Vehicles participating in Targa Newfoundland leave Mile One Centre for a prologue run on Marine Drive North of St. John’s in this file photo. — Telegram file photo
When the flag drops on the 10th edition of Targa Newfoundland this fall, organizers will be racing towards more than $110 million in direct and indirect economic benefits over the race’s history.
The numbers come from a study conducted by the staff of Memorial University’s business school — in advance of a full government study — that tracks the economic activity generated by Targa, from the more than 1,000 hotel-room nights booked for this year to the 110 moose stew lunches served last year at Glover’s Harbour.
Targa Newfoundland president Robert Giannou said after a few years of tracking its own data, the organization opened its books for the MUN study.
“We tracked our own for about three, four, five years, as best we could, which was the simple math of multiplying cars and gas consumption, hotel rooms and everything else,” he said.
“Then we involved one of the professors at Memorial University and said, ‘Look, could you give us a more sophisticated model for this?’ Which he did. And since then, we’ve followed that model religiously every year.”
The MUN study tracks not just the economic benefit from the competitors, but all the visitors — 400 to 500 visiting via air and ferry — which Giannou says is the reason the economic benefit is so high, since the number of actual entries is still not as high as organizers anticipated. The MUN study said Targa Newfoundland generated $58.3 million in direct and $45 million in indirect economic activity in its first nine years, and estimates those totals will be $63 million and $52 million respectively after this year’s race.
“This is found money. These people do not come here to fish, or watch bears, or hunt or look at whales. They come here to race cars. That’s the only reason they’re here,” he said.
“The people they bring with them is the astounding part. We figured the event would grow in numbers much greater than it has; we figured that Australia was pulling 200 entries with a population base of 18 million. We’re sitting in a population base which is the northeast corner of North America — we figured we’d at least get to 200. But there isn’t the attitude in Canada towards motorsport — or wasn’t. It’s coming around now.”
Lee Young, a counterman at Napa Auto Parts in St. John’s, said the store sees a bump in parts sales every year at racetime, which doesn’t surprise him, as he’s a fan of the race himself.
“I’m into it myself,” he said, adding that he knows a few racers who will be competing this year.. “I’m into the car scene big myself, so usually my buddies call looking for parts at the time they need them.”
The first year saw just 37 cars start. But Giannou said where the first event featured competitors who drove to Newfoundland themselves, subsequent races saw those competitors bring family and friends, and support and service cars, meaning more ferry rides and plane tickets, and the benefit started to snowball from there.
This year, organizers anticipate more than 70 cars.
One of those racers is Doug Mepham, an Ontario-based driver whose participation in Targa Tasmania 2001 sparked the idea to bring the auto race to Newfoundland.
“It was such an immediate parallel to Newfoundland, it was impossible to ignore,” he said. “It was a jolt to the tourist economy in the shoulder of the season when you weren’t going to displace other tourists from hotel rooms. It required no investment in terms of infrastructure; the infrastructure was already there. It had the support of the state government there, which is the equivalent of the provincial government here, who saw the immediate tourism benefits of it, and then later began to use it for some industrial development things as well.”
Mepham is looking forward to competing again this year, as he has every year since the race’s inception.
“I can’t not come! I don’t have a choice,” he said. “You can’t start this kind of trouble and not show up.”