David Foster was 12 years younger than Billy Foster and in awe in the way only the junior cousin of a family legend could be.
From the moment he first slid behind the wheel of a performance race car, Billy had “it,” the type of rare talent David said would have him lapping people just eight laps into a race, the type of talent that, in 1965, made him the first Canadian to ever qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
Gifted with a different set of elite fine motor skills, David left Victoria for England that year, at age 16, carving the early steps of a career that would eventually lead to 16 Grammy Awards.
He was there, watching from afar, when Billy roared his way to 28 career starts in the USAC championship car series, including 10 top-10 finishes, highlighted by a second-place result in Atlanta in 1966.
He was there, as well, when he heard the tragic news.
Billy, a close friend of racing legend Mario Andretti, died while practicing for the Riverside NASCAR race in 1967, never fulfilling his destiny of giving Vancouver Island its first Indy 500 champion.
David was among several members of the extended Foster clan to be on hand Monday at the shiny new Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit, where the track’s grand opening got underway with the dedication of a plaque to Billy Foster, now a member of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.
Foster was grateful for the opportunity to salute his late cousin, whose career resonated across the nation 50 years ago.
“We were so proud as a city, a province and even a country, and as a family,” he said.
The tang of cobalt tire smoke mingled with the savoury charred scent of roast whole pig as about 500 people gathered at the race track northwest of Duncan as Vancouver Island’s premier new attraction officially put its foot to the floor today.
A parking lot packed bumper-to-bumper with Porsches, Audis, BMWs and Mercedes gave birth to a crowd that mingled jumpsuit-clad daredevils with polished men and women in well-cut pants, dresses and hair, as a whip-crack support team coordinated fine food and high-speed motorsport demonstrations.
Foster and his celebrity reality TV star children Brody Jenner, Brandon Jenner and Erin Foster, joined Boston Pizza mogul and Dragon’s Den star Jim Treliving, rubbing elbows in the well-lit, expansive clubhouse or track-side with elite race car drivers including Max Papis, Brody Goble and Danny Sullivan, and some of the highest-ranking officials of the Canadian automobile industry.
Many of the VIPs slid behind the wheel, or into the passenger seats of some of the finest high-performance import production cars available for a taste of the track, before and after the professionals demonstrated just what the 2.3-kilometre course is capable of: nineteen turns in less than a minute and a half.
Carved into 50 acres on a gentle hillside facing Highway 18 to Lake Cowichan, the VIMC is the culmination of a dream launched by the GAIN Dealer Group, Vancouver Island’s association of fine import automobile dealerships.
Essentially, it is an exclusive country club for fans of a sport that offers a bit more of an adrenaline boost than your average 18 holes of golf. Members can open up their own street-legal, classic, sport or performance cars on the track in way they never could on the road. And if they live halfway across the world, the VIMC team will arrange to have those vehicles transported here and stored in a climate-controlled unit on site.
High-performance driving experience is not necessary, but drivers will be limited by the track manager based on their car and experience, and lessons are available. The track is designed with driver safety in mind.
Vehicle maintenance is part of the package and a computer system monitors track safety, records lap time and charts driver performance in a way designed to give members tips on how to improve their speed.
Memberships range between $48,000 and $200,000 and the course is being marketed to potential clients from around the world as something they won’t be able to find anywhere else.
“What they’ve built is just magnificent,” Foster said. “It’s unparalleled. There are only two or three like it anywhere.”
Foster may have racing in his family — and not just through Billy — but his association with the track at this time is mostly through its owners and their support of his charitable foundation.
But he snuck in a ride in the passenger seat beside his friend, Indy champion and all-time CART racing great Sullivan, who still has the gift, even at age 66.
“Danny took me out. I wanted to see what he could do with something like that,” Foster said, before adding he definitely wasn’t disappointed.
The music industry legend, who remains a huge booster of Victoria and Vancouver Island, is confident the track will be a big draw to Vancouver Island and a huge year-round success.
“It’s a first-class operation. In our little town like Victoria, this is just incredible.”
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