By: Ashley McCubbin
INNISFIL, Ontario — With his success across in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Raphael Lessard has gained the nation’s attention and cheers. Though on Sunday in Ontario, he was not Mr. Popular.
After all, his road to sweeping the night involved a pair of incidents with Sunset Speedway’s home-grown heroes in the second race.
“It was a great race. It was tough,” Lessard told NEWS FROM THE PITS after the second. “I don’t think we had the best car. We were a little tight in the first race, but we got loose as it went on. Treyten Lapcevich did a really great job. I didn’t think he was going to be there at the end, but he was faster than me and I was trying to do whatever I could to hold on. He came and saw me but I think he messed up. It happens, I’m sure he will win a lot of races this year.
“It was good. Restarts were really tricky. People were really good. I just had to fight one lap at a time and conserve as much as I can. Can’t thank everyone enough.”
The first race saw Lessard methodically work his way to the front, making the move on Andrew Ranger for the lead and eventual victory. He tried to follow the same method for the second 125 laps, putting the No. 80 out front in the opening laps.
His first challenge came from Pete Shepherd, known for his late model success at Sunset Speedway. The No. 7 gave Lessard a couple taps from behind through the middle portion, before getting alongside and passing him. The result, though, was payback as Lessard spun him entering turn one.
“He had gotten into me a couple of times. I told the team that he kept getting into me, I was going to teach him a lesson,” Lessard said. “He kept getting into me, and there you go. Just look at his bumper. He raced like that all night. That’s short track racing, right? He came and saw me and I understand he’s pissed off, but I was pissed off, too. The back of my car is messed up, his nose is messed up – he was using me to stop there. I am going to race people how they race me.”
The next challenge came from Treyten Lapcevich, who had cut his teeth at Sunset Speedway over the last five years. The teenager reeled Lessard in as the laps closed down, making his move with three laps to go. Unfortunately, it did not pan out with the No. 20 going around in turn three. Whether both drivers got loose, or Lessard could have given a little bit more room is debate in most will call a simple racing incident.
Lessard then held off past champion D.J. Kennington on the following restart to sweep the night. For the Quebec native, it marks his third victory in three Pinty’s Series starts.
“It feels amazing,” Lessard said. “It’s a perfect night, perfect resume on ovals in the Pinty’s Series – 3 for 3. I’m really happy, but couldn’t do it without this team. They listened to me and we tried to make it better. I think we went the wrong way as we didn’t think the race track was going to loosen up that much but it was great. I felt that one was a tough one. That was a really hard one. I fought really hard, big advantage with the lead, but I tried to stay there as good as I could.”
The opportunity unfortunately acme about following two events – a lack of funding to continue racing NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and an injury for Donald Theetge.
“There are a little bit similar because they’re so heavy,” Lessard shared. “Both have a lot of power, but the trucks have a little bit better tire, suspension is way better, shocks especially, so the truck I feel like drives a little bit better. The competition is super hard and it’s just a different style of driving.
“Down here, the competition was great, Treyten Lapcevich is great, I think he’s going to win a lot of races. He has a full year ahead of him and I’m sure we’ll see him in victory lane. I love every racecar that I can get my hands on. People always ask me my favourite car, and I always say the next one that I am going to drive.”
Looking back on the seven races, Lessard was happy with the time spent at GMS Racing scoring a pair of top-10’s, including a third on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It was just like a big family,” he commented. “I thought we were getting better and better and kind of getting used to the trucks. They drive nothing like I’m used to – the air is so different on the mile and a halves. Other than that, I worked with some of the best – Josh Wise, Scott Speed during the week and that brought me to another level. I’m trying to use that to keep improving every week.”
Moving forward, Lessard is only scheduled to drive this car for this past weekend, but hopes more opportunities are on the horizon. He also hopes to return to the Truck Series next season, feeling he was just starting to come into his own as a driver in improving on a weekly basis.
“We’re working on it. I hope so,” he commented. “It all depends on sponsorship because you know racing, you’re lucky if you can drive every week as it’s so expensive. My goal is just race next year as much as I can, whether it’s the truck series, Pinty’s, Late Model – I just want to race, that’s all I want to do.”