Patrick Staropoli was named valedictorian of his high school class, graduated from Harvard with a degree in Neurobiology, and is a medical student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
You can now add NASCAR driver to that list as well.
Staropoli, 23, won the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, a reality television show for aspiring race car drivers. He was voted one of ten finalists into the competition that included a three-day skills challenge at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in mid-July.
The one-hour taped special aired last Sunday on the Speed Channel where it was announced that Staropoli was the winner. Staropoli will be trained and developed by the famous Michael Waltrip Racing team and then participate in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 race at the Spokane County Speedway on August 24th, part of the NASCAR K&N West series.
“I’ve been racing for 10 years and to finally not only get a shot, but to capitalize on it too, means more to me than anything I’ve done in my career to this point,” said Staropoli.
During the competition Staropoli was coached by two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, as well as drivers Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer. He called the 3-day event the best weekend of his life and one he’ll never forget.
“Every race car driver hopes to be in the right place at the right time to get seen by someone higher up but these opportunities just don’t come along anymore because the sport is so sponsorship driven,” said Staropoli. “This contest gave me the chance to directly show Michael Waltrip Racing and PEAK what I can do, and thankfully they liked what they saw.”
Staropoli’s father Nick, who Staropoli credits for having the biggest influence on his racing career, has been by his side from the first time he started racing.
“When they unveiled the car with his name on it was very emotional because we were unsure up to the very last moment,” said Nick. “You just start pinching yourself to see if it’s real. Then it hits you and you let yourself go and the floodgates start to pour out.”
“I wouldn’t’ have gotten started in racing without my dad and it was just really special to have him there at the contest,” said Staropoli. “We’ve been in this together from the beginning. We’ve won together and lost together. To just go through all those up and downs with him has been really special.”
Staropoli’s passion for racing started at a very young age. His first trip to the racetrack was when he was just six months old to watch his father race. By the time he was 13 Staropoli was speeding off in go-karts before moving up to an entry-level stock car division called “Pure Stocks”.
“I started taking him to the racetrack when he was pretty little so it was just natural for him to go in that direction,” said Nick, who raced for 20 years at Hialeah Speedway and with the Hooters Pro Cup Tour in Florida. “He was consumed by it as soon as he knew what it was. He took it and ran with it and I tried to teach him as much as I knew.”
After Staropoli graduated high school he spent the next four years studying at Harvard University and was only able to race on a part-time basis, mostly racing only on spring breaks and summer vacations. As a result, he had to find other ways to keep up with the competition.
“You feel like you’re at disadvantage because you don’t have nearly as much free time as other drivers,” said Staropoli. “It tears any race car driver up when they’re not able to be at the racetrack. To compensate for it I’d read all I could about racing and stay up to date on all the technology about racing so when I was home I could keep my car as competitive as possible.”
Staropoli is now in his second year of medical school, where he must delicately balance his studies with his passion on the racetrack.
“It’s quite a challenge,” said Staropoli. “I’m only 30 minutes away so I cram my studying during the week and then go home and race on the weekends. It’s very tricky because my life is constantly going 100 miles per hour but that’s what it takes to be able to chase this dream.”
Nick believes Staropoli’s preparation and intelligence helps him make up for the lost time.
“He has great determination,” said Nick. “He puts in the extra effort before we leave the garage for the racetrack. He uses his knowledge and his ability to think and plan things out beforehand so when we get to the racetrack we’re more prepared and have less work to do. It closes the gap that much more.”
Staropoli’s next pit stop will be at the Spokane County Speedway where he will be racing in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 on a one-race deal for the Bill McAnally Racing team since Michael Waltrip Racing doesn’t have a car in the NASCAR K&N West series.
“The one-race deal depends on how I run during the race, not the necessarily the result, but what I show them I can do in the car against the other strong competitors,” said Staropoli. “From there they’ll make a decision if I can keep this going or not.”
The race will not be televised live but will instead air at a later date on Fox Sports 1 that is yet to be determined. However, you can follow the race on the K&N website as they will be posting constant updates throughout the race on August 24th.