I think those were the comments from many race fans throughout North America when big time auto racing came to Edmonton in 2005. Upon the ending of the successful run of Molson Indy Vancouver, a group of local businessmen and race fans decided to see if they could move the race to Edmonton. They were successful, and the race in 2005 had a three-day attendance of around 200,000, making it one of the best attended street races in history.
For those of you old enough to remember, Edmonton International Speedway opened in 1947 and was host to a multitude of big time race events. From the legendary Can-Am events (1969-1973) to Formula 5000, Formula Atlantic, and Trans-Am racing, many of the world’s top drivers raced the 2.5 mile, 14 turn road course. Names like Mark Donohue, Jackie Stewart, Jacky Ickx, Danny Sullivan, David Hobbs, Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal and Paul Newman are but a few of the legends that raced here. Coupled with a world class fourth of a mile dragstrip, Edmonton was a major destination in racing for over five decades. David Cronenberg’s 1979 movie Fast Company was primarily filmed at the speedway.
Fast forward to 1982, land pressures forced the speedway to close to make room for housing developments. Another race track didn’t open until 1991 in the form of Castrol Raceway. However it was used primarily as a drag racing facility, leaving Edmonton devoid of a proper road race course until 2005.
This year will mark the eighth year that big time racing has happened at the Edmonton City Centre Airport raceway, and the fifth year that INDYCAR has made the long 1,815 mile drive from Indianapolis.
But why Edmonton?
The amount of promotion around the city, the level of expertise put on by the current promoters (Octane Management), as well as the level of support from the local government is what drives the race fans from local, as well as surrounding areas, to the Edmonton Indy weekend. Being the furthest city north on the continent and populated by over a million people, Edmonton is not considered a “destination” for tourists. It is a stop on the way for travelers headed to Alaska or the Rocky Mountains. Sure we have held many world class events here, from the World Track and Field Championships, to the Commonwealth games and such, but Edmonton really does not have anything to compare for a yearly held event that garners world attention.
This is where the local government, tourism and hotel associations have stepped in to ensure that the event remains on the INDYCAR calendar. They see the value in having the city promoted and mentioned throughout the world. A good example was the race held in 2010. It was estimated that Edmonton received over $28 million worth of mentions worldwide (Thanks, Helio). A group of local race fans have also created Race Week Edmonton to generate interest and tie in all of the events in the city leading up to race weekend. From all of the car shows and other race events to local music and food festivals, Race Week Edmonton has become a binding force to keep auto enthusiasts and race fans focused on all the activities.
I know personally, I have seen many people that have come to the first race in 2005 out of curiosity and have come back every year, armed with more knowledge about INDYCAR, its drivers and its personalities than the previous year. I see INDYCAR shirts and hats all throughout the year. I see many people from all over North America during the weekend, always commenting about how beautiful this city is, how cosmopolitan it is, how friendly the residents are, how good the restaurants and pubs are, and of course, how good of a time they had at the race AND that they will be back next year.
And that is the answer to “Why Edmonton?”