So I was reading a story by Nate Ryan on the USA Today Internet site about Danica Patrick maybe driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series next year when I came across this paragraph:
"Earnhardt is (also) high on ARCA driver Steve Arpin, who finished seventh in ARCA points this season. A recent win by Arpin at a short track in Missouri impressed Cup driver Carl Edwards, who (told Earnhardt) that Arpin ‘jumped into a car that looked beat on and he made the rest of the guys look like they were tied to a tree.’ "
My goodness! Could this be the Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont., which has a population of – what? – 8,000 and yet’s produced such famous people as politician Howard Hampton and hockey players Dave and Mike Allison and Neil and Tim Sheehy, among others?
The Steve Arpin, who’s been tearing up the speedways of northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and the American border states of Wisconsin and Minnesota and points south for – well – years?
Turns out it is – and it’s just possible that the little pulp-and-paper town of Fort Frances is on the brink of producing its first NASCAR Sprint Cup driver!
I had the pleasure a few days ago of chatting with the 26-year-old Arpin who’s now living in Cornelius, N.C., and working away on sponsorship for the 2010 racing season.
"We – my wife Trina and I – moved down here in February," said Arpin, who embarked on his first professional ARCA stock car season in ‘09 following 10 or so years of apprenticing in open wheel as well as closed-wheel cars in which he’s won just about everything he entered.
He was, in no particular order going back to 2001, USAC Silver Crown Series rookie-of-the-year, Minnesota Modified champion, Wissota Heartland champion, North Florida Nationals champion, IMCA Dakota Classic Modified Tour champion, Florida Speedweeks Nationals UMP Modified champion and on and on and on..
Oh, and he was track champion at his local Emo Speedway in 2001 and ‘02 as well as being Polaris Industries snowmobile champion the same two years.
It hasn’t been all smooth-sailing, though. Early in 2008, he suffered severe burns to his hands and thighs after a radiator hose blew and drenched him with boiling water. He was out of racing for two months but he bounced back and had returned to his winning ways by season’s end.
His resiliance and determination got him the ride in the ARCA series this season – where Sprint Cup and Nationwide drivers Scott Speed, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Algaier were learning their trade just the year before – and he split the season between Eddie Sharp Racing and Venturini Motorsports.
Now he’s working hand-in-hand with the marketing people at Earnhardt’s company, JR Motorsports, to get the money necessary for a Nationwide Series ride next season.
"It was pretty cool (to read what Earnhardt and Edwards said about him in the USA Today article)," he said. "This is such a great team and organization to be connected with and I hope we can put a program together to do the Nationwide, because that would move me in the direction of the Sprint Cup series, which is where I want to be."
Although Nationwide or the Camping World Truck Series are his immediate goals, Arpin said there is a Plan B in place, if necessary, and that would entail running another season in ARCA with the Venturini team.
"But even if I go Nationwide," he said, "I’m still planning to run the ARCA races at Daytona and Talladega next year."
Arpin said sponsorship opportunities "are looking good but nothing’s signed yet. We’re also actively negotiating with a couple of Canadian companies and, hopefully, something will work out in that area."
Arpin said that to succeed in modern-day motorsport, a driver has to be a winner on the speedway and also have the ability to raise the money necessary to participate. The system is "really designed to weed out the weak," he said. "You have to be strong to survive at this game. Yes, times are tough but all that means is that I have to work harder."
Arpin is not solely dependent on race-driving for his income. A chip off the old block – his father, Chuck, owns and operates Pinewood Sports and Marine back home – he recently went into business for himself. He’s started Arpin Enterprises, in which he builds and sells dirt modified racing cars.
And although he talks a tough game about survival of the fittest, Arpin said he hopes somebody to own and operate his own Sprint Cup team so that he can give young drivers "who can’t afford it a chance at their dreams."
Good luck, Steve. There haven’t been all that many Canadians who’ve made it to the Sprint Cup level of NASCAR so we’ve got our fingers crossed for you.