In the driver’s seat, with Ron Fellows
By Adam Freill
An icon in racing, and a champion on some of racing’s biggest stages, Ron Fellows is also a welcome and engaging host, sharing insights with thousands of drivers each year at his performance driving academies and welcoming guests to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Fellows made time to chat with us about sport, business and the importance of passion and perseverance – something that he discovered in himself when a key was turned at a memorable race.
The year was 1969 – 50 years ago – and Ron’s uncle brought Ron and his brother to the Canadian Grand Prix in Bowmanville, Ont., at a track then known as Mosport.
“It was absolute magic,” says Fellows, reflecting on the fact that his love of the sport started at the very track that he is now a partner in, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
“Fast cars and competition was in the soul, but it needed something to bring it out,” he says. “That was coming here and seeing the Formula One cars. From that moment on, it was, ‘Forget about hockey.’”
What’s Ron’s pick for the car he wants to be in, on or off the track? The Corvette ZR1. “With 755 horsepower, it’s an awesome car, and nice on the street. It is an absolute treat to get it on the track, especially with the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s.”
It takes money to race
Many people don’t realize that much of racing occurs off the track, but the price to play can be significant so drivers and teams are constantly seeking sponsors and spending time on marketing.
“The desire to want to compete was really, really powerful, so out of necessity, you learn how to make it happen,” says Fellows. “Not coming from a wealthy family background, it was trying to figure out how to make as much money as possible, working, and then trying to find sponsors, which is way easier said than done.”
After getting a taste of winning in karting, Ron moved into Formula 1600, a logical, but expensive, progression. “I went broke trying to do that,” he admits, but his perseverance kicked in, and he found ways to work through the expenses.
“I spent 10 years working in construction, and three or four years working as a machine operator doing trenching for small gas pipeline work. That was my day job.”
By the mid-80s, a number of new racing series emerged, with relatively inexpensive vehicles and attractive prize money.
“My timing was pretty good,” he says of his entry into the Player’s GM Series, which featured showroom stock Camaros and Firebirds. “You literally drove them to the track and raced them.” His break, he says, came from one of two races that was televised that season.
“I won the one in Quebec, and things changed after that,” he says.
“Not only did I learn how to race in that series, but I also learned how to do some marketing. It was trial by fire, but I was really fortunate along the way to find people who believed in my ability and were able to help me financially.”
From the driver’s seat to the Boardroom
“As a racing driver,” says Fellows, “you are part of a team focused on the goal of winning races, but ultimately, the driver is the one that has to deliver. You want to be the guy. Give me the ball.
“The challenge in business, is getting the right people and learning how to delegate. You can’t do it all yourself, so you have to find good people.”
Driving tips, from a pro
“You’ve got to stay attentive,” says Fellows about staying safe behind the wheel, be that in a Corvette on the track or in a work van on the highway.
“A lot of that comes from a simple thing like seat position. You are not lounging at home. You are driving a multi-thousand-pound vehicle at a speed that you are putting yourself and others potentially at risk if you are not paying attention.
“Make sure that you are comfortable to the point where you can see what you are doing; keep your eyes moving; keep your eyes up; and always have an out – an outlet you can take in an emergency.”
Rebuilding a legacy
“We have great tracks here in Canada,” says Fellows. “There’s a reason why we produce, as a country, a disproportionate amount of great drivers. It is because of tracks like this [Canadian Tire Motorsport Park]. If you can go fast and win here, you can go fast and win anywhere.”
The track, he says, is a bucket-list track for drivers around the globe.
“It is world famous, world-class. The beauty of the racing surface is long, fast corners, and elevation change; it is super challenging, and drivers love it,” he explains. “The layout is the same as when it opened in 1961. Is it wider and safer? Yes, but the apexes are in the same place. That’s the beauty of it.”
While the layout is the same, the track amenities certainly are not. “We really felt, as a group, if we could bring this facility into the 21st century, in terms of our ability to host not just spectators, but corporately, then it’s a bit of a Field of Dreams – rebuild it and they will come back.”
Following major upgrades every winter from 2011 to 2015, the facility now has a 24,000-square-foot main building that can host corporate sponsors, weddings and special events year-round, as well as improved karting and development tracks. “We’ve been growing quickly.
This is not the same place it once was.”