Two weeks ago, Patrick Laperle didn’t know what he’d be doing on Sunday, December 2. That was until he received a phone call from car owner Martin Latulippe. A few minutes later, the driver known as “Le Grand Laperle” began making plans for his Snowball Derby debut at Five Flags Speedway.
“I had a phone call a week and a half ago from Martin Latulippe,” Laperle told Speed51.com. “He asked, ‘Do you want to go to Snowball Derby? I said, ‘Let me think. Of course I want to go.’ It’s been a dream for me. I watch the Snowball Derby all the time on Speed51 but to be racing over there it’s going to be my first time.”
Laperle, a native of St. Denis, Quebec, drove 34 hours through a snow storm to participate in the Snowball Derby Preview this past Saturday at the Pensacola, Florida oval. When his team pulled into the facility, it was the first time that Laperle had ever seen Five Flags Speedway in person.
“I had never been to the race track. That was the first time I’ve been there this Saturday,” Laperle stated. “When I saw the place it was amazing. It was super. Tyler Ankrum was on the track when we were waiting to get into the pits. I said, ‘Wow.’ It’s unreal. It’s pretty fast. When you see it, it’s amazing.”
While Laperle didn’t have the speed he would’ve liked, the three-time Vermont Milk Bowl winner gained valuable experience that will have him more prepared for next week.
“I thought I was pretty quick and when they told me my lap, I said, ‘What? That’s as fast as we went?’ I was on the chip and on the gas and everything. Then Eric asked where I could get some speed. I said, ‘F—, I don’t know.’
“I think we’re going to have to make some changes to the rear spring or something. We put the one set of tires on for kind of a mock run at the end but it’s hard to say. We were trying to adjust for race trim and also get me comfortable on the track. These things are crazy to drive. It’s fast, it’s really fast.”
Widely regarded as one of Quebec’s most accomplished racers, Laperle has experienced the majority of his success behind the wheel of ACT Late Models. Although that brand of Late Model racing challenges racers in many ways, the pure speed doesn’t match that of Super Late Models.
Getting used to that speed – especially at a fast ½-mile oval like Five Flags Speedway – was one of the biggest challenges for Laperle.
“We have so much power with those Super Late Models. They’re monsters to drive,” he said. “It’s hard to believe the kids 13 years old and 14 years old are able to drive them. It’s just unreal. I don’t understand if we’re too old and we’re scared or what? I don’t know. One of the kids, I think he was 15 years old or something, he ran a 16.20 or something. I said, ‘What the heck?’ It’s crazy.”
Like many racers, much of Laperle’s focus during the Snowball Derby week will be on Friday night’s all-important qualifying. As a racer from the Northeast and Canada who normally competes in heat races, time trials are not the norm.
“We just put tape on the grill and four sticker tires and went for it,” Laperle said of his mock qualifying run on Saturday. “We’re not used to doing time trials so it’s hard for us to know what to do. Hopefully we can get some help and know what to do with the car for time trials. But man, I mean I don’t know how they do it.”
With more experience under his belt and a helping hand from one of the best in the business, Laperle hopes to be in better shape when practice begins next Wednesday.
“Before we got to Pensacola, we stopped at Augie Grill’s place. He did some setup on the car, took out some lead and stuff,” Laperle explained. “We’ll see when we get back there. There’s plenty of practice time so we’ll see.”
As a 42-year-old competing against a field full of young drivers, Laperle and his team are looking to make the most of the opportunity. Most of all, they’re focused on having fun. And if you know Patrick Laperle, you know that he knows how to have fun.
“We went to eat after the test and Tyler Ankrum was there. I asked him his age and he said he was 17 years old. I said, ‘I guess I’m not going to drink a beer with you.’ I was texting Raphael Lessard and I told him I can’t drink beer with him but I can drink beer with his father. We’re going there to have fun. We just want to make the show and hopefully get a good finish.”
Race fans unable to attend the 51st Annual Snowball Derby in person will be able to watch a pay-per-view broadcast all week long on Speed51.com. Five-day video tickets can be purchased now for $74.99 ($35 savings) to watch all of the action. Click here to purchase your video ticket today.
The 51st Annual Snowball Derby will take place on Wednesday, November 28 through Sunday, December 2 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. For more information regarding the event, visit Snowball Central presented by Schaeffer’s Specialized Lubricants.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com