CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In September 2010, Archie St. Hilaire delivered a clear message to Randy LaJoie after a K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Your kid will never run in anything I own, ever, ever, ever,” the owner of Go Fas Racing declared.
St. Hilaire was caught up in the heat of the moment. The car he owned, the No. 38 driven by Alan Tardiff, had just been wrecked from the lead with two laps to go in the scheduled distance of the 125-lap race.
The culprit? An 18-year-old Corey LaJoie, the son of Randy, a two-time Xfinity Series champion who also owned his son’s K&N ride.
LaJoie had been on Tardiff’s inside entering Turn 3 when they made contact. LaJoie spun while Tardiff hit the wall.
LaJoie went on to finish 13th and in the last three years has made 57 Cup starts. The New Hampshire race was Tardiff’s last in a top NASCAR series.
Two weeks ago, just over eight years after the incident, LaJoie signed with Go Fas Racing to become the next full-time driver of its No. 32 Ford in the Cup Series.
When the signing was done, St. Hilaire told his new driver he had a call to make.
“I got to call your dad and tell him I lied to him a few years ago,” St. Hilaire recalled Thursday during the team’s announcement at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
“That’s one thing I’ve learned in NASCAR, never say never. ‘Cause that’s a long time,” St. Hilaire said.
Thursday saw LaJoie, now 27, finally get to share “probably the best Christmas gift I’ve ever had.”
A week before he’s set to get married, LaJoie was announced as the next driver of the No. 32 Ford, a car previously driven by Matt DiBenedetto.
It’s the first time in LaJoie’s Cup career that he’s known in December that he’ll have a ride in February.
The new ride comes with other perks he’s never had in his last two years of Cup racing.
“A paycheck is good,” LaJoie said, referencing the 32 starts he made in 2017 with the now-defunct BK Racing.
“Engines that don’t blow up are good,” LaJoie said of his 23 starts in 2018 with TriStar Motorsports, where he had seven DNFs, five for expired engines.
But most importantly, LaJoie is set to be in the car for every points race for the first time. Not even his father can claim a full Cup season on his resume.
“Being in the car every week is going to be huge,” LaJoie said. “To work with the same group of guys, week in and week out where you can actually prepare, watch film, studying notes and then actually go from the first race of the year back for the second time is going to be huge. I think there’s nothing but positives here.”
That’s not an understatement for LaJoie.
Four years ago, he was a “development” driver (air quotes added by LaJoie) for Richard Petty Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
“I was taking a different path. I just had to pay the bills,” LaJoie said. “They gave me a T-shirt and a backpack and paid me 40 grand a year and sat me on the couch for two years. They couldn’t find me any sponsorship. They put me in that (Biagi-DenBeste Racing) car. I tried to do too much. I didn’t realize the gap from a 15th-place car to a fifth-place car is as big as it is. Anytime up to that point in my career if we were 15th it was because I wasn’t driving it right or I wasn’t driving it hard enough.
“Knowing when to take a 15th-place car and finish 14th or 13th after a couple of guys wreck, I had to learn the hard way. I was lucky enough people saw the talent even when I was wrecking cars or putting myself in bad positions.”
LaJoie is also three years’ removed from being paid $500 to fly to the West Coast to be a crew chief on a K&N West team. He actually produced two wins in the series with David Mayhew, with one coming at Sonoma Raceway.
But Sundays were hard for the third-generation driver.
“There was times where Sunday nights where I was wondering what I was doing, if I should go back and start welding seats or go be a crew chief,” LaJoie said.
A path to the latter was provided at one point by one of the most successful crew chiefs in Cup history.
“Chad Knaus called me probably … four years ago now, wanting to stick me over and be a car chief (at JR Motorsports) working through that system,” LaJoie said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m not ready to give up the driving thing yet.’ And it’s just worked out with different partners. I’ve surrounded myself with good people, and (it) ultimately gets me hooked up with Archie, and now we’re really going to make something happen here next year.”
And what happens after 2019 for an owner who wanted nothing to do with his new driver eight years ago?
St. Hilaire is taking it one year at a time.
“Everybody in our business we have a one-year deal, and I always say, ‘Let’s make sure we like each other,’ ” St. Hilaire said. “I do it in my regular businesses, because if it’s after one year and he doesn’t like me and I don’t like him or somebody doesn’t like anybody, I don’t want to drag anybody through a two- or three-year deal. Hopefully it’s many years, but at this point let’s try it and make sure we like it and move forward from there.”
For LaJoie, it will be his first full-time ride in NASCAR since 2012 in the K&N East.
“I need to be careful,” he said. “I might make a career of this thing before long.”
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