By Chris Owens – Hardly, if ever do you see a Harvard graduate turn racecar driver. It’s not normal for a NASCAR driver to be enrolled in medical school either. Throw in a summa cum laude graduate and now you’re really talking about something unheard of in racing.
Enter Patrick Staropoli, a native of South Florida, who before the Peak Dream Challenge was just a kid with a dream of racing professionally one day. A Harvard graduate and current student enrolled at the University of Miami medical school, Staropoli is looking to make a name for himself in the racing world.
Staropoli was the winner of the inaugural Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge that was put on in 2013. With the help of Michael Waltrip Racing, Peak set out to find the next up and coming driver. Staropoli won the competition and in turn has become a Michael Waltrip Racing development driver.
It’s something the south Florida native has always dreamed of. Now he finally has the opportunity to show the world what he’s got.
“Being able to have this opportunity to race is something I’ve always wanted but never dreamed in a million years I would have gotten it. I’m definitely trying to take full advantage of it,” Staropoli told Popular Speed.
“Honestly, I’ve always dreamed it. I’ve been really realistic about my career from day one and I think that’s why I focused so hard on school. I’ve always taken school seriously because you can’t replace your education and that’s what will hold you down like a rock.”
Becoming a Michael Waltrip Racing Development Driver came with winning the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge. For Staropoli, it’s something that means a lot to him. To be able to go to a guy like Michael Waltrip for advance is huge he says.
“Michael (Waltrip) has been great since the competition. Anytime I need advice or any kind of support that I need, whether it’s racing related or have to navigate things on the sponsorship side, he’s there.”
For Staropoli, his school has been his primary focus. Living in Florida his whole life, Staropoli moved north for college at Harvard University. Not only did he graduate from Harvard, but he did so summa cum laude.
Now living back in Florida, he’s enrolled at the University of Miami full-time in their medical program. While he originally wanted to be an engineer, Staropoli says that a racing accident with his dad played a part in changing majors.
“When I was younger my dad was involved in a bad racing accident. He was taken to the hospital and we were there for several months. I remember as a kid watching that and saying, that’s amazing that they were able to fix him and be completely healthy now. That kind of just stuck in the back of my head and as I went to college, I took the classes that I need,” said Staropoli.
“I was originally interested in engineering actually and taking those classes where the same type of classes I needed for medical school. So putting those altogether and adding experience was kind of what get me interested in it so I started moving in that direction.”
Being a full-time student is no easy task in and of itself. Add in trying to be a racecar driver and you quickly have to learn how to manage your time. Staropoli knows this and does the best he can when it comes to managing his studies while trying to pursue his dream of being a racecar driver.
“It’s just – kind of cramming a lot of stuff into a short amount of time really. I remember doing the races last semester – I grew up in Florida my entire life and Harvard was in Boston, so I never left the eastern time zone until we went to Washington for the first race last year,” he said. “So that was a journey in itself. I had a big exam the day we came back from that race.”
A lot of it, he says, is just preparing far enough in advance that things don’t sneak up on him. When he’s not in a racecar or at a racetrack, he’ll find time to study or do schoolwork.
“Studying on the airplane, studying at night at the hotel, doing whatever I had to do to get the job done.”
Staropoli will turn his attention away from the books this weekend as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East runs its third race of the season on Saturday afternoon. Bristol is a tough racetrack for any driver, but going there for the first time is a completely different experience.
While he’s looking forward to the experience, Staropoli says he wants to keep the momentum going from the first two races of the seasons at New Smyrna and Daytona. Both events saw the newcomer finish in the top 15.
“Bristol is such an iconic track in our sport, but my hope for my team is to really put all the piece of the puzzle together,” he said. “We had two really great races down at Speedweeks. Qualifying well and running up front would be great, but just having a solid performance across the board would be good.”
After Bristol, he’ll head west to California for the K&N Pro Series West race before heading back home to Florida. While there, he’ll continue with his medical degree at Miami, but says he’ll get back in his family owned Super Late Model and run some races.
“I’ve been spending time up in North Carolina to work on the K&N stuff, so once we get a break in between Irwindale and Iowa is the next one in May, I’ll be back home in Florida so we’re going to try and get that running again and compete at all the short tracks in Florida.”
He’s quick to say however, that the K&N Pro Series deal with Bill McAnnaley is his primary focus, as it should be.
“We’ll definitely be doing these five K&N Pro Series races. We’re full court press on trying to do what we can to run more of those.”
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