Last November, when it was announced that Raphael Lessard would leave Kyle Busch Motorsports in favor of championship-winning organization GMS Racing ahead of the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, many were surprised to see Lessard’s scheduled only confirmed for a dozen events.
For the St.-Joseph de Beauce, Quebec-native, the remaining races on the series’ calendar this season were entirely dependent on the addition of sponsorship to Lessard’s program, and in January, it appeared as though that sponsorship had been found, when the organization announced the increase of Lessard’s schedule to full-time.
However, following an April 1st report by Le Journal De Montreal, a representative of Lessard’s has confirmed to TobyChristie.com that the 19-year-old’s future with GMS Racing is indeed at risk, due to a lack of sponsorship for the remainder of the season and that there are multiple steps being put into action to ensure that Lessard is able to remain in the No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado for the remaining 17 events this season.
“We’re just working extremely hard trying to find some help from new partners,” Lessard told TobyChristie.com in an exclusive interview. “We just need some more help on that side and we’re trying to find some more sponsors that would be willing to help me and my team make the full season, that is our goal. Our goal has always been to make the full season, but we need help and we’re working hard to try and find it.”
As one of NASCAR’s three full-time Canadian drivers – alongside Stewart Friesen and Alex Labbe – Lessard’s path to NASCAR’s top-three series has come with its own unique set of challenges, ones different than what most drivers born in the United States face. However, Lessard doesn’t view it as a disadvantage, and actually thinks that the differentiation between himself and other drivers, makes him an asset to potential sponsors.
“My deal is that I’m different than most drivers,” said Lessard. “Being from Canada, I can speak French and I can speak English pretty well too, also I have a lot of fans from Canada, so if a company from the United States wants to expand into Quebec or Canada, it could be a great opportunity for them to get known to people from Canada, or even the opposite, a company from Canada that wants to be seen in the US and wants to expand and be known more and more, I think that would help a bunch and it would be a huge help for them.”
“… I think being in the US, there are way more race fans in the United States than there are back home in Canada, so I wouldn’t say that it’s an advantage being from Canada, but it’s something that we don’t see often, so being pretty rare, it must help somehow.”
One of the biggest things that Lessard has on his side, is the massive support of the Canadian NASCAR fans – especially in his home province of Quebec — who have been able to help the 19-year-old through their contributions, which helped pay some of the smaller items needed to show up to the racetrack each weekend.
“I have a lot of great fans, that’s for sure, and they want me to succeed, and they want to help and at the beginning of the year, they helped as much as they could, but we just need some more, we need to hopefully get lucky and find a partnership with a big company, that maybe they love racing and they want to help a young kid make it happen.”
On April 1st, when the article from Le Journal De Montreal posted, Lessard took to Twitter to address his fans about the article and what his situation looks like going forward with GMS Racing, but quickly decided to delete it, telling TobyChristie.com that he didn’t want to be looked at as someone who is consistently begging for help on social media.
“If the adventure ends today, it won’t be for lack of having done everything possible to succeed. Winning is part of ever race driver’s DNA! Right front the start, I have owed my success to many people: my parents, those who have helped me along the way, my fans on social media, all the other media, the race teams that welcomed me, and above all the investors that have believed in me and continue to do so. Without them, nothing would have happened.”
Although his results through the first five races of the season aren’t indicative of it, Lessard and the No. 24 team have had a solid start to the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series campaign, winning a stage and leading laps at Daytona International Speedway in February, on both the oval and the road course. While the speed hasn’t been enough to challenge the likes of Ben Rhodes and Kyle Busch Motorsports, Lessard has been able to gain some valuable experience over the first portion of the season, scoring his first top-five finish on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I feel like our season got going really good at Daytona, in both races we had really good speed, but just had bad luck at the end of the races, with two flat tires on the road course and a wreck on the superspeedway,” said Lessard. “Then, we got to Las Vegas and I made a mistake, but we still needed to be a lot better, and we made our truck really good for Atlanta and we had a mechanical issue.”
So it’s been a tough beginning of the season for sure, but Bristol was all about turning our luck around and heading in the right direction and I think that’s what we did and we’re just going to keep on improving. I’m proud of my team, I’m really happy with the people that I’m working with and I feel like they believe in me, so that’s always a plus and hopefully I get to do the full season and we can go for a championship.”
Despite his career in NASCAR’s top-three series possibly hanging in the balance, Lessard says that nothing has changed for him in terms of his driving style and that he’s always just trying to do the best he can on and off the racetrack, while hoping the rest just falls into place. All of this pressure stacked onto a 19-year-old from Canada, trying to make his way in the United States’ top echelons of stock car racing.
As for the remainder of the season, nothing is concrete for the second-year driver, as he sits in a “go with the flow” situation right now, but says that there is lots of room to advertise on his No. 24 Chevrolet Silverado, as the series heads to Richmond Raceway on April 17th. The Quebec-native will look to breakthrough and capture his second NASCAR Truck Series victory, in a time where a clutch-victory could help him secure the funding needed to comfortably round out his season.