Interview with PEAK Stock Car Dream Winner Patrick Staropoli
PEAK Auto: Between recently winning the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge and attending medical school at the University of Miami, time must be tight. What is the driving force that keeps you motivated and coming back to the track?
Patrick Staropoli: Winning. It’s what makes me stay up until 4 am the night before a race to get the car setup just right. It’s what wakes me up the morning after a wreck and makes me start working towards the next race. And, it’s what possessed me to enter the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge in the first place. I’ve been juggling racing and school for a long time, but it’s never been more of a balancing act than the last few months. I’ve been running on empty, and have had the weirdest sleep schedule ever. But at the same time, I’ve never felt more alive. I think the adrenaline of it all actually gave me the extra motivation and focus I needed to get through school during the week so I could make it to the racetrack on the weekend.
PEAK Auto: Athletes are notorious for their superstitions. That goes for all sports, not just racing. Have any we should know about—maybe a lucky rabbit’s foot?
Patrick Staropoli: The one superstition I have stuck to my entire career has been wearing my #97 necklace. I have never run a race without it. I actually lost the necklace on the way back from our test session in Spokane. By the time I made it to Los Angeles, I realized I must have left it in security. When I called over there, somebody had actually turned it in! They asked how I wanted it shipped to me, and I told them that they were in luck because I’d be right back there in four days. I’ve also lost my necklace in Boston, Tallahassee, and in my living room but this was probably the closest I’ve come to not having it for a race. Luckily, it all worked out, and I’m even wearing it right now.
PEAK Auto: Making it into the three-day driving competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway must have felt pretty surreal. After throwing down on-track, completing the training modules, and coming out on top as the Champ, how about filling us in on a few of the highlights, lowlights, show lights?
Patrick Staropoli: Looking back on the entire experience now, it feels like a dream. All these people who I’ve watched on TV my entire life were suddenly there in 3D, interacting with me like we’d been racing together for years. Having never been on a track larger than 3/4-mile, getting to run wide-open around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway was awesome. I’ve never gone that fast or felt the g-forces suck me into a seat like that before. The go-kart race was also a blast. I wish they could have made a separate TV episode just of that race. At one point, we were 3-wide, 2 rows deep. We all went off track, got back on, and I don’t think anybody lifted!
From a competition standpoint, I believe the Short Track and Road Course challenges helped me stand out the most. I know I must have put up a pretty good number because I was told afterward that Michael Waltrip and Clint Bowyer both went out to try and beat my lap time on the road course. Outside of the actual challenges we got to watch the Summer Shootout races in a suite, eat dinner in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and tour MWR. I went from being a short track racer in Florida to feeling like a Sprint Cup star. I’m so thankful that Bryan Emrich and everyone at PEAK and MWR decided to put this competition together. Those 3 days I spent in Charlotte completely changed my life.
PEAK Auto: While we’re on the topic of the Showdown in Charlotte…we’ve gotta ask: What was the first thing that came to mind when the judges said you’d be running against Michael Waltrip in the NASCAR K&N West Spokane race?
Patrick Staropoli: I need to beat him. I figured the best way to impress your boss would be to beat a 2-time Daytona 500 champ in your first race. Luckily, Michael holds that exact title and we were very fortunate to pull off such a good finish. I think he even made a hashtag on Twitter afterwards that said #YesHeBeatTheBoss. But honestly, it was great having Michael as my teammate. To be able to get out of my car, walk next door, and bounce ideas off someone who has so much experience was really invaluable. I also got to practice my signature a lot, since any autograph session with Michael pretty much guarantees the line will be so long that you can’t see the end of it. I even started side-by-side with him in the race. How many people can say they’ve done all of that? It still hasn’t completely sunk in for me.
PEAK Auto: Bill McAnally Racing put up the car and crew for your K&N West Series debut at Spokane County Raceway. You broke the track record for Quickest Lap during Qualifying, and saw a top-five finish in the race. Spill the details, Patrick.
Patrick Staropoli: I’ve watched Bill McAnally and his team compete for a very long time in the West Series. To think of names like Eric Holmes, Steve Portenga, Austin Cameron, and Clint Bowyer that have driven for him, it was such an honor to get behind the wheel of one of his cars. When my crew chief, Duane, showed up to the hotel with some upper control arms in his carry-on bag, and his roll center program running on his laptop – I knew we would hit it off immediately. We ended up qualifying 7th, but it felt great to be part of the select group that broke the old track record. The race was mostly about tire conservation and we waited to make our move until about 30 laps to go. I got up to 5th and caught the 4-way battle for 3rd. I felt like our PEAK Toyota could cut the center of the corner better than everyone towards the end. The only thing I wish is that we had more laps. Overall, I loved every second of running up front with the fastest guys in the West series, and I can’t wait to do it again with the #99 PEAK Toyota – so stayed tuned!