Remember the name Patrick Staropoli: Aspiring doctor by day, winning race car driver at night

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So much has been said over the years about Ryan Newman being one of the first full-fledged college graduates to race in NASCAR.

And he has the sheepskin from Purdue University, touting his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, to prove it.

But Newman may soon be knocked off his lofty educated throne.

Remember the name Patrick Staropoli – you may soon be talking about and seeing him in NASCAR’s three pro series — well, after he completes a few more years of medical school.

You see, Staropoli isn’t just a race car driver, he’s also on track to become a full-fledged MD in a few years.

You can just hear it now on the radio or TV: “And starting on the pole for the Daytona 500, Patrick – uh, err, make that Dr. Patrick Staropoli.”

That’s right, a former honors student at Harvard (where his degree is in neurobiology), Staropoli is now in his second year of medical school at the University of Miami.

But his alter-ego – “The Racing Doc” sounds good – is also coming off a great run last weekend in the K&N Pro Series West race at Irwindale Speedway, about 30 miles away from Auto Club Speedway.

Staropoli not only competed in the race, he actually won the whole darned thing, as well (see video below).

In fact, in his first season on the K&N tour, the suburban Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native has finished no lower than 11th in the first four races (11th at New Smyrna, eighth at Daytona, sixth at Bristol and his March 22 cross-country triumph at Irwindale.

But perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Staropoli’s story is that he requested a semester away from school to do independent research for the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, as well as driving for Bill McAnally Racing, which is part of the Michael Waltrip Developmental Driver team.

“I shuffled everything around in my life, taking time off school,” Staropoli told NASCAR.com, which interviewed him a few days before the Irwindale event. “I subleased my apartment in Miami so I can spend time with my race team, started working on the cars and really immersed myself as much as possible.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure to perform, but I feel like whether it was interviewing for Harvard or getting into med school, or now trying to make this happen on the racing side, I’m kind of used to it and up to the challenge.”

Ever since he first started racing go-karts in 2003, Staropoli has been nothing short of outstanding. Consider his outstanding overall racing record, including karts, Cyclones, FastKids, Fasttruck, Late Models and now K&N: 34 wins, 103 top-5′s, 127 top-10′s in 143 races.

Staropoli’s big break came last year when he outdistanced more than 6,000 entries in the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, with the top prize being a one-race ride in a K&N Pro West Series race.

Shortly thereafter, he caught the eyes of Waltrip’s organization and Peak-sponsored Danica Patrick, which ultimately led to what has now been five K&N starts thus far in 2014 (and six overall in his career).

“PEAK thought this competition would be a cool way to meet some unique racers,” Waltrip told NASCAR.com. “I think we met one. It’s just really, really fun for me to see the results of this competition and we had a whole lot of people to chose from.

“There were four or five on the track whose skills were similar with Patrick, who was at the top of the class. But he just had something about him, just a glow, an energy, a respect and appreciation for it that made a difference for me.”

Patrick’s father Nick had a lot to do not only with his son’s decision to race, but also to become a doctor. For it was the elder Staropoli who was seriously hurt while competing himself in a crash in 2001 at Hialeah Speedway in the family’s native Florida.

Patrick, then 12 years old, saw his father’s wreck (the throttle stock on his race car, sending him head-on and full-speed into the racetrack wall). And after watching his dad go through four months of rehab, Patrick decided to become a doctor.

“I remember as a kid being in awe of the whole process,” Staropoli said. “That stayed in my mind. And now I’m at the very place learning medicine where they saved my dad’s life. Kinda weird how it’s all worked out.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Below are videos of Staropoli’s first win last week at Irwindale, followed by winning the Peak challenge.

 

 

 

 

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Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year’s title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

“Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time,” Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. “Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we’ve ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill.”

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

“It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon,” Hamilton said of Fangio. “He should be celebrated more for his success. He’s not mentioned a huge amount. He’s kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers.”

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races – second only to Schumacher’s 91 – and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles – losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

“Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he’ll work on those over the winter. No one’s perfect, even I have things to work on,” Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. “He’s going to raise the bar next year and I’ll have to as well, otherwise things won’t be the same.

“Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn’t down to luck,” Hamilton added. “Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year.”

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be “a walk in the park” if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

“That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up,” said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. “We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren’t good enough to take it to the last race, but there’s so much potential still.”

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because “Lewis made less mistakes” than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September – turning the tide in Hamilton’s favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers – sitting next to each other – laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

“I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play … maybe not.”