After his early racing career benefitted from the financial backing of the Player's cigarette brand, Patrick Carpentier understands the old adage about timing being everything.
During most of his years in open wheel, Carpentier's Player's/Forsythe team enjoyed lavishness unknown to racers lately, such as almost unlimited budgets, first class everything, and big paycheques.
Now that Carpentier is officially retired from racing, his timing means he's getting a taste of daily struggles that most young drivers experience today as they try to climb the ladder.
"A friend of mine once asked me: 'You're quitting racing to go into construction, what haven't you learned'?" said Carpentier.
"It's the same as racing in many ways because you have to build it up and work many hours to put it together. But I have so many projects on the go that I am working five times harder than when I was racing and hopefully by the time the recession goes away, I will be there to benefit from it."
A city built on luxury and discretionary spending, Carpentier's home base of Las Vegas has been hit hard by the ongoing recession, with a high foreclosure rate putting huge downward pressure on real estate values. A home that may have attracted offers of $1.5-million a few years ago would now be lucky to sell for $650,000, so Carpentier has had to sit on the properties he's renovated in the past couple of years.
It's almost a parallel to racing today, where the salad days of flush sponsors pouring cash into team have long disappeared, and luck and timing likely play an even bigger role in success.
"For the kids today, the experience is really different because there's nothing for them: There's no system and no support now," he said.
"You have to sacrifice your whole life in the hope that possibly you might go racing — there is so much effort and money that goes into it and your chances are so slim."
Carpentier has lived in Las Vegas for the past dozen years with his wife Anick and two children Anaïs, 10, and Loïc, 5, after moving there to make it easier to manage his hectic racing schedule. He moved back to Quebec temporarily a few years ago hoping to get his construction business going there but decided to return to Las Vegas to be closer to his investments.
The Nevada city is popular with Canadian racers, with Scarborough, Ont.'s, Paul Tracy also a long time resident. IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, of Lachenaie, Que., recently moved from Vegas to Indianapolis, but still has a home there. In fact, Carpentier just submitted a bid on some renovations on his old Forsythe teammate Tagliani's property.
Being adaptable isn't anything new to the 40-year-old Carpentier, who raced in just about every top series in North America at one time during his career, whether open wheel, stock car or sports car racing.
His best memories come from his final year in the Atlantic series where he put on driving clinic in 1996, winning nine times in 12 starts and finishing on the podium in all but one race where he came home fourth.
"You always enjoy it a lot more when you are winning," he said with a chuckle.
"That Atlantic year was also one of the most enjoyable I had because the car was lots of fun to drive. I would say my first [Champ Car]win in Michigan (2001), the pole in [NASCAR]Sprint Cup (2008) and my first pole in [NASCAR] Nationwide in Montreal (2007) are the things that stand out the most."
After his championship in Atlantics, Carpentier moved to Champ Car in 1997. He won five times and finished in the top-5 overall in points three times during his seven full seasons in the series. His 2002 win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course also showed that he was a man of his word after he made good on a pre-race promise to run through the paddock naked should he take the win, although modestly forced him don a chequered flag for his unclothed trot down pitlane.
After Champ Car, Carpentier joined the IndyCar Series and scored two podiums in 17 starts for the struggling Cheever Team. From there he tried his hand at Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series running a partial season before heading at NASCAR.
His Nationwide debut at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2007 saw him start on pole but finish second to Sprint Cup regular Kevin Harvick. A year later he was runner up again, this time to Mississauga, Ont.'s, Ron Fellows. He also tried Sprint Cup in 2008 with Gillett Evernham Motorsports but the team struggled to get into the top-20 on most days, although Carpentier did take a pole for the team in Loudon, N.H. He also raced a few times for Canada A1GP entry in 2006.
While he tried almost all the top North American series, Carpentier regrets that he didn't branch out earlier in his career when he was competing in Champ Car. At the time, his short racing schedule would have allowed him to dabble more in different series.
"In the end, it helped me out for today because that's when I started studying construction, buying houses, and preparing for my future, but I wish I had done more series back then," he said.
"We only did one thing but now everybody races everywhere. I don't have too many regrets — except for when I made dumb mistakes, and I made a few."
No matter where he went, the likeable driver from Ville LaSalle, Que., took along his easy going attitude and wide grin. Probably one of the most liked drivers this country has ever produced, Carpentier became a bit of a folk hero in his native Quebec and remained popular outside his home province.
His celebrity status in Quebec has him being pitched as the host of a new television show about cars that's being proposed to a few networks in the province, something he hopes will allow him to spend a few months per year in Montreal. He also just signed a deal to represent a line of waterless cleaning wipes for cars and construction from start-up company Harco Brands.
And while he is officially retired, Carpentier wouldn't rule out racing in Montreal this summer in the August's NAPA Auto Parts 200. Should he return to the cockpit for the Nationwide Series race, it would be to raise cash for research into neonatal disorders, which has been the beneficiary of his on track efforts of late.
"Montreal would be the only race I would do and I would give most of the money to children's charities — St. Justin's Hospital [in Montreal]helped Anaïs quite a bit when she was young and I want to give back," said Carpentier, whose daughter was born with a malformed pancreas but now lives a normal life due to the work of her doctors.
"If the TV show works out, it will be part of that too. And it looks like it is going to happen, so I will probably race in Montreal, but that would be the only one."
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