This past year, J.R. Fitzpatrick took on running the entire NASCAR Canadian Tire Series schedule, with his goals set on winning the championship.
He was in the thick of the battle all year long, though after a bad finish at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and a broken clutch at Riverside Speedway, he ended up second, 40 points behind champion D.J. Kennington.
“It’s good,” Fitzpatrick told me on Sunday. “I took all of last year off as I was racing stuff in the States. But after taking a year off, the series has definitely grown quite a bit. It does need more cars but competitive wise, it is doing very well. To finish second in the championship after taking a year off, I am pretty pleased about that.”
In 2006, NASCAR took over rights to the series, which was formally known as the CASCAR Super Series. Since NASCAR has taken it over, it has been debated as to whether that was a positive move or not for the series.
Fitzpatrick said he’s seen the influence, though thinks it’ll still take time.
“It’s helped in a way,” he said. “But I think it’s going to take some time to get some more people in the series because it does cost a lot to run that deal. The series is slowly going and it’s going to take a few years for it to grow to its full potential.”
While running the NCAT schedule, Fitzpatrick also ran three Nationwide races for JR Motorsports. The three races resulted in two top 10s (Road America and Montreal) and an 11th place finish at Walkin’s Glen after being spun.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said of the experience. “I was really fortunate enough to run with JR Motorsports for three races. We’re still talking about more events that are coming up and also next year and if it doesn’t work out, they’re going to give me some leeway on where to go and a good connection of some sort. I’m definitely going to be in more races this year.”
And then when time allows, Fitzpatrick hits the local tracks and races at the grass roots level where it started.
“I support it 100% anyway I can,” he said of grass roots racing. “At the end of the day, that’s where we all started and guys that don’t feel like coming back, I don’t get it. I wish I had a late model as that’s where I started but super stocks are a lot of fun.”
For this year, he put a Super Stock racecar together with some friends.
“Its fun,” he said of running the car. “It’s definitely a different kind of car for me. Me and my friend built this car and it’s been working fairly well. We’re starting ninth out of 45 cars so we’re pretty happy about that.”
For this past weekend at Autumn Colors at Peterborough Speedway, the biggest short track event in Ontario, Fitzpatrick started ninth, got up to fifth, and then blew the right rear tire.
J.R got started in racing at the age of six running a Jr. Late Model.
“I got started through Jr. Late Models when I was six year olds at Sauble Beach,” he said.
“Then I moved on to Delawere (Speedway) and when I was 13 years old, I got a late model and then from there, I just stayed in heavy stock cars.”
Fitzpatrick then moved up to the CASCAR Super Series, were he finished second in the Rookie of the Year standings in 2004 at the age of 16.
At the age of 17, he scored his first win and got three top-fives and five top-10 finishes.
Then in 2006, he became the youngest Canadian Tire Series National Champion with a win, five podium finishes and two pole awards at the age of 18.
Over the next three years in the Canadian Tire Series, Fitzpatrick would earn a total of four wins, 10 top-fives, 14 top-10s and five pole awards.
Fitzpatrick made his first in the NASCAR Busch Series (now Nationwide Series) at the Telcel-Motorola Mexico 200 at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, where he finished 33rd due to an ill-handling car.
Fitzpatrick made his first start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2009 where he finished fourth, driving the No. 7 Mammoet Chevrolet Silverado at Daytona International Speedway for TRG Motorsports.
For 2011, Fitzpatrick plans to run more Nationwide races.
“For the Nationwide stuff, nothing is fully planned yet,” he said. “Like I said, I’m still with JR Motorsports as of right now so hopefully we can get more races with them. If not, we will just go somewhere else. And maybe do NASCAR Canada but like I said, nothing is set in stone right now.”
He considers his racing heroes to be Jr. Hanley and Pete Shepphard II.