One of the highlights on the IndyCar Series circuit is the July stop in Toronto. Each year the race in Toronto turns out to be one of the most exciting on the calendar. There are always bumps, crashes and controversy, a driver can still win the race even if he starts from the back – and that’s why the fans love it. But wait, there’s more! That’s right, there’s 2inTO! 2014 marks the second year in a row that Toronto will host two, back-to-back IndyCar races that are part of a fantastic annual Canadian Summer Festival by the shores of Lake Ontario.
Having covered the Toronto Indy photographically for various media outlets since the year 2000 we were ready to experience it all from the other side of the fence. Last year (2013) we decided to cover the event from a fans perspective for our own website – TravelBloggers.ca. It was great to actually enjoy the festivities simply as real race fans – no early morning photographer’s meetings, no daily deadlines – just soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the whole event – something we’d never experienced before.
Although the Toronto Indy event has been running for more than 30 years, this year is the 5th year that it’s being organized by Andretti/Green Savoree. Each year they keep improving the events – both on and off-track, and the Toronto Indy is no longer just a car race … this fantastic three day event is a fun, family festival that offers as much OFF-track as it does on. Last year we were extremely impressed by the amount of free things there were to see, do and taste. They’ve also upped the ante with a wider variety of food and beverage choices throughout the venue – it was almost overwhelming!
NOTE: No outside food or beverages are allowed to be brought in to the venue, but the flip-side is they have introduced lower ticket prices and Free Friday’s. You can bring empty beverage containers in and fill them with water at numerous water-filling stations situated around the grounds. Additionally, the “dinosaurs” of the Ontario government finally passed a law that allows the entire event to be alcohol-licensed, meaning you don’t have to jam into a small area, drink your beer and then leave – you can purchase beer and other adult beverages throughout the venue and even walk around with it.
There’s plenty to do, even for the casual race fan. Take the kids because there’s plenty for them to see and do. A big bonus in Toronto is “Free Friday” – for the fourth year in a row the Ontario Honda Dealers have sponsored “Fan Friday” at the Indy, allowing fans to spend the day at the track for free, while encouraging those attending to make a donation to Make-A-Wish. So even if you’re a little bit curious, get down there and enjoy IndyCar practice and qualifying, Robby Gordon’s SPEED ENERGY FORMULA OFF-ROAD TRUCKS, Indy Lights, Acura Sports Car Challenge, USF2000 National Championship, The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and the Formula 1600 Series (check the schedule of events for full details).
Off track, there’s plenty to see and do as fans are treated to many unique events and promotions including the very Canadian STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series (new for 2014) where top professional logger sports athletes compete, SCOTT FireFit Championships (also new for 2014) – a series of events that have been described as Olympics for firefighters and smokeaters, and Honda Canada returns with its Junior Red Rider program and the Honda World exhibit, featuring games, activities and racing-inspired displays for race fans of all ages. Designed for kids aged 6-12, the Junior Red Rider program teaches the fundamentals of motorcycle and off-road riding using appropriately-sized motorcycles and full safety gear, in a fun, controlled and safe environment.
Last year there were Food Trucks, Craft Beer Festival, free samples from Snapple and McDonalds as well as many others including free earplugs and fold up Frisbees from Wind Mobile, while Honda were giving away sunglasses, ice cones, popcorn, candy floss and also face painting, hockey and racing games. There were lots of demonstrations from dirt bike jumping to remote controlled monster trucks and of course the Honda Pit Stop Challenge (beat the best time for changing a racing tire). Honda also had a large display of all the different products they manufacture and sell including a huge air-conditioned tent (Honda World) that was much appreciated for a couple of minutes respite from the heat. You could even get up close and on some of the vehicles on display – what better way is there to get people interested and bond with your products than that?
