On behalf of 3360Nitro.tv, Mathieu Allard was able to speak with Raphaël Lessard to find out who he is, one month after his ousting from GMS Racing.
I finally had my park bench chat with Raphaël! Not because he wasn’t available, far from it! But every time I prepared for an interview with him, a new one came out and changed all my plans. The first time I prepared to talk to him was to discuss the vision and strategy for the next races, in anticipation of quickly securing his presence in the end-of-season series. That morning, an article in the Journal de Montréal announced that Raphaël’s season was in jeopardy… yes… it wasn’t really relevant to talk about the playoffs anymore!
Many details were given in this article, including the amount of money for car rental costs. Asked if the content of the article bothered him, the kid replied that « bothered » is probably not the right word.
I was especially surprised because we do not discuss the amount of money and we do not disclose this information. Force to admit that the journalist had good sources. What is a bit flat is that there are several nuances to put in this amount. It’s not a figure that is totally false, but we know how much it costs and how partnerships work. There are several things to take into account.
Then, the events are chained for Raphaël. So I decided to let the time pass a bit and have a discussion with some hindsight and above all, a race discussion.
Now the dust has settled, we had a chance to chat a little about the premature end of his 2021 season. When he left for the States last February, it was with the goal of completing the season. Even if he knew he didn’t have enough »laundry » in his luggage to spend the season in the United States, he was confident to find some here and there and especially to be in the playoffs. But hey, things didn’t go as planned, we know that. This situation has created an incredible wave of empathy on social networks. Fans have taken to »tagging » wealthy businesses and personalities in an effort to help Raphael complete his season. Some went out of their way to literally criticize, in the public square, companies that did not display a partnership with Lessard. Asked if all this wave could help (or harm) and what was his reaction when he saw it, the young Beauceron went there with a smile.
It was really fun to watch. We felt that the fans were involved and it showed the impact and visibility that a company can have by joining a racing driver. But, on the other hand, we also understood that the fans were afraid of losing their Friday night and race weekend activity. But the majority of companies that people were tagging had already been contacted by our team. So no, it didn’t really hurt. I found it fun to see fans so involved.
In the meantime, what do we do?
The plan is really to put this season on hold and work for 2022. With the deconfinement starting, Raphaël is hopeful of signing good partnerships for 2022.
It is sure that the ideal would be a partnership in order to be a spokesperson for a company, which would allow me to have a salary and a good driving in NASCAR.
But he would like to point out that several types of partnership are possible. The goal for Lessard is to play the full season in 2022… Even if he does not close the door to a partial program.
In fact, I want to drive a race car! Either way, I want to go to the races, he says confidently.
Moreover, Raphaël is in discussion with a few teams and it is not impossible to see him in NASCAR Truck this season for a few years. Some teams have contacted him to find out about the possibilities of engaging him in certain targeted races. So, much like a hockey player on the reserve team, Lessard must be ready to return to the United States, if the opportunity arises. (Anyway, it’s the return to Canada that’s complicated with the quarantine, not going to the USA.) But Lessard was clear. Yes it is possible but I do not pay a penny to go there. It shouldn’t harm my plans for 2022 either.
Back in Quebec, Raphaël finished his quarantine and started working for the family business. The important thing, for now, is to work and raise money because he has to pay for his things in the United States. However, he stayed there for a while and still has some expenses to reimburse. But, message to Quebec race promoters, Raphaël is available if you have a car for him! He is even available for freelance on clay. He, who shone in Bristol-Dirt, could come and turn left with the Quebec drivers at a racetrack near you, if the opportunity arises. It’s a guaranteed box office and webcast success if Raphaël Lessard arrives at your doorstep. He says he is available for Vallée-Jonction, Montmagny and any dirt track, if a car is available for him. What about the NASCAR Pinty’s? Lessard answers with a little hesitation.
Of course, I’m really interested in it, but it shouldn’t eat into my 2022 budget in the United States. But if a good steering wheel is available and a partner comes along, I would definitely like to do the shopping in Quebec.
How it works ?
Finally, I wanted to talk about races. What is the daily life of a NASCAR driver? Purses, steering wheels, accidents … in short, a good chat of the curious.
We have discussed the types of pilots. Are there drivers engaged in NASCAR? Yes it exists… but very little. Even in the Cup Series, he estimates that at least 50% of the drivers pay for their steering wheel. The difference is that the other drivers, in the Cup, have proven themselves and are supported by major partnerships which promise to pay for driving and a salary for the drivers. So unless your name is Kyle Bush, being supported by good companies is key to getting to the top…and staying there.
Which led us to discuss scholarships. Whose is this money? It all depends on the agreements with the teams. Some teams keep the scholarships, some give a percentage of the scholarships to the drivers, and some keep the scholarships but give the drivers a small fixed salary. And Raphaël emphasizes the SMALL salary.
Many people think that I got rich with KBM… Maaaaaaaiiiiiissss no! he says with his usual smile.
Speaking of money, who pays for car damage? Well, it’s included in the rental amounts. As Lessard says: it’s already quite expensive even if, in addition, you had to pay for the… (let’s say the less careful to be polite) who send you into the wall, it would no longer make sense! Anyway, everything is done and redone in the workshops and the drivers regularly change trucks, it all depends on the type of track. For us on TV, we think it’s the same van as the week before, but in reality, it’s possibly a brand new truck.
And what does the daily life of a NASCAR driver look like?
Raphaël came to the workshop every day to chat with his team and create links with his teammates. As he changed trucks often, he often needed to be present to make sure he had the right adjustments (seats, pedals) perfect. Every day there was a lot of training. With the Chevrolet program, he also trained a lot. Running (he has never run so much in his life) reflex and vision exercises. Training on the track, also in karting, brief nutrition monitoring, exemplary supervision. Even if he does not close the door to a return to Toyota, Lessard greatly appreciated his time at Chevrolet. He learned a lot and was impressed with the professional coaching he received. This little break will perhaps have the advantage of attending a few races of Raphaël in Quebec. Even if it’s far from the ideal plan, I think the fans will rush to Raphaël’s next track outing. In the end, sometimes you have to take a step back to come back stronger later. He is young, he has a crazy talent and above all, he has everything to make an excellent spokesperson. I am convinced that he will find his place again next year.
Until then, we hope to see him take part in a few races in the beautiful province!
This article is written by Mathieu Allard of the 360Nitro.tv site as part of the collaboration between US-RACING.COM and 360Nitro.tv.