ARCA

Photos courtesy Randy and Lisa LaJoie

Randy LaJoie’s crusade to keep grassroots racers safe

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Randy LaJoie is a man on a mission. He wants to keep race car drivers – particularly those in grassroots racing – as safe as possible.

For more than 20 years, the two-time Busch Series champion (1996-97) has dedicated his post-racing life to keeping drivers safe, with special emphasis on sportsman and amateur racers who oftentimes race with inferior safety equipment … if any at all.

Because of the cost involved, many grassroots tracks and local series don’t require some of the same equipment found in the higher levels of stock car racing, particularly in NASCAR.

That’s where LaJoie comes in.

Since forming his business, The Joie of Seating, in 1998, as well as forming a non-profit foundation, The Safer Racer Tour, in 2007, LaJoie has become one of the most prolific advocates of safety, particularly with the type of race car seats he builds and sells.

Since I put the helmet on the shelf, I’ve been concentrating on keeping short track America safe,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “I go to race tracks, talk at the driver meetings, show videos. I’ll also inspect cars, look in the driver’s cockpit and besides that, trade shows, race tracks.

By the end of this year, I’ll have visited 175 race tracks since 2006. We’ve been educating the short track world on seat safety.”

Randy LaJoie with his two Busch Series championship trophies and one of the first driver seats he built.

Since he began racing in his native Connecticut (he now resides in North Carolina) nearly 40 years ago, LaJoie has seen how important safety is in the dangerous world of racing. He’s seen a number of close friends, including the late Dale Earnhardt, killed in racing incidents.

One would think that safety, particularly given Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, would be on the forefront of every racer’s mind.

In the grassroots world, when it comes to deciding what to spend their limited funds on, drivers spend their money on tires, car parts, new race cars – but not safety equipment

The safety business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” LaJoie said. “Sometimes it just amazes me when I go out to these race tracks and talk to these people.

It’s both very humbling but it’s also very aggravating. You can be told ‘no’ umpteen different ways and it’s simply amazing that some people say, ‘Oh, you just want to sell a seat.’ Yes, I do want to sell a seat, but I also tell them I don’t want to read about them in the obituaries. No race track wants to lose anybody. If the information is there, let’s just use it.”

To illustrate his dedication to safety, LaJoie estimates he’s invested more than $350,000 into his business. But to him, it’s money well spent.

I’m very lucky I have the best aluminum seat in the marketplace and I’ve educated the aluminum seat builders,” he said.

He adds with a laugh, “Years ago, I used to call myself a crash-test dummy. But now, with today’s technology, my son (Cup driver Corey LaJoie) uses them and they say it’s rude if you call him a crash test dummy, so I call him a ‘data acquisition technologist.’”

But safety is no laughing matter to LaJoie. He admits he can be a pain to drivers and sanctioning bodies at times, but that’s because he doesn’t want to see any more drivers killed or suffer traumatic permanent injury from the sport they love.

Safety has been on a back burner and I think I pushed it to the front of some people’s minds and some sanctioning bodies to have them look at it, because I’ve been a stickler for it,” LaJoie said.

Two of the current race seats LaJoie’s firm, The Joie of Seating, produces.

The reason LaJoie has been a stickler is simple. Within 18 months, from May 2000 through October 2001, NASCAR lost five well-known drivers, guys LaJoie either was good friends with or had competed against in his career.

That list included Adam Petty (May 12, 2000), Kenny Irwin (July 7, 2000), Tony Roper (October 14, 2000), Dale Earnhardt (February 18, 2001) and Blaise Alexander (October 4, 2001 in an ARCA crash).

I looked at them and I wrecked just like that and how come I’m still here and they’re not?” LaJoie said.

While there have not been any additional deaths in NASCAR’s three top series since Earnhardt was killed, there have been several fatalities in the grassroots racing ranks.

I felt it was my call to duty to the short track world to give them all of the information I can on safety,” LaJoie said

A life’s a life and it doesn’t matter if they race on Sunday, Saturday or Friday night. These guys need to be taken care. With as much knowledge as we’ve learned in the last 15-plus years in terms of safety, these guys are still 15-plus years behind on short tracks.”

LaJoie’s mission has been quantified countless times over the 20-plus years he’s been in business.

When you get a phone call from a mom or dad and they say, ‘My kid just flipped all the way down the backstretch last night and he’s okay, thank you,’ that’s like my new victory lane,” LaJoie said.

The LaJoie family, from left, Corey, Casey, Lisa and Randy.

Safety is also important to LaJoie for a more personal reason: his son Corey, is a full-time driver in the Cup Series (their other son, Casey, works as an announcer for MAV-TV and also as social media director at Kaulig Racing).

Any time when there’s 40 guys on a Sunday in Cup racing, and your son is one of them, I’m so damn proud of him,” Randy said of Corey. “I’m glad he’s gotten the chance.”

LaJoie, 57, is also very proud of the seats he produces, not just for their design and ability to keep drivers safe behind the wheel, particularly when they’re involved in crashes, but also for their durability. His seats are all certified by the SFI Foundation Inc., the leading overseer of safety in motorsports.

Some of my seats from 15 years ago are still in use,” LaJoie said, adding proudly, “that’s why my seats are better than everyone else’s. I built them the right way. I haven’t junked many of them.”

The foundation LaJoie established in 2007, the Safer Racer Tour, is a further extension of his dedication to safety in grassroots racing. That’s why he visits so many short tracks and tries to talk sense into drivers who have a “it’ll never happen to me” mindset.

I’d say 99.7 percent of short track drivers don’t pay attention to safety,” LaJoie said. “But short track America still is much safer today mainly because of Dale Sr.

