JR Fitzpatrick: From Canada's Short Tracks to NASCAR
Not many drivers in NASCAR can say that a whole country is cheering for them, but that's the case for young 20-year-old JR Fitzpatrick.
Canadian race fans have enjoyed watching the Cambridge, Ont., native race in the former CASCAR Super Series as a teenage boy.
Fitzpatrick began his racing career at a very young age.
"I started when I was six," Fitzpatrick said. "My dad sponsored a car and there was a class being developed called the Late Model Junior division. I started running that. Basically I started in go-karts and worked all the way up to Late Models, Super Late Models, and NASCAR Canada, and then to here."
At only 19 years of age, Fitzpatrick was CASCAR's National champ and voted Canadian Racer of the year by Inside Track magazine in 2006.
Fitzpatrick kept racing in Canada when NASCAR bought CASCAR in 2007 to form the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, getting three wins between '07 and '08.
Two attempts at the NASCAR Nationwide Series were unsuccessful in 2007 at the Montreal and Mexico road course races, with the racing cars fielded by his father, John.
"We tried to do a couple of races but had some really bad luck," Fitzpatrick said. "A lot of people don't know that you can't just roll a car into the garage and be competitive. We have a good setup at our place. We have eight cars for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and everything like that, but these guys are serious about what they do and they find out new things every day.”
"You might see me in some Nationwide stuff this year but nothing's been announced so far."
Last year, Fitzpatrick got his big break, as the TRG Motorsports Camping World Truck Series team invited him to test their truck.
The tests were successful and his first race came at Martinsville, where he managed a 20th place finish. The young racer later impressed his new team by qualifying sixth at Phoenix, but got collected in Ron Hornaday's wreck in the opening laps.
Fitzpatrick remains with the TRG camp for 2009 to attempt a full Truck Series schedule, looking to become Raybestos Rookie of the Year, battling against guys like Ricky Carmichael, Tayler Malsam, and James Buescher, among others.
"We're really going to try," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm with a really good team, and I think we have a good chance of winning rookie of the year. Some of these guys have been to all these tracks before, maybe not in a truck, but they've been in this size tracks.”
Fitzpatrick had Canada on their feet and made every race fan in the country proud as he was leading the Truck race at Daytona last February in the closing laps.
Because of his older tires, Fitzpatrick was eventually passed and he later pitted during a caution. With fresh tires, he made a very impressive run to the front to claim the fourth position.
"I'm still trying to learn the tracks so they have a small edge, but we're just going to do what we do," Fitzpatrick said.
"I had been running in NASCAR Canada back at home and am always looking for a new challenge," Fitzpatrick went on. "Obviously, my goal is to become a full-time race car driver. As of now in Canada, that's not possible. So I'm looking to step up. The competition's great at home but the competition's even more fierce here."
"I'm just trying to learn how forgiving these trucks are," Fitzpatrick also said. "You can really drive them hard. There's a lot of downforce on the front of them so they handle really well. I guess I'm just trying to learn how easy they are.
"It's just how big these tracks are, finding the line, your throttle points, your braking points, if you use brake at all," Fitzpatrick said. "That's the biggest thing I'm trying to learn."
Not only does Fitzpatrick have to deal with driving a truck, but he's also competing at places he's seeing for the first time.
"I'm still trying to learn all these tracks," Fitzpatrick said. "We just couldn't get the push out of the truck [at Fontana]. I had to roll way out of the gas. If I didn't get caught speeding on pit road, we probably would have ended up around 15th, and I would have been happy about that."
Now that the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will not be racing until the last weekend of March in Martinsville, Fitzpatrick is in North Carolina looking for a house. This will stop him from flying back to Canada after every race.
Even though he's moving south of the border, Fitzpatrick is still Cambridge's favorite son.
"They're all very supportive and very pumped up," Fitzpatrick said. "I went into the local Short Stop store and there's a paper with the Daytona race on it and everything like that, so I have a lot of support back home and I appreciate all that."
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