvening in Nashville for the August 6-8 weekend.

For the second year in a row, the Honda Indy Toronto has fallen victim to COVID-19.

Fans, broadcasters and series officials talk as if it is automatic that the series will return to Exhibition Place as soon as the pandemic situation north of the border returns to normal. I’m not so sure.

Back in May, I was accused by one reader of trying to sound like I was an insider because I hinted at something I had heard at the track the day before. What I mentioned ended up being partially true, but not 100% accurate. I framed it just as it was – a rumor, but that made no difference to the reader. His message was loud and clear that I should never mention anything here that is just hearsay – despite the fact that I do know and have friendships with many people that do know what they are talking about. With that in mind, I’m about to do it again.

At two separate tracks this season, IMS and Barber, I sat in on conversations with people whose livelihoods are tied to the NTT IndyCar Series. Twice, the topic of the Honda Indy Toronto came up. Both times the general gist of the conversation was that IndyCar may not be returning to downtown Toronto, even after the pandemic is a thing of the past.

These were not the same people involved in the two discussions, but I found it interesting that both parties felt the same way. Both groups cited two main reasons that made sense.

First of all, the streets at Exhibition Place, where the track is located, have outgrown the circuit. What I mean by that is that there is so much new construction in the area, the streets can no longer handle the event. If you’ll recall, a few years ago the pits were moved from the south side of the main straightaway to the north because a hotel (I think) had been built where the pits were. As time goes on more and more sites where the stands were placed, have been developed into more permanent structures. In short, there is not enough room for the track in the area anymore.

The second reason is the more disturbing reason of the two. It seems the citizens no longer embrace this event. In fact, they’ve turned on it. Those in the immediate area have grown tired of having their streets torn up and barricaded, along with having to deal with all of the race fans in the area. Acording to the two separate conversations I was privy to, many of the locals would love to see the Honda Indy Toronto disappear for good.

I know I’m a race fan and I’m more than a little biased, but I don’t understand that way of thinking. When the NFL Draft came to Nashville a couple of years ago, I could not have cared less about going to it and only had mild interest in watching it. But the three-day event claimed to have had 600,000 people attend what was apparently an unbelievable event. The economic impact on the city was said to have been north of $220 million. I’m not quite sure how these numbers are arrived at, but that is significant. Even if I cared nothing about the NFL, I would have been very excited to have that kind of money pour into my town.

I don’t think the Honda Indy Toronto is bringing that kind of cash into the outskirts of downtown Toronto, but whatever it brings is probably still very significant to their economy.

If Toronto never returns to the IndyCar schedule, that would be bad. This isn’t like NOLA that only lasted one year (2015) or Baltimore or Houston that lasted about three years a decade or so ago, before falling off of the schedule. This event started thirty-five years ago in 1986 and had run continuously, except for 2008 in the reunification year – until COVID knocked it out last year and again this year. The Honda Indy Toronto is the only race to be cancelled in the 2021 season.

Will it come back? You tell me. The earliest it could ever run since 2019 would be in 2022. By then it could be out of sight, out of mind. The locals may realize how much they enjoyed not having it for two years, or at the very least – some that liked the race may realize that they haven’t really missed it. It’s sort of like when your wife tells you she thinks you both need a long break from each other. During the break, one party realizes the other isn’t really missed. It’s rare that a break leads to starting back.

Personally, I hope Toronto does come back. In December of 2019, Susan and I finally got passports and we had originally planned to go to Toronto in 2020. If it’s back on the schedule in 2022 and she is still healthy – we would like to go. I found myself in Toronto for work in late July of 1995 – a couple of weeks after the race. I made a special trip to the track and followed it around as best I could, but it wasn’t quite like attending the race there. IndyCar still has a lot of fans in Canada, even if the locals have turned their backs on this event (which I hope isn’t true). I’m of the belief that IndyCar should expand their Canadian presence, but they certainly need to keep what they’ve got.

Am I stirring up rumors? Possibly, but is this not a question most fans have already thought to themselves? I’d say after being skipped for two years now, many fans have wondered if Toronto will ever come back.

