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Alex Tagliani has learned valuable lessons in 25 years of racing

Alex Tagliani jokes with his crew at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in this 2012 file photo.

Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS

On tap this week:

  • Tagliani finally having some fun
  • Different gets young drivers notices
  • Power won, but did anyone see it?
  • NTT makes Ganassi smarter and faster
  • Quote of the Week: Stewart on fatal accident
  • IndyCar not leaving Toronto, yet

After more than 25 years of racing, Alex Tagliani is finally in the driver's seat when it comes to his career and he couldn't be happier.

He's racing when he wants, where he wants and for the teams he wants, and he won't be handing over any more cash to secure a ride. It all happened after he made a conscious decision to make a career rather than live a dream.

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So far this year, Tagliani has he raced in NASCAR Nationwide events, the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and Prototype Challenge class in the United Sports Car Championship.

"I should have done it many years ago," Tagliani said.

"I was focusing on my IndyCar career and I was like a racehorse. Now, I am focusing on my business career and doing what I do best: driving. It's not regularly in one series but I try to make the most of it everywhere I am. It works really well, I'm enjoying it, it makes me happy and I'm making money."

He's also getting more personal with the names appearing on his car. This year, Tagliani's NASCAR Canadian Tire car carries the EpiPen name and he's been using the season to help raise funds for his charity of choice, Anaphylaxis Canada. Tagliani suffers from severe nut allergies.

The 40-year-old from Lachenaie, Que., made his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), and got off to a memorable start when he put his No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing truck on pole but throttle problems ruined his race and he finished 16th in the Chevy Silverado 250.

Also racing in the trucks was Calgary teen Cameron Hayley who races in the NASCAR ladder K&N Pro Series East Series. He ended his first NASCAR truck race in a respectable 11th. Scott Hargrove, of Surrey, B.C., who finished second overall in the Pro Mazda Series championship after a heartbreaking mechanical failure in the season final handed the tile to another driver, took the 2014 Ultra94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge title on Sunday. Both are looking to raise big budgets to race in 2015, with Hargrove needing to raise upwards of $750,000 for an Indy Lights program, while Hayley probably has to come up with at least double that to move up to NASCAR trucks.

While he doesn't want to tell young drivers what to do, those coming up through the ranks should listen to Tagliani's message about spending money to go racing.

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"I've been there, I've cried, I've done all kinds of things. My wife [Bronte] has seen big highs and lows — I have pumped millions of dollars into teams that could not even help me with passes [to bring guests to races]," he said.

"It's up to you to decide what is best for you. I don't know what the right thing to do is, but you have to look at it from both sides: You have the team owners who want to stay in business and make money and if you show them you have money, they will take it and once you don't have any more, they'll look at the next one coming with the money."

Random Thoughts: With the NASCAR truck series gone, the stage at CTMP switches to the final races in the 2014 Toyo Tires F1600 season in two weeks as its field of young Canadian talent race for the last time this year.

Although all the drivers need to show speed and find success on the track to get ahead, most also understand that they also need to differentiate themselves from the crowd to attract attention out of the car.

That order was pretty easy for Chase Pelletier to fill. Although he doesn't wake up every morning happy that he has Type 1 diabetes, he also knows that he wouldn't be racing if he didn't have the disease. His main backer, Animas, makes the insulin pump he uses.

"I help them and they help me with my racing", said Pelletier who won the F1600 Super Series title earlier this season and hopes to use that success will help him land a racing seat in the U.S. next year.

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"It's something that not many people see as a blessing, but it has been really helpful for me. It gives me the opportunity to be here."

The 18-year-old from Brampton is second overall in the Toyo Tires Series and can still take the title although it's a long shot. Championship leader Tristan DeGrand of Eureka, Mo., holds a 146-point lead going into the final two races. With drivers getting 100 points for a win, only a complete disaster will keep DeGrand from the title.

While Pelletier's disease helps attract sponsors and keep him racing, Amy Castell, 19, knows that being one of only two women in the series is a big plus. The lanky blue-eyed redhead, who wouldn't look out of place on a fashion runway, understands that her gender sets her apart.

"It does help because people remember — you are differentiated for being a girl but you also have to differentiate yourself from all the other girls," said the second-year Wilfred Laurier University student, who poured all the cash she made from a summer marketing job at Waterloo's Perimeter Institute into her car.

"It's hard when you are a blossoming young woman because you have to decide who you are going to be for the rest of your career: You can go the girlie-girl or the tomboy route and I'm not sure which one I want to go with."

Castell is second overall in the "B" F1600 series, 106 points out of first. So she can still win the title but like Pelletier will need a bit of luck. The "B" class runs F1600 cars that are 1994 or older and is the entry level of the series.

By the Numbers: Early reports are that only 10,000 fans showed up at California's Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night to watch Penske driver Will Power take his maiden IndyCar championship with a ninth-place finish in the MAVTV 500.

