Bridgestone CSBK founder and former series owner Colin Fraser goes into the Canadian Motorcycle Hall of Fame this weekend in Toronto. We asked Fraser, currently recovering from knee surgery, for his insider perspective on some of the most important moments in the 43-year history of the national championship series.
The second-ever Superbike national was held at the recently renamed Shannonville Motorsport Park in September 1980, with George Morin (Kawasaki) taking the crown in the second and deciding round. Initially, the “first version,” six turn Nelson International Raceway was considered too small to host a major event, but four years of use by two separate series (1977-1980) convinced new owner Jack Boxstrom to host in the fall.
A strong crowd turned out in cold and overcast conditions, and a good contingent of western racers attended the event, even though the nature of the track greatly favored the locals. Lang Hindle and Rueben McMurter clashed early in the race, and Morin’s second place finish was enough to clinch to the inaugural Canadian Superbike #1 plate – Morin took his hard-earned championship to Suzuki for 1981.
Over the next few seasons, SMP would expand and attract larger events, including the biggest race of the year in that era, the Molson Superbike Championship. Then the venue was sold to Quebec insurance czar Raymond David and managed by former star racer Alan Labrosse. A huge expansion program took place, producing the multi-element, big grandstand facility we enjoy today.
The opening regional of 1985 took place on an often wet and dreary May weekend at SMP, and the turnout of national competitors was something to behold. Michel Mercier brought the brand-new Suzuki GSX-R750 and Rueben McMurter, fresh from a strong factory supported run at Daytona, had the first-gen Yamaha FZ750. As well, a host of dealer-backed and privateer racers ensured a record number of brand-new bikes attended the RACE Castrol Eastern Canada opener.
In the dry on Saturday, McMurter and Mercier fought for the heat win with Clive Ng-A-Kien’s Canadian Tire FZ, and in the rain the next day Mercier and McMurter traded the lead again. The star of the production classes was 1984 champion Paul MacMillan, who nursed an injured elbow to win with one of the BCR GSX-R750s.
The arrival of the oil-cooled, alloy-framed 1985 Suzuki would change the face of club and production racing worldwide and confirm Superbike as the new feature category. For the next few seasons, McMurter (RACE champ) and Mercier (CMA champ) would duel across Canada, the U.S., and occasionally the U.K., hugely elevating the Canadian series and their careers.
Established in the mountains on the eastern edge of Vancouver, the Westwood circuit attracted huge crowds and produced great racers before it’s unfortunate closing at the end of 1990. A street race for Indy cars was coming to town, and everyone was sure that a combination of sponsors and government support would yield a new venue – this didn’t happen.
B.C. had more top superbike racers than any other region produced in the late 1980s, including Suzuki dealer Gary Goodfellow, Steve Dick, Steve Crevier and Tom Walther. All were in peak form in 1998, and rookie pro Miguel Duhamel on a well-travelled Kawasaki was remarkably able to pace the locals in his first run at the tricky circuit.
Fan favourite Goodfellow had a problem on the first lap, stopping at the southern hairpin and then staying on track to force a red flag. After the restart, there was a ferocious fight for the win, and Goodfellow took victory, unpopular with his fellow pros who thought “Goodie” should be further penalized.
At the next and final event, the September decider at Shannonville, Mercier battled Duhamel for the wet win, and McMurter recovered from a crash to clinch the title for Rothmans-Honda – it was perhaps the most competitive season in the history of CSBK.
Steve Crevier (1989 champion for Yamaha Canada) and Miguel Duhamel both left Canada to ride for Yoshimura Suzuki in the U.S. for 1990, and at the Daytona opener both were injured in a heat race, just seconds apart. Duhamel kept his ride and did duty in Japan, but Crevier wound up looking for work mid-season. Back in Canada, Crevier hooked up on the spare bike with the Weld-Rite Kawasaki squad, and soon pushed team leader Linnley Clarke out of a job.
This partnership eventually produced another dynasty era for Canadian Kawasaki Motors, with Crevier taking the title for three seasons straight, 1991-1993, before heading back to the U.S. to ride for Muzzy Kawasaki and eventually American Honda, and (full circle) Yoshimura Suzuki (becoming the 1998 Supersport champ).
Crevier was looking for a perfect season in 1992, with rumors of a possible bonus if he went undefeated. He got to the big money summer Shannonville race unbeaten, but a fallout with his team left him short of crew and some parts.
In a race that offered a record $10,000 purse for the winner on the 10th anniversary of the first Molson Superbike Challenge at Shannonville, Crevier fought for the win with the works Sunoco FAST Yamaha of Linnley Clarke, also an archrival in the production classes. Clarke scored the shock victory, and Crevier would soon have to face a tougher advisory – the Ferracci Ducati of Pascal Picotte.
National organizers RACE fell out with national title sponsor Castrol in 1994, and for 1995 Alan Labrosse and his new ASM group took over the Castrol-backed championships. The mid-summer round was at Atlantic Motorsport Park, a venue often blessed with unpredictable weather.
On race day, rain slowed proceedings, and caused major issues when many of the competitors didn’t have the necessary grooved rubber. Various people, including the television crew, encouraged everyone to share what they had, while some teams thought a schedule delay would ease the problem.
In the end, the race went ahead on a drying track, and Dunlop-backed Don Munroe on the Pro Cycle Kawasaki looked ready for a runaway victory. As the track dried, it became clear that Michelin-equipped Mark Kowalski was catching up.
As is often the case in changeable conditions, Kowalski suddenly started carving seconds a lap out of Munroe’s leading margin, and took a popular privateer win with his well-used Fast Company Yamaha 0W-01/FZF1000 hybrid.