For the reader that likes to accuse me of being a self-appointed IndyCar insider – I’m not. This is nothing more than me relaying a couple of conversations that I happened to be around this past spring, with people who are closer to the sport than I am. The fact that they both pretty much said the same thing made me think there may be an ounce of truth to it. I hope they were wrong.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Will Toronto Ever Come Back?”

  1. I had the opportunity to attend the last race in Toronto, when I moved up here in 2019. It was a beautiful spectacle, even if I am not a big fan of street circuits. The rumours are true, the people of downtown Toronto are annoyed with the race and the city authorities don’t seem to care, they didn’t even bother doing a good job fixing the pot holes along the circuit. Why not transfer it to a real race track?

  2. I have felt for several years that the track was getting squeezed by construction. I thought Indycar raced there long after it was feasible. Indycar needs a race in Canada. I’d love to see Edmonton return or a race at CTMP.

  3. Obviously for a downtown street race to succeed it must have the buy in of local government and local citizenry. If the Toronto race has lost that buy in , and it sounds as though that’s the case, it isn’t coming back. Other than Long Beach where has a street circuit survived for any length of time. Look at how much difficulty Formula 1 has had to put on a race in Miami. Belle Isle and Montreal are segregated from downtown so disruption to city life is nil. It’s a shame IndyCar has no races in Canada ,perhaps some day. It seems harder and harder to find good venues in the US so IndyCar may need to concentrate on the US market prior to going back to Canada or Mexico

  4. Tony Geinzer Says:

    I am thinking Toronto the Community has taken a Slug and then Some over losing to Montreal and the Canadiens Earlier This Summer in the Manner they’d did and I’d want Atlanta, Charlotte, or Darlington in IndyCar, too, but, I’d probably think us Car Guys would really have to look into Michigan because of Belle Isle.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I think Toronto has a fighting chance to return if its sponsors remain in place, but the pressure on the event definitely seems real. There is certainly interest from the series and its sponsors to remain in Canada, though. It would be nice if Mosport was regarded well-enough to be a fallback or if the proposed Canadian Motor Speedway oval had been proposed before the track building boom had ended. Anyone underusing an airport up there these days?

    As someone who has driven out of their neighborhood nearly every day in the past two months to find new road construction and a new lane closure nearly every day (I am not exaggerating here), I can sympathize with local folks who find the street course construction and teardown disruptive and frustrating, especially business owners. Such was the one particularly good thing about the second Houston track, it was not at all disruptive to the citizenry because it was contained entirely within a stadium complex.

  6. I live in Denver. The same thing happened here. The first Denver Grand Prix was held on the downtown streets in the early 90’s. There was a lot of bitching and moaning and I never understood that mindset. It was later moved towards the Pepsi Center now Ball Arena lol. Years later as it struggled to find the right date it was always under threat and we all wondered if it would happen from one year to the next. . It lasted a couple more years until CART folded. I don’t see how it will ever come back. Denver has changed so much not in a good way. That area will end up a farm of luxury lining condos.These cities under development do this kind of thing and it’s a real tragedy. I always thought the Denver Grand Prix had limits and unfortunately I was right. It was so great when it was here. There is nothing better than having IndyCars in your own city. Enjoy the inaugural Nashville race because there are no guarantees.

  7. Mike Ferrell Says:

    I attended the first 25 years of the Molson Indy before I started racing myself and wasn’t able to attend in person. And you could certainly see the changes over the years. Where you could walk around the entire track and stand in virtually any corner in the beginning. Now your access is limited to the few grandstands left. I think one additional reason the race isn’t coming back is the same reason the World of Outlaws and Nascar won’t be back. Its to difficult for teams to cross the border with all their equipment, personnel and merchandise. Especially to go to all the effort for one race. There would need to be a Canadian swing on the schedule with Toronto, Montreal, & Edmonton. We go to the Detroit race now because its a much better fan experience. Bigger midway, more access, than what’s left of the once glorious Toronto Molson Indy.

  8. Phil Kaiser Says:

    Need more ovals. Screw Toronto if they don’t want us. Who cares? The 1.3 million fans IndyCar has? Whooopeeee.

    And remember, this is my opinion and is as valid as yours. Now get off my lawn.

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