This week, we’re featuring the life story and career arc of Canadian stock car driver Raphaël Lessard, the young Quebec phenom set to begin his second full season in the NASCAR Camping World truck series next Friday.
Yesterday, we got to know him and saw how he first ended up behind the wheel of a race car. Today we take a look at his first professional years on the track.
2013 and 2014
We touched on it yesterday, but on his 12th birthday in 2013 – yes, 12th - Raphaël won his first race. That same year, he became the youngest driver in history to take part in the Sportsman Québec series. In 2014, he drove in that event alongside his father, who supported him while helping him tweak his driving skills. He took 2nd place in the rookie standings and ended up 10th overall.
Need we remind you that Raphaël had turned all of 13 in the summer of 2014? That year he also drove a Super Late Model car for the first time. The table was set for the next campaign.
Well on his way to his 14th birthday, Raphaël then competed in the PASS North Series (PASS for Pro All Star Series) which takes place in the Northeastern United States. With that came a new challenge: learning English. Some funny situations arose that year, as his spotter during the races had to translate things in real time with the crew chief. "The guys were really wondering what we were talking about on the radio. He explains, “It was funny, but it wasn't easy, because everything happens so fast that taking the time to translate everything was a hindrance”.
But in the end, Raphael was using a language that everyone recognizes: speed. As he did in his early years, he got noticed. One of those doing the noticing was NASCAR driver David Gilliland, who learned of young Raphaël’s exploits from agent Robert Desrosiers, who represented Patrick Carpentier during his time in NASCAR. Gilliland offered him access to a car for the last four races of the season; Raphaël finished three times in the top 10. Once again, the table was set for the next season.
This proved to be the first really decisive season for the young driver. He took part in the CARS series championship, still behind the wheel of a Super Late Model fielded by David Gilliland's team. He won four of the 10 events on the schedule, finishing eight times in the top 5 and in the top 10 on nine occasions. Those results led young Raphaël straight to the title. He became the youngest Canadian driver to be crowned champion in an important racing series in the United States.
All this in a year in which he celebrated his 15th birthday. Then things got more serious, because Toyota took an interest in the young man. The Japanese TRD program (Toyota Racing Development) signed him to be part of its talent development program; he became the first Canadian to be invited to it.
That same season, two-time NASCAR series champion Kyle Busch also came to have Raphaël in his sights. Things were starting to get really interesting for the Quebecer from the Beauce region.
Tomorrow, the 2017 through 2019 seasons and the relationship with Kyle Busch.