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

Leave a comment

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.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

NHRA
Leave a comment

Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

Follow @JerryBonkowski