New Car-Race Season Blends Memories and Hope
As these words take shape, one familiar sport is being performed on a regular (not daily) basis in this area. By the end of the weekend, two such adventures will be part of the official record.
Horse racing was first. Auto racing, scheduled Saturday at Castrol Raceway, will be second. A big step, possibly, in the ongoing struggle by addictive fans, sponsors and drivers to preserve an annual summer attraction that once held a lofty place on Alberta’s sports calendar.
Soon, the ongoing dance about when and where for NHL playoffs is expected to end, allowing Edmonton to be named, officially and finally, as a “hub city” with the majority of games to take place at Rogers Centre. After that, we can all hope the sky is the limit for the Canadian Elite Basketball League, top local and area soccer and numerous other long-awaited events.
But, first things (or second things) first.
Ron MacDonell, who holds a lease on the oval at Castrol Raceway near the International Airport, surprised me with his first few words after telephoned for confirmation that the season would begin. “Absolutely,” he howled. “And we’re guaranteed a sellout!!
“The government is allowing us to have 200 spectators (in a facility that regularly has held more than 7,000). If the weather holds up, it will be a great start.”
Aha, the weather. Last year, seven scheduled events were washed out by rain. “Too bad we had so much trouble,” MacDonell moaned. “We were getting better crowds, and we were getting more cars.”
If all goes well, with perfect weather and continued easing of the coronavirus safety requirements, the maximum will be six Saturday race nights. “It’s almost like starting over.”
Such restarts are a big part of Alberta’s auto-racing tradition, topped by the presence of prominent Edmontonian Ron Hodgson, now a member of the Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame and the Canadian Auto Racing Hall of Fame. In the 1970s, he teamed with Gordon Jenner and driver Gordie Bonin in winning six NHRA Funny Car medals and two world championships. Gord Beck was another top-level driver to benefit from his association with Hodgson.
More recently, Hodgson and driver Terry Capp carried Alberta’s banner throughout the western U.S., winning major events in Tucson, Bakersfield and other communities. They earned high-profile international recognition. “We could race every week,” Hodgson told me. “We could go to the east, too, but there isn’t enough time.”
Two other sons carried on the tradition: Jeff was a successful sprint-car driver at Castrol Raceway and Ryan, streaking on a quarter-mile drag strip, once owned the world’s fastest time, 268 miles per hour.
Jeff followed in the impressive short-track oval footsteps of Sean Moran, Wade Fleming, Tim Gee and Mark Duperron, among others. Fleming and Moran, first-cousins who operate Central Tire in downtown Edmonton, share the local record for points victories: nine titles each.
“We got along really well on the track, most of the time,” Moran grinned on Friday. “But sometimes we were close to the finish line.”
Wade’s dad, the late sportsman Larry Fleming, was a successful racer for many years before retiring.
Ron Hodgson once owned Castrol Raceway after years as a supporter of Speedway International. After he stepped away last season. Long-time track announcer Gord Craig found it hard to maintain his standard level of optimism. “There is still a pulse – call it a pulse – for racing in Alberta,” he said.
Facilities at Drumheller, Rimbey and elsewhere have been successful at time, “but the sport needs a major boost. In this sport, sponsors always turn out to be people who love the sport and don’t just contribute for business reasons.”
Oilers place goalie Mike Smith on long-term injured reserve
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have placed goaltender Mike Smith on long-term injury reserve, and have re-assigned Olivier Rodrigue to the club’s taxi squad, pending quarantine protocols.
Edmonton announced both transaction on Friday, but did not elaborate on Smith’s injury.
Smith was supposed to start Thursday’s game at home against the Vancouver Canucks but was declared inactive, forcing Mikko Koskinen into back-to-back starts.
Smith and Koskinen were expected to split duties in the Oilers net this season. Edmonton re-signed the 38-year-old Smith to a one-year contract in the off-season.
Rodrigue had been with the Graz99ers of the Austrian National League.
The 20-year-old Rodrigue was drafted 62nd overall by Edmonton in 2018.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 15, 2021.
The Canadian Press
Alberta health minister says vaccine schedule to take hit from manufacturing delays
EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister says it will take longer than expected to start immunizing seniors over 75 outside long-term care homes due to a delay in manufacturing one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Tyler Shandro called the news out of Ottawa on Friday a blow and said it’s not clear how severely the delay will affect Alberta’s vaccine allocation in the coming weeks.
“This is out of our control, but it will impact Alberta’s immunization schedule,” he said Friday.
The schedule for seniors over 75, regardless of where they live, and Indigenous people over 65 is up in the air because it will take longer to immunize priority health-care workers, Shandro said.
“We had hoped to announce the start of these vaccinations in the coming days, but that is now in question.”
Federal officials said earlier in the day that only half of promised Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses will arrive in the next month due to production issues in Belgium.
“This is unfortunate news and we are all disappointed. However, we will not stop,” Shandro said. “Health officials will continue giving out what vaccines we do have as quickly as possible.”
Senior medical officer of health Laura McDougall said Alberta is still ramping up its ability to administer vaccines and has been able to deliver more shots than expected so far.
She said the province has recruited pharmacists, retired health-care workers and nursing students to give out shots and pop-up clinics have been set up in emergency departments to reach more front-line staff.
“We have enough immunizers and more than enough people wanting to be immunized,” McDougall said. “What we need is more vaccine.”
Alberta reported 785 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday along with 13 more deaths. There were 796 people in hospital, with 124 of those in intensive care.
More than 74,000 vaccine doses have been given out so far, and the province still aims to administer 50,000 a week by the end of January if there is enough supply.
— By Lauren Krugel in Calgary
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2020.
The Canadian Press
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