Nobody bangs out a story like Norris McDonald (r) seen here at his weekend home - the media centre at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
Norris McDonald: Between you and me.
by Chris Jameson
This past weekend (Sept. 27, 2014) my esteemed colleague Norris McDonald, writer, editor at The Toronto Star, was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. His induction into the Hall is as unique as the man in that he is the first journalist to be included among a vast array of drivers, promoters, team owners and builders across many motorsport categories. That McDonald is also a former racer – and has reported on just about every kind of motorsport, just adds to the uniqueness – and the value of his admission to the Hall.
Now most of you know about Norris from his regular column in the Wheels section of The Toronto Star over a couple of decades and his subsequent online blogs for Wheels.ca, and some of the older folks might even remember him writing for The Globe & Mail. Some might even remember his days racing around the dirt ovals. No matter what you remember, it is certain that Norris McDonald does not just "report" on motorsport – he lives it; he gets into it ... and he gets passionate about it – all of it. Every facet, every genre is important, no matter how many wheels it has or whether it has fenders or not.
And he states his mind, whether we agree with him ... or not.
But that is the reporter/writer side that 99.9% readers see or experience with Norris – the "here's what I have to say on the matter and am willing to put in print" side. I have had the extreme pleasure over the last twelve years to experience the other side of Norris McDonald.
Like any other motorsport fan, I was long familiar with Norris' articles and was keenly aware of his commitment to motorsport so in 2001, when deciding to add a new portfolio to my media and public relations company, one of my first points of contact was this guy with the regular column. At that time, my son was racing karts and we joined a team that had a couple of noteworthy "hot shoes" (damn, I hate that word) who I started working with. The goal was to garner some exposure in their quest to move on to bigger and better things in the sport.
So here I am writing press releases for youngsters racing karts on local tracks and trying to get the attention of the county's number one motorsport journalist who has one column a week to cover every imaginable international motorsport event that was of interest to his readers. Tough job. Tough Sell.
Or at least I thought it would be.
I was shocked, impressed and happy at the same time.
You see, as much as Norris McDonald liked to report about the established stars, he had a very keen interest in the future of the sport – and the people who would be a part of that future. Soon we were meeting for chats over coffee – even before he sat with my charges, and we discussed our sport. We talked about different series and organizations, trends and who was doing what, the people leaving, and the kids coming up. Norris would eventually write features on some of these future stars but our discussions outside my client list continued – and expanded. Norris' enquiries caused me to look beyond the obvious when travelling the racing circuit, especially when two of my drivers graduated from karting to the open-wheel circuit and I started visiting well-known tracks featuring major international events (both open-wheel and sports car). I was learning to relate a better story but realized at that point, it was the stories that got Norris' attention in the first place. Norris likes stories, both telling them and hearing them.
(Now that is a whole 'nother story as they say – the art of writing a press release that will get you at least some acknowledgement, let alone in print, is something else ... and you'll have to pay to take the course.)
But in telling stories, one must be careful not to enhance or embellish too much ... basically, cut the bullshit. A good journalist can spot that a mile away – and Norris, no doubt, is a good journalist, and from 2001 through 2010, I endeavoured to not bullshit one of the biggest supporters of Canadians in motorsports – and by default, my clients. To that end – and to his credit, Norris always answered my emails and took my calls. He would always take a moment to chat with me at the track about what was going on with my clients – and myself, and he also took an interest in the goings-on of a young kid who took a different track from competitive racing and chose broadcasting instead. Then in 2010, I moved to the other side of the table, giving up the client side and taking up the press mantle. That didn't mean my conversations with Norris' stopped, nor did they take on a different tone, because we still both love the same sport.
Over the last fourteen years, I have seen Norris struggle with management reducing his word count, to starting – and then stopping his podcasts (he really liked doing those – or at least that's what he told me when I dragged drivers down to One Yonge Street for early recording sessions) to eventually going online with Wheels.ca which allowed him a bit more "page space" to tell his stories. But even that has been minimized as Norris also handles additional duties at the newspaper. Through it all, he has maintained a steadfast devotion to motorsports, the Canadians who participate in them and especially the future young stars.
This is my 'thank you' to Norris for all the support he has given me – and my clients over the years. It is a thank you to a man I can trust with sensitive news, can learn from and occasionally take the mick out of (I threatened to buy him a tiara when his induction to the Hall was first announced). It is a thank you to someone who trusts me enough to listen to my answers when he asks a question about the sport we both love. That too is a reason why Norris McDonald is a most deserving addition to the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in his capacity as a journalist. He listens.
Cheers my friend, and here's to many more years of weekends at the track and the fun of swapping stories on the record, off the record ... and between you and me.