CMHF’s John Magill to step aside for new role

CMHF’s John Magill to step aside for new role

By Bryce Turner


Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame (CMHF) board member John Magill was the type of kid who read racing magazines under his bedsheets while his parents thought he was sleeping. The self-described “lifelong motorhead,” – now 78-years-old – is preparing to step away from his role at the CMHF to fulfill another opportunity.

Magill’s first experience in racing came during high school, when he was involved in sports cars and hill climbs. He later joined his friend’s stock car efforts at the former CNE Speedway at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. When faced with the option of stepping up to a higher level or racing elsewhere, they decided to try karting.

“As a joke, we got into go karting,” Magill said. “And I got hooked on go karts.”

Magill went on to co-found a company called Race Prep Engineering, and started competing. While talking with others in the industry, he discovered that karting in Canada was not organized like it was in Europe.

The next thing he knew, he was introduced to Bob Hanna, who was general manager of the CASC sanctioning body. Following discussions, John was offered the role of CASC’s first national karting director.

At a time when karting was beginning to evolve in Canada, Magill was at the helm of many firsts, including the CASC’s first karting program and the first FIA/CIK sanctioned kart race in the country.

While being the first to do something means laying the groundwork and not having a system in place to follow, that was okay for Magill.

“I’m the kind of guy that, if you’re looking for somebody just to maintain something, I’m not your guy; it bores me to tears,” he said. “Creating something that didn’t exist and taking challenges to set it up across the country sounded like fun at the time.”

The goal of organizing karting in Canada was to create a development ladder, similar to what existed in Europe.

“It seemed like the right thing to do, to help promote the sport and see to it that we had our own ‘honest to goodness’ feeder system,” he continued.

Magill was also involved in the efforts to bring the CIK World Karting Championship to North America for the first time. The original plan was to host the event at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

But that plan was rejected and a deal was reached between Hanna, Magill and the CIK to have the World Karting Association (WKA) host the event in the US, which they agreed to as long as Hanna and Magill would organize and run it.

A test event took place in the parking lot of a Las Vegas casino before the actual championships were held in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1986.

Magill said the underlying challenge was to get the US sanctioning bodies and manufacturers to work with the CIK throughout the two-year process. Another challenge was a battle in Europe – unknown to them at the time – to get the world championship to return from the 135cc to the 100cc engine.

This dispute continued through the start of practice on ‘day one’ in Jacksonville, when a walkout by the 100cc-minded competitors nearly put the event below the minimum numbers required. Ultimately, the event was run as scheduled. Magill said the races were competitive, but he said to himself, “I’m not going to do that again.”

A lawyer by trade, Magill provided legal counsel for the CMHF, free of charge, including successfully gaining the original charitable designation for the Hall. This occurred during his first of three separate stints on the board.

Many times, over the decades, Magill used his legal expertise to assist the motorsport industry. And while law and motorsports seem vastly different, Magill sees a comparison between the two industries. While racing is a team sport, the performance is based on individual performances, as is the case practicing law.

“When you’re standing on your feet in a courtroom, it’s a gesture of yourself and your wits,” he said. “It’s essentially the same in racing. It’s yourself and your wits and skill level, (along with) the excitement that comes from controlling your emotions and staying sharp to be able to respond to various circumstances.”

Magill said his legal work in motorsport was the “ultimate level of enjoyment,” as he was able to sit at his desk, practicing law, while still being involved in racing. And while he needed to make a living in order to pay for the essentials and playtime pursuits, Magill said the enjoyment he got was such that he probably would have done it for free.

During his first two stints as a CMHF board member, the Hall was considering options to open a new brick-and-mortar location, as it was in the past.

During his third stint, Magill suggested that he and his fellow board members do some research into brick-and-mortal motorsport museums. Their research suggested that these were not money-making operations as they rely, too much, on public participation, while most successful motorsport museums had significant financial backing from a single person or family.

As a result of the research, the CMHF decided to shift efforts to a virtual hall, focusing on celebrating members through its website and at the annual induction ceremony, now held as part of the Canadian International AutoShow.

Magill is a CMHF inductee, enshrined as a road racing builder in 2013. The honour came as a surprise to him.

“I was hugely humbled and pleased by that,” he said. “Here I am, thinking I was just being very selfish and enjoying (motorsports) for my personal pure pleasure. I’m glad that in the course of that, somebody thought I actually did something worthwhile.”

Magill, continuing a long family association, has taken over as board chair of Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, a recently created sister company of the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) Foundation. The organization is responsible for the rehabilitation, across Canada, of people impacted by blindness and vision loss.

Magill’s father was blind and served with the CNIB for 40 years, ultimately as its CEO. The CNIB’s highest award for volunteer service was named in his honour upon his retirement. John Magill has personally participated in the annual presentation of this award for more than 45 years.

With his responsibilities increasing at Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada, Magill decided it was time to step aside from the CMHF board and give someone new an opportunity to participate.

But as he moves on to the next chapter of his working life, Magill’s love of motorsport will continue.

“I don’t think I’ll ever give up an interest in it,” he said. “Having participated in so many different categories and in so many different ways, I’m sure I bore all my friends and family with all my war stories. But it just feels good to re-live those stories.”