Husband, Father, racer. Born August 19, 1948, in Toronto Ont., died December 19, 2012 in Toronto Ont., of cancer, aged 64.
Upon graduating from Waterloo Lutheran University with a Major in geography and a Minor in hockey, Phil became a public school teacher (grade five) for two years. But the excitement he sought lay elsewhere. It was in the world of auto sport where Phil would immerse himself and his family, wife Donna, and sons Chris and Nick.
As a boy, Phil was intrigued by the antics of Mr. Proctor, a neighbour on Toronto Island, for whom crowds would gather to watch him ride his bicycle straight into Lake Ontario. This would have been quite a sight, especially for a kid of unconventional dreams.
His career in racing, as a mechanic and team manager, took him around the world. Stops along the way headquartered him in the English countryside, in California, and across the Midwest.
An unspoken family goal was to bridge the gap between the travelling life of an Indy Car man and a relatively normal life in the Toronto neighourhood of Leaside. He sped home when he could. Or, the family went racing to meet him.
There were long days at the track. There was also a lot of fun for the kids, which included taking exploratory missions of track sites on team motor scooters and shooting the breeze with Michael Andretti. Access to Dad in this environment sometimes meant pitching in by lugging around race car parts or throwing massive tires over the wall to the mechanics on race day.
The man could write a mean To Do list. He led fitness training regimens and pit-stop repetitions for his mechanics with whom he won the award for fastest pit crew. Back home, he took us on long bike treks throughout the Don Valley.
The day I told him I was quitting baseball upset him. He kept saying: “You’ll regret it,” and I did. He once erased my whole math assignment for its carelessness. He did not tolerate a half-hearted effort. He took the golf club out of my hand when the grip wasn’t right.
But time with Dad was nothing if not authentic. Watching ball games and playing catch never lost their appeal. Spending time taming his overgrown Indiana property, even the mundane tasks of raking leaves and clearing brush, resonates most. He was calm and kind after a job well done, a good friend.
A real triumph was seeing our man Phil, as part of the Forsythe Racing Team with Paul Tracy at the wheel; clinch the Indy Cart Championship of 2003 in Mexico City. Hundreds of thousands stood and cheered throughout that larger than life event.
But in racing, tragedy always lurked around the corner. Greg Moore, Dad’s promising young driver, was fatally injured in the last race of 1999 in Fontana, California. Phil had the task of collecting and cataloguing the broken pieces of the race car for inspection.
Part of auto sport history for over 30 years, his career saw him land work with Team Lotus in Formula 1 and a host of Indy Car outfits. That he shared that history and many checkered flags with names like Mansell, Andretti, and Villeneuve did not inflate his ego. You would not learn of his accomplishments from him.
Despite the pull of his adopted country of United States and even becoming an American citizen late in life, he remained Canadian in spirit and countenance. If you’re among the best at what you do, there’s no need to go around telling people that. He exemplified that.
Through time and determination, he gave his all to the sport. He was helped by many along the way, and he returned the favour by helping friends land jobs in the musical chairs game of auto sport.
In August 2012, weeks after managing Dale Coyne Racing and driver Justin Wilson to the checkered flag in Texas, he left the team due to fatigue. It was his last win.
During this final summer, my Dad removed an old hot tub from his deck, and in so doing, he inadvertently took away the home of a groundhog that lived underneath. He watched the animal walk away across the yard and, before entering the forest, turn back wistfully for one last look at where his old home had been. He felt badly about that.
He still felt guilty about kicking a soccer ball that hit me square in the face when I was three years old (over 30 years ago). From time to time he asked me, as if for the first time, whether I remembered that and that he was sorry.