GRC Personalities // Steve Arpin: What Racing Means To Me
What does racing mean to me?
It’s essentially a way of life. It’s what I’ve known from the day I was born. It’s kind of funny thinking back on it, because when I give the story of when I was born, it was the day after my dad had to take off and go to a snowmobile race. So it’s everything I’ve grown up with.
My furthest memories back involve racecars. My dad was a very competitive racer at home, racing dirt cars growing up, so it’s essentially all I’ve ever done. I love the challenges—how much effort you put into it really reflects on the results you get. It’s so motivating to work so hard at something and see results, and know that if I work harder I’ll get even more results. It’s like going to the gym and working out, the harder you go, the better you’re going to be.
My whole life revolves around racing. Even going through school—I remember that I’ve always been a math guy, and physics was my favorite back in high school, so I related everything in physics class to racing, and that’s how I understood everything. I had my own engine building business when I was 12 years old, because I loved the mechanics so much.
The biggest thrill for me is working at something, pouring your whole heart and soul into it. I get to pour my heart and soul into these things, and get into these fast, extravagant racecars, drive them to the edge of their limits—sometimes over their limits, sometimes unfortunately I don’t get them to their limits—but it’s such a rush to be able to feel the horsepower, feel the speed. To see the next guy ahead of you that you need to catch, need to beat.
There’s such a challenge in every direction. It challenges you mentally, it challenges you physically, it challenges you as far as how to drive these things. It challenges you with how smart you are, your feel for the racecar. It challenges you to make the right decisions setup wise.
It challenges you to figure out the right words, more so now compared to my whole career, because I don’t work on the cars nearly as much at this level. Growing up racing, it was always “I want to be better than that guy, I want to be the best of everyone out here.” It was my challenge to understand my racecar, understand the physics and geometry of it, how everything’s working, and apply that to make the car go faster. I was my own crew chief, essentially. Now, it’s the challenge to feel every aspect of the racecar and essentially turn my mind into a computer, to relate to these engineers and everyone that’s involved everything that this car is doing. I have to give them the right information at the right time to allow them to do their job.
It’s a lifestyle. I chose a passion and a career that, especially now with Global Rallycross, has taken me all across Canada and the United States, racing all different forms. Whether it’s Sea-Doos, snowmobiles, dirtbikes, bathtub boats, forklifts at 2 in the morning in our family business parking lot while we’re getting ready for the boat show the next day, modifieds, late models, Nationwide, Trucks, ARCA, Global Rallycross, all this stuff, it’s an incredible lifestyle. The experience I’ve been able to have already at 29 years old is more than most people will have in an entire lifetime. So far this year I’ve been to Belgium, I’ve gotten to travel through London to go to Belgium, Brazil. Next week we’re going to Barcelona, and then my girlfriend and I are going to stay in Paris after that.
It’s just a combination of everything that’s pure love for the sport. There are times where it’s the most stressful thing in the world. As a driver, whether you’re in Nationwide or GRC or snowmobile racing, there’s no security. That’s one of the bad things about it, but as in all professional sports, your career is predetermined by the level of performance you provide. It’s a performance based industry. You have to do well, or go home and find something else to do.
To be perfectly honest, my whole life I’ve known nothing but racing. I’ve been absolutely adamant that this world revolves around racing, there is nothing but racing, until recently. My new girlfriend has kind of opened my eyes that there’s a lot of life out there, with family and having the right person in your life. It’s pretty cool to see the other option of things… but at the same time it’s motivation to be even more successful in what I’m doing, to be able to enjoy all of those other aspects. It’s motivation to be more successful in my career, be more devoted, manage my time more efficiently.
We’re going to do a lightning round here, and I’m going to name the things I love about racing. Number one, the rush—it’s the ultimate rush. Number two, the challenge—the mental challenge, making the right split-second decisions, keeping your composure in high-pressure situations. Believe it or not, lots of things you learn in a racecar, as far as self-control and managing stress, you can relate to everyday life. You learn the business of things—at the level I’m at now, this is some of the best education. I went to college for international business administration, and I’m not discounting that, but at the same time, being in the real world, facing real life problems on a daily basis with the business side of things, is one of the best educations I’ve ever had. You couldn’t buy this kind of education.
