Ron Fellows Q&A
As interviewed by Henry Lehmann, Contributing Editor to Motorburg.com
Popular Canadian race driver Ron Fellows has spent the last 20 years carving out a varied and enviable road racing career. Ron won his first Driver’s Championship in 1989 in the Player’s/GM Challenge. He dominated Trans Am competition with 19 wins in 95 starts. In 1997 he provided Ferrari with its first sports car win in Canada since 1964. In 2001 Ron became the first Canadian ever to win the 24 hours of Daytona. Fans voted him “Most Popular Driver” in the American LeMans Series for four consecutive years. As a member of GM Corvette Racing he has contributed significantly to their six consecutive GT-1 championships and three Driver’s championships. Ron lives with his wife Lynda and their three children, Lindsay, Sam and Patrick in the Toronto area. He loves family time, music and hockey. Ron recently took time out of a busy travel schedule to share some thoughts with me about his life in the fast lane.
What is your family connection to Western Canada?
My wife (Lynda) is from Vancouver and most of her family still live there. Her father, Bob Stewart, was the Chief of Police for Vancouver in the 1980’s and retired in the early 90’s. Two of Lynda’s brothers and a sister-in-law are still on the “force”; another brother owns the chain of Cactus Club restaurants; yet another brother is working in Kuwait and her oldest brother, Tommy, was the drummer for Trooper. Lynda’s mother is heavily involved with the Variety Club charitable organization.
Describe how you felt participating at LeMans for the first time.
Terrified and excited at the same time. The track is very intimidating. Several sections are very daunting. Some stretches are much longer than anything in America (2 miles vs. 9 miles). The rich history and ceremony are all still there. The whole event is steeped in tradition. If you watch the Steve McQueen movie, a lot of the ceremony still exists. Technical inspections are more sophisticated but they still happen on the Monday and Tuesday before the race. There are usually over three hundred thousand people attending the race. The best part of any 24 hour race is when it’s over. They are very grueling.
What is it like to go flat out on the Mulsanne straight (part of LeMans & one of the longest and fastest of any race track) in the middle of the night in the pouring rain?
Scary as hell! The track is very intimidating. Lots of sections are on public roads with ten feet of grass on either side of the road. It doesn’t take much to put the car into the guard rail. It’s not so much that you are afraid for your personal well being but rather you just don’t want to wreck the car. I remember one year, very early in the morning, it was clear and as I came over a rise at about 175 mph and the Moon was positioned perfectly at the top of the windshield. It was beautiful.
You have done a lot to mentor and develop young drivers. How did the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship come about?
Largely it was a result of my exploration into the karting world. I wanted to see how far it had progressed since my days. I found the culture hadn’t changed much and we had an opportunity to take the lessons I learned and help young drivers shorten their learning curve. With the support of Sunoco, Paul Cook and ASN Canada we are helping young drivers move more quickly into cars and a racing school environment. I started late (age 15). Drivers now are in cars at fifteen and winning championships before they are eighteen.
Do you have any advice for individuals passionate about becoming a race car driver?
I often think about whether I could do it all over again. It is tough but I would never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. Racing is a catch 22 situation. You need money to obtain opportunity. Good equipment is required to showcase your talent. I came from humble beginnings. My father was an Anglican Minister. There was no money for racing. If you have the fire, passion and talent and believe in yourself somebody who can help you will find you. It happened to me. Jim O’Donnell, CEO of McKenzie Financial and many others believed in me and helped me.
How does NASCAR differ from any other series from a driver’s point of view?
The major difference is oval racing. They do a few road races but mostly it is oval racing. The cars are not sophisticated. They are heavy and require a lot of finesse to drive successfully. It is underrated by road race drivers. It takes about 3 years to figure out. Oval racing is quite tricky. Road racers qualify well but have trouble during the race. Drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are extremely talented.
How does your family feel about your career choice? Are any of your children following in your footsteps?
My parents encouraged me to have a “back up” plan (laughs). My wife has always been very supportive and active in my career. She handles the accounting, bookkeeping and manages my time. She runs the racing business and the household. We travel together as a family and have all been to LeMans multiple times. My two boys are interested in karting. I used to get a kick out of them coming home from school and asking me for something they could take back for show and tell because their friends didn’t believe I was a race driver.
What does the future hold for Ron Fellows?
We are well aware that we have more races behind us than ahead of us. I will continue to help with young driver development. I want to stay with General Motors. I am a GM guy. Perhaps managing a team. I would also not rule out being involved in NASCAR outside of driving.
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