The Race Doctor: Patrick Staropoli back in med school, but not giving up on racing dream

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About six weeks ago, Patrick Staropoli drove through the night from Charlotte to Daytona Beach, grabbed a couple hours of sleep and then proceeded to set the fastest speed of 40 drivers in an ARCA test.

Making that effort all the more impressive was the fact it was the first time the Florida native had raced on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, and he did it as a fill-in driver, replacing another driver who was sick.

While Staropoli hoped that kind of performance would lead to a full-time ride for the 2015 season, unfortunately it didn’t, leaving Staropoli to revert to an unusual Plan B.

MORE: What’s up, doc? Aspiring M.D., NASCAR driver Patrick Staropoli featured in prestigious magazine

That’s why Staropoli, after taking a year off, is now back at the University of Miami, where he’s a fourth-semester medical student who soon hopes to add “Dr.” in front of his name.

As much as he wanted to race full-time in 2015, Staropoli had little choice. If he didn’t return to school when he did, the aspiring ophthalmologist would have forfeited all the schooling he had already gone through.

And if the Harvard University graduate ever chose to restart his plans to be a doctor, he’d have had to repeat the entire medical school program all over again.

“The cards that were on the table made the decision for me,” Staropoli told the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) last week.

Still, Staropoli hopes to play hooky from school if he can find a ride for next Saturday’s (Feb. 14) Lucas Oil 200 ARCA race at DIS.

In other words, even though he still has to finish medical school, Staropoli is not giving up hope of continuing his racing exploits.

“I still think there’s a chance there,” Staropoli, 25, said. “I give myself an A-plus for effort.”

Staropoli spent the second half of last year working as a marketing intern for Michael Waltrip Racing. This came shortly after he won a K&N Pro Series West race at California’s legendary Irwindale Speedway.

While he had to tell UM that he’d be back in school in January, Staropoli was still holding out for a miracle – a racing miracle. He came close to one deal but it fell apart – and Staropoli was back in class on Jan. 5.

“My head’s been in a million different places,” Staropoli said. “I’m just trying to get back in the rhythm of school.”

But while Staropoli is continuing to progress towards one dream of becoming a doctor, he isn’t giving up his other dream of becoming a full-time race car driver.

At 25, he’d like to get a full-time ride – perhaps in the ARCA Series – and work his way up through the NASCAR ranks over the next several years, ultimately reaching his biggest dream of all of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series.

For now, he’s tempering racing with reality. He has board exams in June that, if he passes, will fulfill his doctor dream.

But if he gets a ride for next week’s ARCA race, wins it (or does very well), gets a sponsor and then a full-time offer, his mind is made up. So long school, hello full-time ride.

“The story is there, the performance is there,” Staropoli said. “I just need a certain amount of time, and a certain amount of luck. I’m not giving up.”

In the meantime, between studying and classes, Staropoli has mounted a social media campaign (“#Willwheelforfood”) that he hopes will attract some sponsors.

After all, the way he sees it, Staropoli has a long life ahead of him to become a doctor. But a racing career is much more finite.

“I keep telling myself everything happens for a reason,” Staropoli said. “If nothing else, the last year has been a pretty cool journey.”

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”