The challenge of figuring out what you need to do, both as a driver in your techniques and what you need to do as far as being the data sys on the car—being able to relate that information to the crew chief to make your car better—it’s so mentally challenging it’s unreal. And it’s so rewarding that when you get it right, the results speak for themselves. It’s such a thrill.
Then there’s the traveling. You get to see new things, do new things, every week. You’re in a new place across the country every week. Even in the US, there are so many different cultures. When you go up to New Hampshire, it’s a whole different world than when you’re in Brazil or Barcelona. We’re going to be in Bristol, which is a whole different crowd than we’re going to see in New Hampshire. You get to meet so many people.
Being a small-town guy like me, I’m just a regular kid, like hundreds of thousands of fans across the country. And I’m not a different person now that I’m at this level. It’s so rewarding to be in this position, to know what a dream of mine it was growing up to be able to do this, and to know that young racers and fans look up to me. I know what it meant to me when people have been successful in racing share their experiences, talk to me, and answer my questions—it made me feel like they were real approachable. It’s honestly so rewarding to be in this position now thanks to the people who supported me along the way. It’s so rewarding that all of these people followed my career and supported me, and every step I take, they come along with me.
And for all of the young racers that are dreaming of being here one day, it’s the most rewarding thing when one of them calls me and is like “I love racing, this is what I do, this is my resume, how can I get to where you’re at?” It wasn’t too long ago that Carl Edwards’ dad called me up, saying there was a young guy from their hometown trying to get to the next level, and I went and talked to him about it. And Carl told his dad, “if you want to know how to make it in today’s world of racing, where it’s so financially dependent, call that Arpin kid and figure out a way to do it.” It’s rewarding for someone so established in the sport and so successful to recognize what I’ve been able to achieve in my career.
One of the things that I always think of in life is, would my grandkids be proud of me when I told this story? Would they be like, “that’s my grandpa, he did that”? So I always try to live like that, where you always have to try to do the right thing and help everyone out. There will come a day where the sport’s going to go on without me, and how I handle myself each and every day, every race, is how I’m going to be remembered in the sport. It’s so cool that already in my young career, I’ve already had so many racecar drivers, who are aspiring to get to the next level, calling me and looking for advice and direction.
Honestly, I’m the luckiest kid on earth. I get to drive racecars for a living. We get to make our own hours throughout the week. If I want to sit on the couch, I’m obviously not going to be as successful as if I’m out beating doors down and trying to find sponsorship to get to the next level, but you can dictate your own schedule. And you get to travel the world! I get to travel the world this year driving racecars that are worth almost half a million dollars apiece, and I get to drive them in dirt, going into corners where you can’t see anything! And then you come out of a corner where you can’t even see the jump, and you know you’re gonna be airborne in about three seconds, and you just hope to god you’re pointed in the right direction when you take off! How much more of a cool job could I ask for? This is the coolest job anyone could ever dream of!
Realistically, there are lots of challenges that come with it. I talk about my girlfriend and how she’s really opened my eyes that there’s a whole other world out there outside of racing, and what a true relationship is, what it means to have a special someone in your life. But like I’ve said, I’m young in my career, and that means she can’t travel with me every week. I’m on the road a lot, I’m gone a lot. So there are lots of challenges that it puts on your life, to live a normal life, like lots of people would tend to appreciate. It does make it somewhat hard on the family life at home.
There’s the stressfulness of not knowing if you’re going to have a ride from one day to the next because of sponsorship, if they don’t know if they can fit into their budget or you might have to wait for one year until the next. At the last minute, unfortunately, with the Mike’s Hard Lemonade program, I found out literally an hour and a half before the first race that we weren’t going to be able to continue on and do the rest of the season like we planned. But this year we’re working with Royal Purple, and it’s great to have the opportunity to represent such an established brand.
So there are lots of stressful situations that you’re put in on a regular basis. But when you get behind that wheel, and you get to push that gas pedal and jump a car, when you get to drive some of the most technologically advanced racecars on the planet and the most beautifully well-built pieces of equipment on earth, it’s like, how bad can it be? I love my job! Even though there are bad times, I love my job. It’s kind of like anyone in a real happy marriage. There is nothing better than going home to your wife. Even though there are some things about her that make you wanna pull your hair out all the time, there is still nothing better than going home to her, wrapping your arms around her and giving her a kiss at the end of the day. That’s like what racing is.