Steve Arpin Is Patiently Moving Up the NASCAR Ladder
Craving to be seen for the talents we possess, there are times in our lives when we are discovered for greatness on varying levels. For a young stock car driver, the desire to be spotted by the right people leaves many unfulfilled. However, in a matter of one year Fort Frances, Ontario’s Steve Arpin climb through the ranks amounted to a dream stock car racing season in 2010.
Campaigning nearly a full season in the ARCA Racing Series and receiving his first shot at NASCAR through selected Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports, the dream for the 26-year old Canadian came as a massive learning experience. “I have learned more this season than I ever thought I could in one year, and the year is only half gone!,” he said in early August shortly after the Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway.
Residing in the border town of Fort Frances, few auto racing talent spotters would realize the region would contain all of the ingredients needed to develop a winning stock car driver. Introducing his son Steve to auto racing at the age of 10, Chuck Arpin (entrepreneur and racer himself) fueled the passion with a trip to the quaint town of Rainy River, Ontario. “The first time I ever raced a go kart, we threw it in the back of my Dad’s pickup and went to the Riverside Speedway in Rainy River,” Arpin recalled. It was the excitement he felt on that day that led Arpin to realize motorsports was not just a preoccupation but could also be a full-time occupation. “The whole ride home, I was in the back seat hanging over my Dad’s shoulder begging him to let me do this for the rest of my life. From that point on, I was only 10 years old, but I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Before making the progression to paved oval tracks in the United States, Steve Arpin’s professional race career began most uniquely on ice. In his teen years, Arpin spent part of his spare time muscling a snowmobile around ice-based oval tracks. Running as a factory-supported driver for Polaris snowmobiles at the tender age of 17, he sledded to major victories at events including the Eagle River World Championships at the Pro Stock snowmobile level.
While sledding competitively occupied his winters, a young Arpin spent his summers at the 3/8th mile Emo Speedway. Transitioning from ice to dirt as well as from skis to wheels, the move revealed Arpin to be a natural racing talent. By nailing down the Emo Speedway’s top-ranked WISSOTA Modified championship in 1999 and 2001, Arpin emerged as a dominant force during every feature event run on the dirt track.
After winning titles at the Emo oval, his focus turned away from snowmobiles and towards automobiles, with a move to the U. S. dirt modified circuit. In 2008, Arpin first ventured from dirt-throwing race cars to the faster paved ovals, when he joined the USAC Silver Crown Series. Winning Rookie of the Year in the division led to phone calls from the stock car racing world expressing interest in the quick study driver. A ride in the ARCA Racing Series (an accredited stepping stone to the top-three divisions of NASCAR) would come next.
The heavy, powerful stock cars of ARCA immediately challenged Arpin, but the young Canadian persevered. “Instead of letting the bad experiences get you down, you have to learn from them and let them make you better. It is just one of those deals where you can never give up,” Arpin said. After a tough first year in ARCA, a dream opportunity presented itself when Venturini Motorsports hired him to drive the team’s #55 car. Past ARCA champion and team owner Bill Venturini spotted Arpin running the All-American 400 at Nashville Speedway in 2008. Ten months after that meeting, he awarded the Canadian a seat in the #55 car. Venturini was very enthusiastic about his new driver. “If you ever met him, you’d know why we wanted him. He not only is a talented driver, but probably one of the best with his communication with the fans as well as sponsors. You’d see why his is always the fan favourite.”
The Venturini Motorsports equipment proved to be the shot in the arm Arpin needed for succeeding at yet another level of racing. “Billy has been great on the ARCA side with helping prepare me for the next level, and I feel he has done a great job of that,“ said Arpin, referring to the Venturini Motorsports team. Winning the ARCA Racing Series season’s third event at Salem Speedway, Arpin brought the #55 car to a second straight win on the 1.5 mile oval of Texas Motor Speedway. Though the season started strong, and he picked up Mike’s Hard Lemonade as a sponsor, Arpin was confronted with wrecks and mechanical failures through many of the ARCA races, souring what had been a sweet start to the 2010 season.
Getting back into the groove with a third victory at DuQuoin (a 1-mile dirt oval), Arpin finished off the season as a front-runner, tied with ARCA champion Patrick Sheltra as a winningest driver in 2010. His improvement with every passing event impressed Venturini. “His communication to the crew on what the car is doing and what feel he wants has been great and our on-track results show that,” he said.
Following early success for Venturini Motorsports, Arpin landed a deal to drive select Nationwide races for JR Motorsports, a move that signalled that he had hit the big time. “The JR Motorsports deal was something I had been working on for a long time. We began developing a relationship last season and just kept working on it all though the off-season and into the beginning of this year,” Arpin (pictured, above left) said of running a JR Motorsports Chevrolet during breaks in his ARCA schedule.
Aside from opportunities to pilot the race machines of JR Motorsports, Arpin had demonstrated himself a true team player on several Nationwide series weekends on the other side of the pit wall. It was through this role that Arpin had a chance to meet fellow Canadian drivers. “I actually got to be one of the spotters for Ron Fellows during the race in Road America earlier this year. And I met J.R. Fitzpatrick a few weeks before that in Charlotte. They are both great guys. It’s cool to see more guys from north of the border getting great opportunities."
Competing for seven NASCAR Nationwide Series races in the #7 and #88 Chevrolet, Arpin qualified in the top 15 on three occasions. “Running the Nationwide car is a learning experience on every single lap. When you have the opportunity to be racing with the likes of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick, who in my eyes are the best, you learn new things you can do with the car every corner you race with them.” Against an army of NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars at Daytona’s July night race, the combination of the #7 Chevy and Steve Arpin posted their best Nationwide series result of 10th (third highest non-Sprint Cup driver).
While soaring to the highest of highs this season, Arpin remains mindful of the paradox auto racing in general presents to a driver. “This sport can be the most thrilling thing you have ever experienced, but at the same time it can be the hardest thing you ever dreamt of to overcome the obstacles that get thrown in front of you. It takes so much determination and so much commitment to keep going”. Arpin’s desire to carry on is evident through the 10-year transition from ice to dirt and most recently to pavement.
Heading into the final 2010 ARCA Racing Series race at Rockingham Speedway, Arpin’s plans for 2011 have yet to be finalized but he said, “We have a lot of things in the works right now for next year”. After getting a taste of NASCAR – an experience almost any professional racer wants more of in their career – he revealed his immediate goal: to run a full NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2011. With a long-term goal of becoming the first Canadian champion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Steve Arpin’s patient climb up the NASCAR ladder continues.