Corey Lajoie interview: "I've earned my way here"

Image by Kinrade/LAT

Corey Lajoie interview: "I've earned my way here"

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Corey Lajoie interview: "I've earned my way here"

At first glance, Corey Lajoie honoring his father with his throwback paint scheme last weekend at Darlington Raceway seemed typical. Well, of course, Corey would honor his father. Two-time Xfinity Series champion Randy Lajoie is probably the reason the 26-year-old has a NASCAR ride.

Lajoie knows there is the perception that he’s a silver spoon kid. The reality is that because of Randy’s tutelage, Corey is far from it.

“He definitely raised me pretty different than a lot of the racer dads do nowadays, but that’s also why I’m here being paid to drive Cup cars,” Corey Lajoie told RACER.

Without hesitation, Lajoie says “100 percent” he feels he belongs in the garage. After a rookie season with BK Racing where he ran 32 of the season’s 36 races, Lajoie is spending this year competing for TriStar Motorsports, splitting the No. 72 with Cole Whitt.

“I’ve earned my way here,” he says. “People might not know if they are younger, that I was racing against the Dillons, and Larson, and Bubba, and Chase and Blaney and Erik Jones, and all these guys. And I was beating them guys until we started getting to the national series stuff, and they had some good deals with pretty good teams, and I had a couple opportunities that I didn’t make the most of when I was younger. I didn’t have the right attitude and I wasn’t humble enough, and some bad luck played into that. But I also didn’t handle it like a mature adult, and now I feel all that stuff equipped me for what I’m doing now.

“There’s not many people that can run in this half of the garage, and keep the fire burning, and take care of the equipment, and show the guys that you appreciate what they’re doing. A lot of the kids nowadays have done nothing but drive in the best car at the racetrack, and if they’re not, they’re complaining about it and take dad’s money and go somewhere else.

“It’s kind of a good little niche I’m in, and I appreciate all the effort of these guys, and I can make up the difference in the seat as opposed to some other guys certain weeks. It’s not winning races every week, which when you’re a little kid thinking about driving a Cup car you think it’s going to be this big glorious place and you’re going to be famous and on TV, and when you get here, it’s not quite what you pictured. But it’s a hell of a job to do.”

Lajoie is your typical grease monkey. He has grown up working on the cars he’s raced, still helps his father during the week at the shop doing fabrication work, and has his street cars to tinker on. According to those who know him, Lajoie is always underneath something.

It was at Darlington when Lajoie, then five years old, became infatuated with racing. Dad might have been racing each weekend, but young Lajoie only attended those close to home that mom drove to. Remembering clearly, Lajoie describes knowing where he was standing in the garage when dad rolled his car back in.

“The whole car was sandblasted, rubbered and the right side was knocked off of it,” Lajoie says. “And I remember the smells, the hustle and bustle. That was the moment where I was like, ‘oh man’ this racing stuff is badass’.”

A third-generation driver, racing is in Lajoie’s blood, but it wasn’t handed to him. Randy took the same approach with Corey that had been taken with him when he was younger – no hired help. If Corey didn’t work on his go-kart, he didn’t race. The same applied when he moved up the ranks to Legends cars, late models and even ARCA. The other caveat was that Lajoie had to bring home straight As or he wasn’t going to the racetrack, which happened twice.

Lajoie ran a family-themed throwback livery at Darlington. Image by Kinrade/LAT

“I learned pretty quick to take school work seriously, and also it kind of stops you from going out and hanging out with friends as much when you need to go in and put your nose down and get your car done,” says Lajoie. “But in hindsight, it worked out pretty good.”

On Lajoie’s resume: three ARCA wins in six starts, a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour win, six K&N East wins in 37 starts with a second-place finish in the points in 2012 to Kyle Larson, and now starts in all three NASCAR national series. In 49 career Cup Series starts, Lajoie’s career-best effort has been an 11th-place finish in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Lajoie is also a former member of NASCAR Next. Named to the 2012 class, he was featured alongside Larson, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney.

When it comes to Lajoie’s relationships in the garage, growing up in the sport has helped. Dad’s reputation and respect has also played a part. However, Randy Lajoie has not wanted to be a crutch for his son, and always encouraged him to seek advice elsewhere.

“He knew that he was always going to be there when I needed something, so he wanted me to go out and talk to guys like Jimmie [Johnson] or [Kevin] Harvick so that now I can compare apples to apples, as opposed to asking his opinion on some older stuff, and that’s helped me a lot,” says Lajoie.

Naturally, Lajoie would love to be racing each weekend, but going to the beach or having some time off when Whitt is in the car isn’t bad. You won’t find him complaining about his situation. And his perspective on young drivers getting opportunities in racing nowadays is as unique as his upbringing.

Some look at drivers like Ryan Preece deciding to take his little bit of money and turn that into a life-changing experience with limited starts at Joe Gibbs Racing. But Preece only gets a handful of races, and then is out of the picture when he’s not behind the wheel. Lajoie doesn’t want to be that guy. He’d rather be driving and present in the garage as much as possible, even if he’s not winning races.

“I used to have the opinion if it wasn’t anything good, I wasn’t going to drive it because I was worried about the perception [that] ‘Corey can’t win anymore,’” says Lajoie. “But now I feel like it’s a privilege – anytime anybody wants you to drive their car for free, do it. I tell all the kids that, because the more time you’re in the seat, the more you’re growing as a driver.

“It’s a different perception, a different mindset to put aside the accolades you might be missing out on, but to drive a car for anybody – whether it’s street stock or Cup car – to drive somebody’s stuff you’re not paying for is pretty cool.”

And so that is Corey Lajoie’s story; his old-fashioned way of trying to make it to the top of the sport. As his spotlight brightens, he isn’t going to get caught up in whether it will change that silver spoon perception, because that brings him both positives and negatives.

“I feel like my career has always had a microscope on it because people are familiar with the last name, so whenever I made mistakes it was more obvious or talked about, but when I had success it was more viewed,” says Lajoie.

“I’m pretty content with what I’m doing now. I’m still working to be better in the seat; I learn something new every week.”

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