By Steve Wittich
Unfortunately, TSO Ladder was the recipient of some bad news on Saturday afternoon.
Former Juncos Racing Pro Mazda racer Jeff Green had a significant incident at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) during a Formula 5000 race during VARAC (Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada) Vintage Grand Prix.
Green had started on pole in his bright orange No. 44 Lola T300 in the first race of the Formula 5000 Revival Series to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the open-wheel category.
The cause of the incident is unknown, but Green made heavy contact in Turn 8 at the end of the long and fast back-straight of the 2.459-mile, 10-turn CTMP road course that is popularly known as Mosport.
The 61-year-old was extracted from his vintage 1972 racer but was not able to overcome his injuries. The Peoria, Ill. racer was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Green’s wife Pam was present at the track, and a son and daughter also survive him.
Green’s family has been in the automobile dealership business for multiple generations and Green spent his entire life in the industry, currently owning Green Chevrolet and Green Ford in Peoria, Ill.
We are devastated with the passing of Jeff Green, our former 2017 Pro Mazda driver. Jeff was an incredible man, who had a contagious smile and was an extremely genuine and kind person.
Our entire family sends our thoughts & prayers to his family during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/K4bCqQXfxg
— Juncos Racing (@juncosracing) June 17, 2018
Statement from Durham Regional Police:
A 61-year-old Illinois male was killed after his open wheeled race car left the track at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) and collided with a wall.
On Saturday, June 16, 2018, at approximately 4:30 p.m., members of East Division were called to serious motor vehicle collision involving a race car at CTMP. Track safety staff including a medical doctor attended to the driver and had to extricate him from the race car. The driver was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced deceased.
The driver was participating in a F5000 race in a 1972 Lola T300 race car. During the race, the driver lost control around corner eight and left the track colliding with a wall. The race car passed a safety inspection before being permitted onto the track.
Members of the DRPS Traffic Services Branch, Collision Investigation Unit, attended the scene to conduct an investigation. The track was closed for the remainder of the day.
Anyone with information about this incident or witnessed this collision is asked to call Cst. Lemanis of the Traffic Services Branch at 1-888-579-1520 ext. 5272.
Anonymous information can be sent to Durham Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or online at www.durhamregionalcrimestoppers.ca and tipsters may be eligible for a $2,000 cash reward.
Statement from CTMP:
A race car driver has succumbed to injuries suffered in an accident during the VARAC (Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada) Vintage Grand Prix Saturday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Jeffrey Green, 61, of Peoria, Ill., a driver in the Formula 5000 Revival Series, was transported via ambulance to Lakeridge Health Bowmanville.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Jeffrey Green,” said Myles Brandt, President and General Manager of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. “We offer our deepest condolences and prayers to his family, friends and fellow competitors.”
Further updates will be provided by the Durham Regional Police Department.
An unlikely duo
There might not have been a more unlikely friendship and partnership in the Pro Mazda paddock than between Juncos Racing teammates Jeff Green and Victor Franzoni.
But, as the buddy genre of movies has shown us, it’s often the most unlikely of partnerships that work the best. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison from the Odd Couple, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Frisco Kid’s Avram Belinski and Tommy Lillard, and the one that might represent Green and Franzoni the best. Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K and Will Smith’s Agent J from Men In Black, who despite an age and culture difference, take the time to learn from each other.
The then 60-year-old American Green and 21-year-old Brazillian Franzoni might not have saved the world from alien invaders, but they did keep a young driver’s career alive and win a Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire championship along the way.
“And Jeff Green (my Juncos Racing teammate), thank you very much for everything,” said Franzoni warmly during his acceptance speech at the season ending Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires banquet. “Without you, I wouldn’t be racing this year, so thank you very much, Jeff, for everything.”
The first act in the Juncos Racing buddy story began with the introduction of a new car and a move to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Team owner Ricardo Juncos had made the hardest decision of his life. To shutter his multi-championship winning Pro Mazda program for 2017 season.
So, it was quite the surprise when a Juncos Racing car showed up at the preseason test at Homestead-Miami Speedway with an unknown name at the wheel. On the entry list, the No. 5 piloted by Green was entered by Jeff Green Racing, and when we asked Juncos about Green, he explained that the vintage racer had bought the equipment from the Speedway, Ind. based team and that they would be helping him run the car for the first few races.
