MONTREAL - Last season’s Nationwide NAPA 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was to be Patrick Carpentier’s swan song from NASCAR’s top two touring series.
He had not accomplished all of his goals — like a win in the Sprint Cup Series — but Carpentier did manage to put together a stock car career unmatched by any other Canadian driver in the modern — post 1970s — era in NASCAR.
He had a total of 55 starts — 40 in Sprint Cup and 15 in Nationwide — eclipsing Ron Fellows’ total of 46.
But he felt it was time to hang up his racing suit and concentrate on his family of two daughters, Anais and Loic, wife Anick and a home construction business he had started in Las Vegas, where he has lived for most of the past decade.
So how was Carpentier lured out of retirement to race one more time Saturday in the 2012 NAPA 200?
It was a chance to re-pay a debt the 41-year-old native of Joliette, Que., said he owed to St. Justine Children’s Hospital in Montreal.
During a trip home several years ago his youngest child, Loic, became very ill and was take to the emergency department of St. Justine.
“She was very sick and we happened to be up here in Montreal and we rushed her to St. Justine Children’s Hospital and they saved her life essentially,” he said. “She had severe pancreatitis. They really helped her out.”
So when Michael Waltrip Racing and RAB Racing were putting together the No. 99 Toyota team to race in Montreal this season they approached Carpentier hoping he would un-retire for one event.
He told them he would, only if they were willing to donate half of the prize money the team earned to St. Justine.
The deal was done.
“So this is my way of giving back,” Carpentier said. “I am doing another event which is the 24 Hours of Tremblant in cycling later this summer with sponsorship from Mahindra Tractors that will also be donated to St. Justine.”
He admits, however, that his retirement has not exactly gone as planned.
“I didn’t think I would miss racing as much as I do,” Carpentier said.
To fill that void he took up Moto-cross, which he said has allowed him to stay in race shape.
Carpentier said he is on his Moto-cross bike about three or four times a week.
He said that it really helped him this week getting ready to get back in a 3,200 pound stock car for Saturday’s race.
“So physically coming back hasn’t been too bad.” Carpentier said. “It’s nice to be back in one of these cars. I think we have a good race car.”
He said what he doesn’t miss about top level racing is always having to work so hard getting the sponsorship necessary to race in Cup or Nationwide.
“I really got tired of chasing sponsorship all the time,” he said. “I see so many talented young drivers who deserve to be racing in NASCAR who never will because they can’t get the money to make that jump.”
Right now he is working just as hard keeping his construction business in shape.
Carpentier said all the building trades have been hit hard by the recession over he past three years in the U. S. and it has had an effect of his business as well.
“It is slowly picking up,” he said. “I’ll be honest with one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life is transitioning from racing to a normal life. I was extremely difficult.
“But I just signed a couple of contracts so right now I am very happy.”
He credits his wife for helping get through the tough times.
“My wife has been very, very, very patient with me,” Carpentier said. “It’s been tough but now it is starting to be better.”
Will Carpentier stay retired after Saturday, or is there a chance we will see him again on a race track?
“I don’t think I will ever have racing completely out of my system,” he said.
STOJKO FIGURES RACING IS COOL
Elvis Stojko has made a living going fast and making sharp turns on a pair of skates.
Next up we wants to do the same on four wheels.
Yes, the three-time world figure skating champion is serious about a career change to racing cars instead of impressing judges.
In fact, Stojko has spent most of the past year at both his current home in Mexico and his old home back in Canada preparing for a try at motor racing.
“It’s not something that just came to me,” Stojko said Friday in a telephone interview from Shannonville Raceway, where he is practising his shifter kart driving for next week’s Rotax Nationals at Mount Tremblant. “I started racing dirt bikes when I was just seven years old back in Queensville. I have always loved going fast.”
Stojko said his love affair with racing was rekindled after his wife — Mexican figure skater Gladys Orozco — told him she raced go-karts and that her friend’s daughter had a shifter kart that he could try.
That was about a year ago.
“I was hooked from the very first lap,” he said.
Next was some time at karting schools in Mexico before coming back to Canada for some top tutoring at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, Mount Tremblant, north of Montreal, and Shannonville.
He enlisted the help of racing brothers Daniel and Marco Di Leo, who both have garnered international attention for their Goodwood Kartways facility in Stouffville, Ont.
“I bought a used Rotax last October and took it to Goodwood where I got a lot of help from Daniel and Marco,” Stojko said.
Stojko has also spent some time in sports cars at CTMP in Bowmanville.
“My goal is to go as far as I can in this,” he said. “People who have watched me are surprised that this is my first real serious attempt to go racing at a high level.”
One of those people is IZOD IndyCar star James Hinchcliffe.
“I talked to James and he gave me some tips and is real interested in helping me out,” Stojko said.
The 40-year-old Stojko said that he is in the best shape of his life and is feeling really good about this decision.
“Mentally I am as fit as I have ever been,” he said. “This is something I want to do full time, I am as dedicated to being successful at racing as I was dedicated to winning those world figure skating titles.”
Stojko has also contacted veteran Canadian driver Ron Fellows to seeking his help on his new career choice.
“We have exchanged e-mails and I am looking forward to talking to him,” he said.
Stojko is not the first skater to switch to car racing. Patrick Carpentier started out as a speed skater in Joliett, Que., before making a career on four wheels. And former Montreal Canadiens defenceman Patrice Brisbois is now racing in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and current Tampa Bay Lightning defencemen Marc-Andre Bergeron is competing in the Canadian Touring Car Championship.