After letting Kelly Bires go, JR Motorsports vowed to get the driver development program going with a new face in the No. 88 car for 2011, and one of the drivers they hired to potentially fill the seat is Fort Frances, Ontario native Steve Arpin.
Arpin has shown, as he’s moved up the ranks, that he can drive and is someone with the potential to fulfill the spot. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that Arpin was one of the chosen drivers via the recommendation he got from Carl Edwards and Mark Martin.
Arpin’s first race came at Talladega, where he says it finally set in.
“To be honest, it didn’t set in till I was sitting on pit road with Carl Edwards beside me, Kevin Harvick on the pole and saw Dale Jr.’s name on the car,” he said. “Just to be involved and to be recognized for what I’ve done is an honor. It’s the biggest accomplishment so far for me with having Tony Eury Jr. as the crew chief and Kelley Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the owner.”
Though it was a couple weeks before in Texas where he met the boss, which he called a cool experience.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I was always a Dale Jr. fan growing up. I liked how he showed a lot of respect and didn’t tear up a lot of his equipment. It was neat as the first time I met him, he was sitting in the trailer and you’d never know you’re sitting next to Dale Earnhardt Jr."
"Since then, we’ve been able to hang out a little bit though not that much with both of our schedules. He’s also been good at giving me advice whenever I need it and sometimes we walk through what to expect at a track before running it.”
Right out of the gate, he met expectations as he qualified fourth in his first start at Talladega Superspeedway. Though a pit road speeding penalty set him back and a crash late in the race resulted in a 26th place finish.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “We had a really good car at Talladega. The pit road speeding penalty put us behind; we were only speeding by 0.03mph.”
The next three races he ran didn’t end much better, with the only highlight being a qualifying effort of seventh at Charlotte.
“Charlotte was the means of miscommunication and me not checking my mirrors,” he said in reference to the wreck. “You’ve got to learn every time you’re out, whether good or bad, and it’s been a good learning experience. Actually, this past month I’ve learned more then I had up to this point in racing.”
In the minds of part-owner/crew chief Tony Eury Jr., Arpin has done well.
“Steve has impressed us with what he's been able to do in the No. 7 Chevrolet with his limited experience," Tony Eury Jr. said. "There's no doubt the kid has a lot of talent, especially with what he's been able to do dirt racing. He had a couple great qualifying efforts at Talladega and Charlotte over the past few weeks."
"He did have his work cut out for him at Richmond and Darlington, which are two of the toughest tracks we race at. Being a rookie in the series it's not easy to run at those facilities. We've had some growing pains, and caught some bad luck with a couple wrecks, but overall, he's shown promise.”
Arpin is taking each race one step at a time, learning as he goes along, ready for the next race. With the chance to drive 12 more races this year, Arpin looks to continue to improve.
Away from the track he’s got his mind on racing, though he likes spending time with his wife Katrina.
“Thinking about the next time I’m going back to the track,” he said when I asked what he likes to do away from the track. “With the schedule, I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t had a lot of time to do much otherwise. When I’m not at the track, I’ve been running the simulator's to try to get better."
“When I do get time, I like to hang out with my wife (Katrina) as we don’t get a lot of time. The other day we played tennis. When we get back from Michigan actually, we’re going to take a trip to Charleston.”
Though five years down the road, Arpin hopes he’s at the Cup Series level.
“My dream is to be in the Cup Series,” he said. “I’d like to win the ARCA Championship this year and then keep a relationship going with JR Motorsports next year. Though I don’t want to move up too quick as I want to make sure I’m ready when the opportunity comes.”
And he’d also like to have the chance to run the Prelude to the Dream.
“If I could be there tomorrow, I would do it,” he said on Tuesday. “That’d be a dream come true.”