Top Canadian NASCAR Drivers
Sports is a fantastic distraction, never more so than when the world’s in lockdown and Canada’s had its fair share of motoring heroes. Here are a few of the best to make it in the world of NASCAR.
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The Most Successful Current Driver – Stewart Friesen
With close to 100 starts, at the time of writing, in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Stewart Friesen is the most prolific of the current Canadians to drive in NASCAR. Friesen began his racing career in go-karts, and from 2012 to 2015 was the king of the Fonda Speedway, reigning as the Modified track champion for that entire period.
He also has more than 230 wins to his name courtesy of immense success in the World of Outlaws sprint car series and has competed in more than 900 dirt track races during his career, to date. However, in the world of NASCAR Friesen is also the most experienced of current Canadian drivers. Over a four-year period, he’s started 93 races and has been in the top 10 more than half the time (49). Plus he’s had three pole position starts and two victories during his time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Friesen isn’t just an accomplished petrolhead, though. He also has a science degree and a sensible head on his shoulders, having established a t-shirt business with his wife (with whom he has a son) to provide financial security in case his racing career fell through.
Despite the many challenges, NASCAR managed to complete the 2020 season without needing to implement any of the more interesting rule changes that certain silly fans have suggested.
The Talented Raphaël Lessard
Raphaël Lessard has had just 28 starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series but still managed to achieve a victory plus nine top 10 finishes during his two-year stint in the series. Not bad for a chap who started racing in his old Honda Civic and notched up his first triumph on his 12th birthday.
His prodigious victory was no mere flash in the pan, followed by becoming only the second non-American to win the CARS Super Late Model Series championship when he was 15 (the other driver was also a Canadian: Mario Gosselin). Lessard went on to join the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for a couple of years and has since moved to GMS Racing. His father has proved to be vital to his success, selling his cars (he was also a race car driver) to help fund Raphaël’s career. The young Lessard has also entered a pair of races for the NASCAR Pinty’s Series and won one of them, which is a pretty fantastic ratio.
Lessard’s teams have had a variety of sponsors, none quite as idiosyncratic as those some fans have been hoping for to lighten the mood during the pandemic era.
The Record-Breaking Ron Fellows
Not racing any longer, Ron Fellows is nevertheless still a Canadian NASCAR legend and holds the record for non-American wins in the top three series (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Trucks). Born in Ontario in the late 1950s, Fellows was inspired by F1 superstar Gilles Villeneuve and went on to win at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2008 during the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Fellows’ stats within NASCAR are pretty impressive, winning a quartet of races and finishing in the top 10 on 15 occasions from 25 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Similarly notable are his NASCAR Xfinity Series results: two wins and five top-ten finishes from just 15 starts. And these aren’t his only motorsport victories. In 2001, Fellows won the 24 Hours of Daytona and has thrice been the GTS class winner at the 24 Hours Le Mans.
Nowadays, Fellows has a driving school near Las Vegas and supports various charities, and was awarded the Member of the Order of Canada for his numerous motorsport achievements.
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While they never competed in NASCAR, there are a couple of golden oldie Canadian drivers who really deserve an honorable mention. Going back in time to just two years after Queen Victoria died, we come to the extraordinary Kay Petre. This barrister’s daughter was schooled in England, returned to Canada, and then went back to England to reign as the Queen of Brooklands. Less than five feet tall, this diminutive lady had the heart of a lion, taming the gargantuan 10.5 liter V12 Delage and battling ferociously with Gwenda Stewart on the circuit. During the 1930s she achieved three lap records at Brooklands and joined forces with Dorothy Champney to compete at Le Mans. Sadly, her career was cut short by an accident that caused her serious injury.
John Duff is the only Canadian apart from Petre to win a race at Brooklands and has the distinction of being the first Canadian to enter the famous Le Mans 24 hour race. He was also a records machine, holding more than fifty (a mixture of speed and endurance). Although Canadian through and through, he was actually born in China and traveled across Russia to join the army in England when the First World War broke out. Wounded at the Third Battle of Ypres, some good did come of it as he ended up marrying his nurse.
Motorsport has shown itself pretty resilient during the pandemic, with not only F1 but NASCAR managing to complete seasons in 2020.
Canadians have had some great success in NASCAR, and Petre and Duff were two early motorsport pioneers who achieved great things in England. Let’s hope the future of NASCAR sees some more Canadian legends.