Considering that Saturday's California season finale championship showdown began after midnight on the East Coast when most people in the several huge U.S. markets were already in bed, the television numbers will likely be just as dismal or worse.

Those two things alone would make anyone wonder what the IndyCar Series was thinking when it drew up the 2014 schedule.

The series, which begins its race season in March, now goes dark for almost seven months before the first event of 2015. Spending more than half a year out of the news won't do the ailing open wheel series any favours, especially because both Formula One and NASCAR will continue to race for the next three months. Both their seasons end in November, which means NASCAR is on track for 10 months while F1 goes for nine.

To make matters worse, the biggest losers in the condensed schedule will likely be the people who work in the race shops and garages. With little to do for the next five months or so, many employees will probably be greeted with pink slips soon after Labour Day as the teams slim down their payrolls to save money.

Technically Speaking: In a typical race, the Chip Ganassi operation collects two gigabytes of data from the cars — half a gigabyte from each of its four drivers — that it needs to analyse and understand. In test sessions, that number easily jumps to about 1.2 gigabytes per driver.

Managing and using all that data to find speed can be the difference between winning and finishing further down the field.

Figuring out how to get the most out of all the data is the job of the team's technical partner NTT Data, which spent the 2014 season examining the Ganassi outfit's existing information technology infrastructure and develop something that can get the most out of the technology.

"One of the real benefits that NTT is bringing to us is the ability to look forward — our IT group focuses on what is happening in the next race or next two or three races and making sure we have everything we need to capture data and support the race team is functioning and up to date," Steve Lauletta, president of Chip Ganassi Racing.

"What these guys help us do is look at where we should be two years, three years or four years from now which is expertise that we don't have. We use their expertise to help us get smarter and faster on the racetrack and use their resources that we don't have."

NTT sponsored Ryan Briscoe's car in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 before joining the team full-time this year.

Unlike the IndyCar operation, the squad's NASCAR side isn't as sophisticated and doesn't really collect much from the cars during races.

When it comes down to it, the team really doesn't need to do much analysis to grab a rubber mallet and pound out a fender before slapping on some duct tape and sending the driver back on track. But that doesn't mean using better technology doesn't help the stock cars too.

"It's not that there isn't any data, it's just different," Lauletta said.

"There is a tremendous amount of data leading up to when we go the race from all the things we can do like simulations and the seven-post shaker rig. And in NASCAR testing, we can put sensors on the car."

Quote of the Week: "This has been one of the toughest tragedies I've ever had to deal with both professionally and personally. This is something that will definitely affect my life forever. This is a sadness and a pain that I hope no one ever has to experience in their life. With that being said, I know that the pain and the mourning that Kevin Ward's family and friends are experiencing is something that I can't possibly imagine. I want Kevin's father, Kevin Sr., and his mother Pam, and his sisters Christi, Kayla, Katelyn, to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them.

— Tony Stewart, driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, speaking publically for the first time since the Aug. 9 incident in an Upper New York State sprint car race that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. Ward, 20, was struck and killed by Stewart's car after walking onto the track to confront the NASCAR driver following a crash involving the two drivers.

The Last Word: The idea of having Canadian Tire Motorsport Park welcome the annual IndyCar race next July seems to have gone from a rumour to a sure thing in a few days. The truth is a bit less sensational.

Although there was an IndyCar inspection of the 10-turn, 3.96-kilometre Bowmanville, Ont., road course last month to gauge its suitability for the series, reports of a deal being signed to move next year's Honda Indy down the 401 to Bowmanville, Ont., were off the mark.

"If there's a deal to host the 2015 Toronto race, it's not with us," said one CTMP insider.

With the 2015 Pan-American Games made the traditional date impossible on the streets of Exhibition Place in Toronto, the track and the Honda Indy promoters have been talking to see if CTMP can play host to a one-off event next year.

As it stands, CTMP officials are now looking through the IndyCar inspection report to figure out whether the cost of the upgrades is reasonable enough to have the open wheel series come to Bowmanville. Apparently, some of the changes required by IndyCar were planned anyway and would just need to be pushed to the top of the list in order to satisfy the series. But, it remains unclear whether CTMP would be willing to foot the entire bill just for a one-off race.

Should a deal be reached to have IndyCar at CTMP next season, it would give the track owners and the series a risk-free opportunity to see if IndyCar can be a success outside downtown Toronto. But there would be big risks for the Toronto promoters who may see more fans make the trek to Bowmanville than Exhibition Place has drawn in the past few years, which may have IndyCar wondering why a track an hour outside the city can attract a bigger crowd.

On the other hand, others inside the IndyCar paddock worry that a move away from downtown Toronto wouldn't be as helpful some believe.

"I hope it doesn't happen," said one insider. "The racing is better and the atmosphere is down there [at Exhibition Place]. You are going to kill the momentum of the Toronto race. I don't think this is smart."

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