At that same South Florida test, Franzoni was in a new USF-17 with a familiar team, ArmsUp Motorsports. The driver and team finished an impressive third together during the 2016 season, but at this point, Franzoni was only helping the team get a new car sorted and help rookie drivers Deven Wojcik and Bruna Tomaselli get settled. The always smiling driver did not have the budget to commit to another full season of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda action.
In the two weeks between the test at Homestead and the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., With the help of Ernie Gonella and Peter Dempsey, Green improved immensely over the two days of testing, deciding that working with a professional team instead of a self-run team was what he wanted to do. Team owner Juncos agreed to run Green as a Juncos Racing entry as long as they could find a way to run a second car for a driver that could contend for the championship.
That’s where Franzoni comes in. Franzoni had tested with the 2010 and 2014 Pro Mazda champions at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October of 2016, and both parties worked really hard to put a deal together during the off-season but were not able to find the budget.
So, when the entry list was released, Green was in the No. 60, chosen because that’s how old he was, and Franzoni was in the No. 23.
It didn’t take long to realize that Green was going to learn everything he could from his talented teammate once an agreement was reached just before the opening round in St. Petersburg, Fla.
At the first event of the year in March, the older driver was one the slowest in the field, and over 6 seconds a lap behind his younger teammate.
But, by the time the series came to Road America in June, Green’s lap times had improved to mid-pack and only 1.5 seconds shy of Franzoni. The 60-year-old was driving faster than some much young competitors.
The highlight of Green’s season occurred on the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, only a couple of hour drive from Green’s hometown of Peoria, Ill.
It would not have been surprising to see Green skip the only oval race of the season, but that wasn’t Green’s style. Instead, he embraced the new challenge and qualified sixth of nine cars. The No. 60 fell to the back of the field early, but as he got more comfortable, Green started to methodically work his way back through the field, passing Nikia Lastochkin with only six laps remaining to nab the fifth spot. He also had the third quickest lap of the race. A remarkable achievement for a driver with zero oval experience.
A win-win, but so much more.
There is no doubt that Green helped get Franzoni on the grid in 2017, allowing the always smiling pilot a chance to win the $790,000 Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship prize package and get one step closer to his Verizon IndyCar Series dream. Franzoni got the job done on the track, but was aided by the largess of the friendly car-dealer.
It’s also obvious that Franzoni helped make Green a better driver. Franzoni helped Green develop the tools to get better, and Green pushed himself to get better every time he went out on track.
But what’s not so obvious from the outside is that the two racers formed an unlikely bond. It was a common occurrence throughout the season to see the unlikely duo coming to and leaving the track together, or laughing through dinner at the closest restaurant to the track.
That’s what racing is really about. The friends you make.
A few personal notes from Steve
During the early part of the season, when I was working on the ABC/ESPN broadcasts, I didn’t get a chance to get to know Jeff beyond a quick nod and how are you doing. But, when the series moved to Road America I got a chance to spend more time in the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires paddock and get to know Jeff a little bit better.
He was a wonderful person, and that goes for his wife Pam as well, who was his constant companion.
Many of you will remember a potential championship-deciding incident Green was involved in with Anthony Martin at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August. Green spun in front of Martin, allowing Franzoni to win the race. Understandably, Cape Motorsports and Martin were furious, and social media was inevitably saying Green took out Martin to help his teammate.
Since it was a big story, I needed to talk to Green. I had to wait until he had met with the race stewards, but when I got to the Juncos Racing transporter, he immediately got his laptop to show me what happened.
After watching the on-board, Green asked me what I thought. Well… I said cautiously, “you clearly tried to get out of the way and made a mistake by feeding in too much wheel and bounced off the curb.”
“Exactly,” exclaimed Green excitedly, “and I want to make sure that is how you write about – that I made a mistake, that I won’t make again.”
That interaction summed up Jeff Green perfectly to me. Do the right thing, take the blame, and learn from your mistakes.
It’s a big reason that I’m a huge proponent of having more “life experienced” drivers in the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires paddock. Drivers like Green, Bobby Eberle, and James Dayson are excellent examples of how to be an adult.
There were many instances last year, where I thanked Jeff Green for helping keep Victor in the series, and he never wanted to take credit. Another sign of what kind of person he was.
I’ve missed seeing him in the paddock this year, and that will hit pretty hard this weekend at Road America. Jeff won the F5000 races during the Hawk vintage weekends at Road America in 2016 and 2017, and it was a track he clearly loved racing on.
Goodbye racer, you will be missed.