Do you know how many lives that man saved? It’s sad that we lost him, but the industry needed to lose a hero so they could save other heroes.”

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Todd Gilliland scores Talladega ARCA victory

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Todd Gilliland held off the pack to win Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Gilliland, who is competing full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports, earned his second career ARCA victory. His previous ARCA win was in 2015 at Toledo Speedway.

“Coming up is a really busy stretch for us in Trucks,” Gilliland said. “This is really big for us. My confidence has been down a little bit.”

Kyle Busch was outspoken in February about Gilliland’s performance, saying “his career is on the line,” referring to Gilliland not yet winning in a KBM truck.

“When I come to the ARCA Series or the K&N Series I have so much confidence,” Gilliland said. “I need to be able to take that to the truck and have confidence in myself.”

Riley Herbst, who is scheduled to run eight NASCAR Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, finished second. Gilliland and Herbst were followed by Brandon Lynn, Ty Majeski and Michael Self.

 

 

Analyzing the attention on Hailie Deegan after her breakthrough wins

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Hailie Deegan’s victory in the K&N West Series season opener at Las Vegas was only the beginning for the teenager who could be emerging as a NASCAR star.

After the big win (which will be aired on replay at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN), Deegan was featured on FS1’s Xfinity practice coverage Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. She drove the pace car at the start of Saturday’s Xfinity race. She also announced a six-race deal Friday to race in the ARCA Series with Venturini Motorsports.

MORE: Hailie Deegan: I put my helmet on the same way everyone else does

During the latest NASCAR America Splash & Go (video above), NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said Deegan, who became the first female to win in K&N last year, should take advantage of the exposure from her success.

“You have so many more opportunities in this day and time for these young people and drivers and aspiring Cup drivers,” Jarrett said. “I think she has all the tools to make it happen. You can do and say all the things you want, but if you aren’t making things happen on the track, I think people look at and say, ‘That’s just noise.’ But she’s making noise on the track. She’s done a great of making passes and doing things at the right time. She’s really maximizing everything on the track and off.”

Deegan’s victories come as NASCAR is in a transitory era of trying to promote its next generation of stars. Last year, that was met with some resistance from Cup veterans, particularly when there weren’t many wins by the youthful brigade for several months after Austin Dillon‘s Daytona 500 victory (Erik Jones and Chase Elliott broke through during the summer).

“There’s nothing wrong with speculation, now how far you take before it’s more than what people want, you have to have that success,” Jarrett said. “In the case of the young drivers in the Cup Series, they’re at the top level going against veterans, and it kind of backfired last year.

“In the case of Hailie Deegan, I think right now she’s getting the right type of exposure. She throws in just enough wins and shows the talent and ambition to move forward and maximize this.”

Deegan’s slate with Venturini (which also includes the K&N East race Aug. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway) will include visits to Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway, providing the superspeedway experience she will need to advance.

“What I see in the schedule is she’s getting high-profile races along with difficult tracks,” Jarrett said. “That’s really important to understand that. I like she’s in good equipment in the K&N Series and Venturini has good stuff in ARCA. Especially at difficult racetracks, you don’t want a young driver discouraged. She can learn a lot and maximize her exposure.”

NASCAR America Splash & Go videos are available every Tuesday, you can watch the videos at http://www.nbcsports.com/nascar or by subscribing to the NBC Motorsports’ YouTube channel.

Hailie Deegan to run six ARCA races this season

Nigel Kinrade Photography for NASCAR
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Hailie Deegan, coming off her last-lap pass to win Thursday night’s K&N Pro Series West race, announced that she will drive six ARCA races and one K&N Series race for Venturini Motorsports.

The 17-year-old Toyota Racing Development driver will make her ARCA debut May 19 at Toledo Speedway. She’ll also compete in ARCA races at Pocono Raceway (May 31), Madison International Speedway (June 14), Elko Speedway (July 13), Lucas Oil Raceway (Oct. 5) and Kansas Speedway (Oct. 18). She will drive for Venturini Motorsports in the K&N Pro Series East race Aug. 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

She will have sponsorship from Monster Energy, Craftsman and iK9.

MORE: Hailie Deegan: I put my helmet on the same way everyone else does

So will this ARCA deal lead to a full-time effort in that series next year?

“I think it honestly depends on how this year goes with my K&N Series,” Deegan said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “I think if we get that championship, yes, I would want to move up and make that step into a bigger series after we accomplish everything we can in this series. That’s something I really wanted to do with my career is win at every level I’m at before I move up. I think this year in the ARCA Series, I just want to go out there, be able to run in the top five, go out there and maybe get a win.”

Deegan’s win Thursday was her second career K&N Pro Series  West victory. She won last year at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway.

“I wanted to come into this year to really show everyone that we’re going to be competitive during this K&N West season, that I’m going for a championship, that we’re not playing games,” she said. “We’re here to win races.”

Saturday, Deegan will drive the pace car for the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harrison Burton wins ARCA race at Daytona

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Harrison Burton held off the field in a one-lap overtime shootout to win Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

It was Burton’s first career start at Daytona.

“To win at Daytona is so special,” Burton said. “I wanted to do a crazy burnout but I wanted to take it in. It was a really humbling experience to win at Daytona.

“This is probably the biggest day in my life, in my racing career at least.”

The win is the third career ARCA victory for the son of NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton.

Harrison Burton, 18, will run the full Gander Outdoors Truck schedule this season for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Todd Gilliland finished second. Grant Quinlan placed third and was followed by pole-sitter Christian Eckes and Sean Corr.