James Hinchcliffe puts in bid to keep Kawhi Leonard with Raptors

INDYCAR Photo by James Black
INDYCAR Photo by James Black
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FORT WORTH, Texas – As a youngster growing up in the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario, James Hinchcliffe loved his hometown teams: The long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, and a new team that began its existence in 1995.

That would be the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association.

Originally, the NBA was a bit of a novelty in Canada’s largest city, but over time, the Raptors have been built into a NBA power. The Raptors made the NBA Finals for the first time this year and enter Wednesday night’s Game 3 tied at one game apiece against the Golden State Warriors.

The big reason the Raptors have made it to the NBA Finals is small forward Kawhi Leonard. Hinchliffe wants to make sure he stays in Toronto.

“They started this whole campaign at home about keeping Kawhi in town,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSports.com. “There are talks he might be going somewhere. That has always been our big Achilles’ heel as a team. We get these talented players and they only stay for a couple years until they get picked up by a more established club.

“A lot of people are trying to keep Kawhi with the Raps. There are restaurants in Toronto promising free food for life. Free services here, there, wherever.”

Getty PhotoAnd what is Hinchcliffe offering the NBA All-Star?

“I was going to offer that I’ll put a picture on my helmet and offer him two free passes to any IndyCar race I’m competing in for the rest of my career if he stays put.”

Despite the fact Hinchcliffe spends most of his time in Indianapolis, he remains a loyal Raptors fan.

“Like all Toronto sports, when I moved to Indianapolis, it was so much harder to follow them,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was able to stay in touch with the Raptors when they came to town and played the Indiana Pacers. I have to admit, I have been to more Pacers games the last five years that I have Raptors games – by opportunity, not by choice.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of any Toronto sporting team. I try to keep up with the Jays, the Raps and the Leafs. With the Leafs, we had an OK run this year. But to see what the Raps are doing, as far as NBA franchises go, they are still on the younger side, but to get to our first Finals in history and the way we did it, it’s pretty exciting.”

Hinchcliffe has attended over 25 games in Toronto. His first Raptors game was with his father when he was quite young.

“I remember when the team first came to Toronto – there was a public poll what to name them and the Raptors was one of the names,” Hinchcliffe said. “That was the name I really wanted. Jurassic Park had just come out and I was a big dinosaur geek when I was a kid. I was very happy when they settled on Raptors.”

The Raptors were one of two NBA squads that arrived in Canada in 1995. Six years later, the Vancouver Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tennessee, leaving the Raptors as “Canada’s team.”

But with the Raptors’ success this year, the entire country finally seems to have embraced them as such.

“The challenge with basketball back home is we have just the one team,” Hinchcliffe said. “College sports don’t exist on the level they do in the States. If the Pacers left Indianapolis, basketball fans would follow Indiana University, Purdue, Butler – there would still be a big basketball contingent.

“In Canada, we have one baseball team and one basketball team for the entire country. It’s not like hockey. But when a team goes on a streak and a run of success like this, there is no doubt it piques interest from coast to coast.”

Still, while ‘Raptors fever’ is in the air, hockey – and the Leafs – are never far from Hinchcliffe’s mind. He’s among many fans of the Blue and White that have dealt with one heartbreak after another.

But he hasn’t given up hope.

“I still have 20 years less suffering than some other diehards because I wasn’t born the last time they won it,” Hinchcliffe said. “We are all very much behind the club. No matter what level we are playing at, Toronto has never had bandwagon fans when it comes to hockey.

“They have always been diehards.”

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)