Raphael Lessard has been one of the brightest young stars in Super Late Model racing over the past few years, bursting onto the scene in 2016 after winning the CARS Super Late Model Tour championship in dominating fashion as a 15-year-old racer. He’s since added wins in the Redbud 400 and the Short Track U.S. Nationals and could have won the Snowball Derby last December if it wasn’t for a late-race mechanical issue. However, this weekend’s Canadian Short Track Nationals will be the first time he will climb into a straight-rail Late Model in 2019.
The now 18-year-old Quebec driver led multiple laps in last year’s Canadian Short Track Nationals at Jukasa Motor Speedway before cutting a tire and hitting the wall while in the top five with less than 10 lap to go. He returns to the 5/8-mile Ontario oval with KBR Development once again looking to finish what he started one year ago.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Lessard told Speed51.com. “Last year we had a really good run going, we led some laps and were one of the fastest cars there. I had never seen the place before last year, so this year we’ll have a notebook to study and hopefully we’ll be better. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a Pro Late Model or a Super Late, so it’s going to be fun to be back behind the wheel of a Pro Late Model and being back with KBR. Those guys are awesome and really smart, so hopefully we can have a good run.”
While Lessard hasn’t been in a Super or Pro Late Model all year, he has had plenty of opportunity behind the wheel. Along with four NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he’s also had starts in the ARCA Racing Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, and the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, winning in his debut at Autodrome Chaudiere back in June. Most recently, he had a fourth-place run in the Bacon Bowl at Chaudiere two weeks ago in an ACT-style Late Model. After thinking he wouldn’t race at all in 2019, he says it’s been a big year for his career.
“2019’s been way better than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I was not expecting to do anything really because of sponsors and stuff but we figured some deals out and made a deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports with three Truck races, and then I had an ARCA race with KBR, one K&N race, and two Pinty’s races. We had a win in my first Pinty’s race so that was awesome.
“Jukasa is pretty much my last race for now. We’re actually working on next year’s stuff and maybe trying to do more Truck races, but for right now Jukasa’s my last scheduled race,” he continued. “Hopefully we can add some more but we’ll keep on working and focusing on next year.”
This weekend’s race is big for Lessard in more ways than one. He compares the Canadian Short Track Nationals to other marquee Late Model events held in North America. A win on Sunday would be big to put on his list of accolades as he tries to progress through the sport. The $75,000 (CAD) that goes to the winner could also possibly extend his 2019 racing season later than originally planned.
“It’s one of those races you want to win,” he said. “It’s a little bit like the Oxford 250 or the Snowball Derby right now. There’s going to be a lot of cars there, the competition’s going to be great, the purse is like $75,000 (to win), that would help us a lot to maybe add more races at the end of the year. Just to compete against those guys and if you beat those guys, it means that you’re doing the right thing.”
Lessard feels confident going into this weekend’s Canadian Short Track Nationals after a strong run one year ago. With the amount of talent expected in Ontario this weekend, he says he and KBR are ready to find redemption from one year ago.
“I love the racetrack and last year we were competing for the win, I think this year we’ll be even better. The competition is going to be even stronger this year. People are coming from everywhere, I think there’ll be guys that’ll be really, really good and I’ll have to be ready and more prepared than those guys. We’ll be in good shape.”
Race fans who are unable to join Lessard at Jukasa Motor Speedway this weekend will be able to watch a live pay-per-view broadcast of Sunday’s race on Speed51.com. Click here to order your pay-per-view video tickets today.
Saturday’s action will also be streamed live to premium (monthly/yearly) subscribers on the Speed51 Network.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com