Kowalski’s career was soon slowed by a serious head injury, while the fallout from the weekend in the rain in Nova Scotia eventually led to sanction changes and, in the long run, the adoption of one-brand spec tires with first Pirelli (2006), then Dunlop, and currently Bridgestone.
Kawasaki had won the Superbike crown for nine years in a row going into 2000, with Steve Crevier (3), Michael Taylor (2), Don Munroe (2), Jordan Szoke (1), and Francis Martin (1) netting number-one plates with their Ninja “mean green” dream team entries.
Honda went all-out to end this trend, with two works teams to enter the new, fully-built-from-Japan RC51 twins. Kevin Graham’s Ontario team featured Jordan Szoke and Clint McBain, while the Labrosse entry from Quebec was built around the returning Steve Crevier and Jean-Francois Cyr.
The opening event was a doubleheader in Calgary, where Szoke’s Alberta connection (local relatives) was played up over Crevier’s B.C. roots. Kawasaki’s four rider team also showed well, but two efforts surprised with their ability to challenge the full factory bikes – Taylors’ Dale Rathwell-led ZX-9R hot rod, and the Brooklin Cycle Racing Yamaha of national rookie Frank Trombino.
Szoke took both wins after a great battle at the front, including a controversial incident when Taylor’s tumbling bike took out the hard-charging Trombino. Szoke would win most of the battles (4 races) in 2000 but not the war, with Crevier’s lone win at AMP enough to secure him the crown. Still, Szoke’s efforts got him a 2001 ride in the U.S. As well, Trombino’s amazing win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park established him as the newest star in Canadian racing.
Midway through the 2004 season, the organizers of the downtown Montreal Indy Car event asked CSBK if they could host a two-wheeled event in August with the open wheeled car series. CSBK decided it was too late to add a national points-paying round but found the support from Parts Canada to put on a demo race in Montreal the week after the Mont-Tremblant national. CSBK had previously been to the same circuit in 1981 and 1985.
Yamaha’s Pascal Picotte was at peak form on the national tour and was the rider to beat – and he won convincingly from Trombino. Also featuring was BCR Yamaha’s Kevin Lacombe, a Picotte protégé, who unfortunately briefly stopped the race on the first lap with a fall while leading in the narrowest portion of the circuit.
Still, the event coverage was very positive for Jordan Szoke on the Fast Company Honda Canada CBR1000RR, who set an Isle of Man worthy qualifying lap to take pole position, as later broadcast for the first time in full HD quality on TSN. Unfortunately, Szoke lost the clutch on the first start, but still provided one of the most impressive single-lap performances in the history of CSBK.
Jordan Szoke weathered the major economic downturn from late 2009 with style: after losing his Kawasaki ride when the team downsized, he switched to Honda and had the first-ever perfect Superbike season with his Fast Company Honda CBR1000RR in 2010. Szoke also came close to a perfect season in middleweight Sport Bike, losing only one race – the final at AMP, against Kawasaki’s sole racer, Alex Welsh.
Kawasaki revised their program in 2011 and Szoke joined Competition Systems, back on the “mean green.” But this was the year Brett McCormick returned from Michael Jordan Suzuki in the U.S. to go for the Canadian number-one as leader of the works BMW effort.
McCormick came to the final round at CTMP looking for a perfect season and was just one race way after Saturday’s penultimate victory, where he also clinched the championship. Sunday’s race was wet, and Szoke battled McCormick, a duel fans had waited for several years to see. McCormick fell on the way to turn two late in the race, handing Szoke the win and ending his hopes of a perfect year.
CTMP 2011 was historic in several ways, including being the last time the popular McCormick raced in Canada. For 2012, strong support from Pirelli and impressive winter testing performances earned McCormick a World Superbike ride with Effenbert Ducati. The team wasn’t the greatest, and McCormick suffered a serious injury early in the season at Assen, but he managed an amazing fourth at Portimao before the team imploded and McCormick headed home to refocus on an engineering career.
The CSBK tour made its debut at Grand Bend, on Ontario’s “west coast,” in June 2017, on a weekend with unseasonable warm weather that had a great effect on the competition. BMW’s Jordan Szoke entered the event on a historic hot streak, having won the previous 15 races straight over three seasons, including the 2017 Shannonville opener – a record that still stands today as the longest win streak ever.
In the race, Szoke quickly pulled clear of Ben Young (Parts Canada BMW) and Bodhi Edie (Z1 Cycle Tech Yamaha), only to encounter tire issues – there was precious little data for the venue with the top bikes in torrid conditions. Szoke faded, and a battle ensued for the win.
Young got flung from his S1000RR in the tight “bus stop” section in front of the main grandstand, making the cover of the London paper the next day and forcing a red flag. Scoring reverted to the previous lap’s standings, and Saskatchewan’s Edie was declared the victor – the second time in his career, and importantly ending Szoke’s incredible streak.
In the middle of the first year of the COVID-19 outbreak, CSBK staged their second round of the season at “old Mosport,” with a track day component and limited permitted spectator attendance. Title sponsor Mopar, owned by FIAT and based in Italy, had pulled out, and the series gambled to maintain their TSN broadcast obligations.
The event produced great racing, even though much of it was in lousy weather. As well, the television coverage was well received, allowing the series to build up their TSN deal at a time many series were struggling – for instance, the CFL didn’t operate at all in 2020.
On track, the weekend would be remembered for Jordan Szoke’s incredible comeback win from pit lane, when he gambled on a bike (and Dunlop tire) change after the warm-up lap. After clawing his way back to the front, Szoke fought with rookie pro Samuel Guerin, who made the podium and nearly scored a first career pro national victory in just his second start.