In 2015, Dean McNulty interviewed NASCAR great Jeff Gordon about an unusual experience in his only race in Canada, a midget competition at what was then called Mosport International Speedway in 1989 that Gordon summarized as “disastrous.”
“When told that Ron Fellows, the co-owner of the renamed Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and his partner Carlo Fidani had bulldozed the oval track last season, Gordon laughed,” McNulty wrote. “‘I’m sure he did,’” Gordon said. ‘It was pretty evident when we were there that it wasn’t going to work like that.’”
McNulty, the longtime Toronto Sun sportswriter who specialized in motorsports, died April 29 at 70, just months after he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. As a dwindling cadre of print reporters prepares to converge on Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this week for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and then the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, the media center is missing some of its light.
More significantly, it's missing some of its kindness.
Dean wasn’t just good at what he did, he cared about what he did. He covered everything from Formula One to Toronto-area dirt tracks (the interview with Gordon happened during a NASCAR weekend at Kansas Speedway), and he championed Canadian racers like Fellows, Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore, Alex Tagliani, James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens.
“I loved reading his articles on the sport at a time when I was following racing more than I was competing in it," Hinchcliffe said. "When Dean started following my career, it was a huge help, as he had the ear of the racing world. No doubt he played a part in getting my name out there to the people that helped me get to where I am.
"On top of the passion for racing and the journalistic ability, though, Dean was a great human being. He got to know my family and was genuinely interested in how everyone was doing each time I saw him."
Like many sportswriters, Dean’s strength was his versatility. An accomplished copy editor for the Sun’s first-rate sports section in the 1970s and ‘80s, he also covered soccer and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. But he fell for racing, and his signature event was the Honda Indy Toronto.
“Dean’s passion for motorsports was immense,” said Jeff Atkinson, president of the Honda Indy Toronto, in McNulty’s obituary, written by the Sun’s Lance Hornby. “As a journalist, he covered it all, from short-track racing on dirt, NASCAR to the Honda Indy.
“The coverage he gave the sport not only elevated our event at Exhibition Place, but also certainly raised the profile for many Canadian racers. It’s a fitting tribute to Dean that he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“He’ll be missed, but his contributions to motorsports are lasting.”
In the same story, Hornby told the story of McNulty’s nickname, The Dean of Speed, which began as the title of his column in the Sun.
“As a proud and long-serving member of the newspaper profession, Dean McNulty wanted to be serious about his new beat back in 2010 and that moniker and prominent headshot certainly made him stand out at trackside,” Hornby wrote. “‘He was quite wary when he first saw it in the paper,’” Sun Sports Editor Bill Pierce — who coined “Dean of Speed” — said with a laugh. “He told me he took a lot of grief from other writers. But then people saw the great work he did and the name stuck.”
Dean McNulty was a joy to be around, ever enthusiastic and positive. When journalists attended one of the many media dinners that surround the month of May and the days leading up to the Indianapolis 500, they wanted to sit next to Dean. They knew the conversation would be interesting and engaging, that the stories would be memorable, and that they'd be immensely entertained.
The media center at IMS – and every other track Dean frequented – has lost some goodness. It also has lost some greatness.