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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F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

Follow@KyleMLavigne