A Bell Islander at heart

NASCAR driver J. R. Fitzpatrick calls Cambridge, Ont., home, but his roots are in Newfoundland

Published on July 27, 2007
Defending CASCAR champion J.R. Fitzpatrick will be in his fathers home town Saturday to receive the Ray Murphy Memorial Award at the annual Bell Island Sports Hall of Fame banquet. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Although J.R. Fitzpatricks is making his first visit to Newfoundland, the 19-year-old race car driver is proud of his roots in this province.

Fitzpatrick, an up-and-comer in NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), soaked up the sights and sounds of St. Johns during a quick drive through downtown Thursday, never taking his gaze off the historic buildings of Water Street or the boats coming and going through the narrows. The native of Cambridge, Ont., was impressed with what he saw and particularly happy to finally get the chance to travel to Bell Island, where his father, John Fitzpatrick, grew up.

I always wanted to come here since I was a little kid, said Fitzpatrick. Its a very beautiful place. Its a very relaxing place, it doesnt seem as busy as back home.

Will receive Ray Murphy Memorial Award

Fitzpatrick is in the province to receive the Ray Murphy Memorial Trophy at the annual Bell Island Sports Hall of Fame banquet Saturday. The award is presented to a second generation Bell Islander and former winners include NHLer Scottie Upshall and the late Sherry Hawco, a former Canadian Olympic gymnast.

Fitzpatrick won the CASCAR (Canadian Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) championship in 2006 as an 18-year-old. This season, he is second on the points list for the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series after winning two of the circuits first five races. Since the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series is essentially the CASCAR circuit with a new name, Fitzpatrick is the defending champ all the other drivers are gunning for.

Even in the first race of the year, your focus is on being No. 1 (at the end of the season) , Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick is likely already on the radar screens of NASCAR Nextel Cup (the NHL of auto racing) teams and he admits he wants to someday have the chance to race alongside the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.

I havent set a strict timetable for it, but Id like to get down there before I turn 25, said Fitzpatrick.

Outspoken for Canada

Fitzpatrick is known for his willingness to say how he really feels. On more than one occasion, hes stuck his neck out in defence of Canadian drivers, often telling reporters that if given a chance, a good number of Canadian drivers could race on the big-money NASCAR circuits such as Nextel Cup or Busch Series.

I just have confidence in myself as a driver and I know I can perform at a high level, Fitzpatrick said. There are a lot of really good Canadian drivers. A lot of them just havent gotten the chance (to advance).

Fitzpatrick has been racing since he was seven and has been around the sport all his life. His father John, who left Bell Island for Ontario as a 17-year-old and had not been back to his home province until this week, was a professional racer for many years and owns the team J.R. races with, Fitzpatrick Motorsports.

I was at every race dad was in. I loved everything about it, said the younger Fitzpatrick. It was just for fun at first. I was like any kid playing hockey, baseball or basketball. I never thought of making a career out of it, I always planned to go to college. Im still going to go to college, but I see that as more of a backup plan.

Fitzpatrick has developed a significant the fan following across Canada. Its not uncommon for youngsters to ask for autographs and/or the chance to get their picture taken with him. It amounts to a real role reversal for Fitzpatrick.

Its cool to see the reaction of the little kids. Theyre really excited to meet you, he said. I really enjoy that because I used be like them, I used to do the same thing.

Fitzpatrick was surprised when he was asked to come to Bell Island to accept the Ray Murphy Memorial Trophy. Hes honoured the people of his fathers home want to give him an award with so much history, but the best aspect might be that it finally gives him an opportunity to come to Newfoundland.

I didnt think Id get to come here this soon or this way, said Fitzpatrick. I didnt expect (the award) and didnt think that when I actually came her it would be for something like this ... I definitely want to come back again.