In years past, the food and off-track entertainment area was a long out-of-the-way spot along Lakeshore Blvd, but last year it was all together in a large square area about the size of a football field with the food trucks and other vendors on the outside and a huge area in the middle with picnic tables – some with umbrellas. It was a massive improvement over previous years and everyone appeared to like the new set up. At lunch time it was packed, but there were still plenty of places to sit and enjoy the atmosphere – you didn’t even have to get up to get your beer, the girls brought it to you. If you prefer draught beer, the craft beer tent had a variety of different beers on tap, but to be honest $2 for a Dixie-cup sized sample is outrageous – $9 for a regular-sized glass is what you expect to pay at similar events in Toronto and those were flowing nicely.
Personal Race-Fan Experience…
Before we went to the race, we kept up to date with the goings on at the website (www.HondaIndyToronto.com) and got a list of the on and off-track activities that were on offer. We – well Gail – was over the moon when she saw that the Toronto Zoo was offering a photo op with the Pandas – how cool would that be? However, we couldn’t figure out why they’d bring REAL Panda’s to a noisy race-track, but there was nothing to indicate in the advertisement that the photo op was with anything other than the real deal. Well, we got there only to discover the area was empty and there were no signs telling people where to go. We wandered around for about a half an hour past the time the photo event was to take place, finally bumping into a young girl wearing a Toronto Zoo T-shirt. We asked her where the pandas were and she looked shocked – “The mascot you mean?!” Uh – no, the actual pandas that were listed on the web site. Apparently that was news to her – they only had a guy in a panda costume, wandering around the site. We pointed out the info on the site and she agreed it was misleading and would have it corrected. Young children must have been crying for hours upon getting that information – just imagine the disappointment! It was bad enough I had to talk Gail down from a tall building (she really can’t stand misleading advertising).
With that disappointment over, it was time to meet up with Gail’s brother-in-law, her nephew Ethan and one of his friends. Being 9 and 5 years old they were the perfect age to try to get them excited and interested in anything but NASCAB Billboard Racing. Since Gail is a big kid at heart, she led the way and got the kids engaged in many of the free activities including pictures sitting in an IndyCar, and with “Turbo” the movie character. Thanks to Gail and I knowing James Hinchcliffe before he was famous, Gail got him to sign their racing hats and that made their day (Thanks James!).
The Honda Indy of Toronto is lots of fun and there’s plenty to do for the whole family. Parking is plentiful around the grounds, very close to the entrances (expect to pay around $20/day). The choice of food and beverages is better than ever – hopefully they continue with the large seating area in the middle – that was priceless for weary legs and sore feet. The on-track racing is always great in Toronto, and we’re always sure to record the events so we can re-live the excitement when we get home! So many times we overheard people commenting on how fantastic it is for the fans to get so much closer to the drivers and teams than any other racing series. Even without the Paddock Pass you can get great pictures of the drivers going to and from the pits, and most will even stop for a quick autograph if they have time.
For the victory celebrations and driver introductions – Toronto have excelled at making it better for the fans. This year is going to be the third time they’ve made it a 2-race weekend – and the fans love it!
The Honda Indy of Toronto is Ontario’s biggest sporting event, and has been voted one of the top 10 Festivals in Canada Worth Road-Tripping For – 2014 promises to be the best fest yet, and we have no reason to expect otherwise. Year over year they improve the event for die-hard race fans and even the casual curious-types. It’s the event of the year for many, and a tradition that goes back decades for some. Make the effort to take in the Honda Indy of Toronto – and if you’re from out of town, stick around to check out all the other great tourist destinations Toronto has to offer such as; Toronto Island, CN Tower, the fabulous Toronto Zoo (with real pandas) and the newly-built Ripley’s Aquarium.
In all the years we’ve covered the Toronto race, there’s only been one or two days that it’s rained – and only for a few minutes, so you are virtually guaranteed perfect weather when IndyCar comes to town – just don’t forget to put on some sunscreen and wear a hat!
We’ll see you there (July 18 – 20, 2014)!
For complete details on the Honda Indy of Toronto visit their website hondaindytoronto.com
Iain Shankland & Gail Shankland started blogging in order to inspire and motivate people to travel the world from their perspective – specializing in having the most fun while using the least amount of money, travelling on the cheap without sacrificing comfort.
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