Look out Nashville, here comes Quebec; 15-year-old Lessard on track for ARCA debutMarch 8, 2017
TOLEDO, Ohio (March 8, 2017) – Fifteen-year-old Canadian Raphael Lessard has never driven a heavier 3,300-lb. ARCA car before, heavier that is than the super late models he's used to driving. No problem. He's been at the wheel of his father's much heavier commercial trucks since he was the ripe 'old' age of 9.
"My dad has a trucking company. I was driving the big trucks around the yard since I was 9 years old," said Lessard. "I have loved having a steering wheel in my hands ever since."
Lessard, on track to make three ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards starts in 2017 with Venturini Motorsports -- his first at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville April 8 -- also says if his racing dream doesn't work out, he's got a fallback plan.
"If racing doesn't work out, I could drive a truck for my dad."
It seems doubtful he'll need the backup plan though, considering what the 11th grader has already accomplished. Lessard won four CARS Late Model Stock Tour events en route to the CARS championship in 2016 driving for David Gilliland Racing.
"We won four races at Myrtle Beach, Hickory, Concord and Southern National."
Lessard also got signed by Toyota as a development driver, hence the connection to Venturini Motorsports which develops drivers through the Toyota Racing Development program.
"After the season we had last year, Toyota signed us and said we'd be doing three races with Venturini Motorsports. I can't thank Toyota enough for helping me and believing in me."
Lessard, whose first language is French, grew up in Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Quebec where he was playing hockey as soon as he could walk.
"I was playing hockey sometimes two times a day, but I stopped because of racing. My dad was racing when I was young and I was following my dad to the races. I didn't want to go to hockey anymore...I wanted to go with my dad to the races.
"One day, my dad came home and said to me, 'Raphael, I just bought you a race car.' My mom said, 'Are you crazy?'. I just got a big smile on my face. My dad also told me that we were going to go practice and if it goes well, we're going to race. I won my third race...I was pretty happy with that."
After the Music City 200 at Nashville, Lessard is also planning on competing in ARCA races at Winchester and Salem. Fortunately, the rookie driver has already raced at Nashville.
"I know the track. I raced in the All-American 400, and we're going to test the ARCA car before the race. I also raced in the Winchester 400. I have never been to Salem."
In fact Lessard's first stop on the ARCA Racing Series tour will indeed be a test session at Nashville scheduled for March 21 under the watchful eyes of ARCA officials as part of the approval process in order to compete.
In addition to Lessard's three ARCA Racing Series events, he'll be competing in a variety of super late model races.
"I believe we have at least 20 races in the supers this year. We're not going for a championship, but we plan to race in as many of the big races as we can in ARCA/CRA, PASS South and some other series."
Lessard says he's more excited than he is nervous for his ARCA debut at Nashville.
"I don't usually get nervous...just excited. I just go into each race like it's my last one and give it everything I've got...give it my best. I'm also very excited to be racing with Venturini Motorsports. I've never raced a big heavy car before but I'm sure with Venturini Motorsports, it's very good equipment...very good cars."
The upcoming Music City 200 presented by Jive marks the 26th ARCA race at Fairgrounds Speedway since its debut on the famous short track in 1959. This year's event will also include the North-South Shootout with the Southern Super Series and the ARCA CRA Super Series combo race. Last year, CRA got added to the Super Late Model mix to create the North-South shootout. The field saw a jump to 35 cars featuring some of the best short track racers in the country, with Donnie Wilson winning the top prize over Steven Wallace.
Super Late Models have a practice session Friday night, April 7 from 4-7 p.m. Then on Saturday, April 8, North-South Shootout practice will begin at 12 noon, with North-South Shootout qualifying at 3. General Tire Pole Qualifying for the ARCA Racing Series is at 4:15, with racing action following at 5:45 with the North-South Shootout presented by Team Construction 100. Race fans will be treated to the ARCA Racing Series Music City 200 grand finale at 8.
Discounted presale tickets for the event are available for $25, a $5 discount off raceday ticket prices. They are available by calling the event promoters Track Enterprises at 615-470-5214 or 217-764-3200.
- Don Radebaugh (ARCA Racing Series)