Feelings of camaraderie from our northern neighbors are just part of Toronto's Indy car tradition


The first time I vacationed outside of the United States was in the early 80s, when my family's vacation took us north of the border -- a tour of Niagara Falls, a view from the Maid of the Mist and an afternoon on the paddle boats at Toronto's amusement park Ontario Place.

It was a great week for a young kid, a rich memory morsel amidst a smorgasbord of wonderful childhood recollections.

It's for that reason that my Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcast location -- just outside of Turn 3 -- for the Honda Indy Toronto is so special.

Yes, I'm blessed to have had such a great vantage point of the cars as they roared up Lakeshore Boulevard, but it's the backdrop that holds a special place for me.

Ontario Place is no more, the theme park closed in 2011 and is being redeveloped as commercial and residential space, but the signs remain -- subtle reminders of the time when Canada presented to me a whole new world of leisure, family time and bliss.

I smile fondly every time I raise my scissor lift in Turn 3 and glance over my right shoulder.

This year, however, my feeling of camaraderie with our Canadian friends was sparked, not by the memories that loomed just behind me, but rather with what I witnessed just in my foreground.

At the start of Sunday's race, I was standing and singing along with the Star Spangles Banner when I was struck by something. All of the fans in the grandstand in front of me -- many wearing Roots shirts and hats accentuated by the Canadian maple leaf -- were standing and singing with me.

Canadian citizens, ready to watch drivers from four different continents, standing at proper salute to an anthem of a neighboring nation. It was a glorious sight to see -- a warm gesture from a hospitable city and an exhibition of goodwill in preparation for the race around Exhibition Place.

It's one of the many reasons I was thrilled to hear that INDYCAR will continue the tradition in Toronto until at least 2020.

The streets of Exhibition Place were wild and frantic, and the future of Indy car racing was on display in the post-race podium.

American Josef Newgarden was joined by American Alexander Rossi and Toronto native James Hinchcliffe - all born AFTER Bobby Rahal conquered the first Indy Toronto in 1986. It was a great sign that the series is in capable hands for the future generation.

As aggressive and physical as Toronto must be to drive, I can only imagine the rolling hills of the Series' next stop must be equally daunting.

The elevation changes of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car course provide the next challenge. It's a gorgeous race track with a tremendous history. It's always a highlight on the schedule.

For me, Mid-Ohio provides an annual ritual that began rather serendipitously a few years back. During downtime in 2010, I ventured out for lunch in Lexington, Ohio and struck up conversation with a fellow patron.

In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he was a retired prison guard at the now closed "Shawshank Prison."

I'm no prison expert, but I did stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Marion, Ohio, so I had to question his claim.

Shawshank, I questioned, was a fictional prison from a Stephen King short story, made real on the big screen only.

True, he confirmed- but the movie was filmed on location in neighboring Mansfield- at the Mansfield Boys Reformatory. Ten minutes later, I was in the car and headed up Ohio State Road 13.

If you are going to Mid-Ohio- you MUST go by "Shawshank.” It opened in 1896 and closed just 6 years shy of its centennial birthday.

Nonetheless, the prison still stands today - more known as the host of the Shawshank filming than for its tenure as one of Ohio's largest prisons.

The prison was not open to the public at the time of my discovery, but in a stroke of luck I found a friendly grounds worker that appreciated my interest.

I guess he was my own Red Boyd- he was the man that could get me things. Sure enough, before long I was touring the Warden's office, the infirmary, and the solitary confinement cell where Andy did a month in the hole.

You don't need to sweet talk to tour it today, the prison offers tours seven days a week in the spring and summer. It's the perfect complement for an already exciting race weekend.

Who knows? Since we know neighboring countries can merge in the celebration of sport, perhaps INDYCAR will soon take to the streets of Mexico City.

I'd love to feel the same camaraderie offered by our Canadian friends, this time with it being my turn to show good will from the North.

If it happens, maybe, just maybe. I’ll even find my way to Zihuatanejo.

From the fans