As discussed a few weeks ago, there was a time when racing on closed, public roads was a thing for Canadian motorcyclists, primarily in Quebec. Given our 1950s and ‘60s history of racing on old, frequently abandoned airfields across the country, this should come as no surprise. In the early 1970s, motorcycle roadracing was undergoing a growth period, largely due to the development of reasonably priced, sporty Japanese machinery.
The Eastveld Brothers, from Montreal, had a solid sponsor; the local Brimaco leathers manufacturer, as well as a decent home venue of Sanair, Quebec – near Granby.
The Eastvelds, lead by brother Richard, struggled to work with the Hamilton, Ontario-based National organizing body, the CMA. They eventually split away, starting their own group, War-Lie Racing.
The CMA made it clear to its members that if they raced in the Brimaco Series, they would receive sanction.
This kept away works Yamaha Motor Canada racer Steve Baker, as well as equally popular Kawasaki top gun, Yvon Duhamel. Both raced in the U.S. as well as in Europe and competing in Canada wasn’t worth the risk of missing the bigger – and bigger-paying – foreign events.
Amid this, a local bar owner offered the chance to run in the streets of Alma, a rural city on Lake Saint-Jean, half a day north of Quebec City. With ‘beer money’ available, this race was a feature of the brief summer season in July 1974.
The track was laid out along the Saguenay River, a few hundred meters from the big Lake. The start/finish area was between the rapids-lined Saguenay and a tall parking structure, a winter fixture for the snowy town. The garage became a pit area and prime viewing location on race day.
The original track was a clockwise rectangle, heading south two blocks steeply uphill from the front straight Cascades Blvd., then blasting west through the shopping area on Rue Collard. The return trip had a left-hand kink, passing the local catholic church on Rue Sacre-Coeur, featuring a statue of Jesus with open arms – you can imagine what the racers said!
Hence was born the “Vroom-Vroom 500.” No one is really sure what the title means, but some involved remember some sort of gas station promotion surrounding the event.
Top guns in 1974 were Ontario-based Yamaha support riders Brian Henderson and Jim Allen, with Allen earning the win and decent prize fund. Although deemed a success, the fact that the downtown core of Alma was tied up for a summer weekend was controversial with the locals.
PHOTO: Bucket hats were a thing in 1974! First Brimaco series Alma road race in Lac St-Jean, with Hall of Fame member Jim Allen celebrating his win on a Yamaha TZ700 at the inaugural Vroom-Vroom 500, with parking garage ‘grandstand’ in background. Image courtesy Bill Petro.
The return of Alma in the 1990s had much to due with another political dispute, this time between National sanctioning group RACE, based at Shannonville, and the upstart ASM (Association of Sport Motorcyclists) of Alan Labrosse.
Popular ex-racer Labrosse, the recent manager of Shannonville and RACE, had established a home track at the recently refurbished Autodrome St-Eustache, just north west of Montreal. Sound a little familiar?
New RACE boss Jack Gramas, a protégé of Labrosse, was running RACE, and jumped at the chance when the same bar owner proposed a return to Alma.
This time, the track was shortened, making it a little safer, but even more stop-and-go. Instead of heading two blocks inland, the track now cut the original rectangle in half, and headed west one right turn early, onto the kinked Labrecque Ave. This meant you no longer raced past Jesus – you were headed right into his arms if you missed your braking for Turn 3!
This layout hosted four weekends, starting in 1993 for the penultimate round of the seven-race Castrol/Motoplan RACE National Championships.
PHOTO: 1993 RACE National Castrol/Motoplan Pro Superbike Feature race at Alma, Quebec with Steve Crevier on the Weld-Rite Kawasaki ZX-7RR Ninja chased by the works Fast by Ferracci Ducati 888 of eventual victor Pascal Picotte. Colin Fraser Photo.
The slow-starting Pascal Picotte took an extremely popular victory aboard the factory FBF-Ducati 888 Desmo twin. Works Kawasaki race Steve Crevier, leading the Championship, opted for caution to preserve his points position.
Bike builder Harald Surian even built a small tool kit for Crevier to carry on-board, so he could fix the bike in the event of a minor tip-over. The tight turns and hard braking led to many incidents of pushing and shoving entering the turns.
As expected, Labrosse took over the event in 1994, with Linnley Clarke winning for Yamaha, Round 4 of the five-race, Castrol-backed inaugural ASM National tour.
Following the race, Clarke provoked some controversy by losing control of his bike during a burn out, and damaging vehicles in the parking garage. Strangely, Clarke wasn’t on his own bike at the time.
In 1995, the race featured coverage on TSN and RDS, which maybe wasn’t the best idea for an iffy layout that most fans knew little about.
Kawasaki’s Michael Taylor took the win, while Taylor team-mate Don Munroe clinched the National Superbike crown. This race featured perhaps the first-ever front brake cooling scoop, created by Scott Miller for the Fast Company Yamaha Brembos of Neil Jenkins.
Munroe didn’t like riding or racing at Alma, but nonetheless, his smooth and precise style led to a textbook win in the sixth and final National round of 1996, with Taylor earning the Canada Cup and overall Championship after a frantic, incident-packed race.
Although there were no serious injuries, the writing was on the plywood walls of Alma.
A variety of unrelated but serious accidents at a wide range of events in Quebec had the manufacturers worried, as they increased their support of most branches of the sport.
While the party atmosphere is missed to this day, the CSBK tour simply outgrew the downtown track on Lac St-Jean.