Steve Arpin is a wanted man these days.
The 25-year-old Fort Frances native already is a fan favourite—taking home the “Most Popular Driver” award at the ARCA RE/MAX Series awards banquet in Covington, Ky. on Saturday night.
But Arpin has caught the attention of a couple of big names in the racing world, too.
Arpin is working with NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s company, JR Motorsports, in an attempt to raise the required amount of sponsorship money to compete in the Nationwide Series next season.
That circuit would have Arpin competing against high-profile drivers such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, who also reportedly has been impressed by Arpin’s ability.
“[They’re] going out of their way when, really, they owe me nothing,” Arpin said from his home in North Carolina.
“They’re just seeing me as a guy who’s been working as hard as I possibly can and deserves a shot.
“To be associated with them for my talents, and for what I’ve been able to do, is absolutely incredible,” he enthused.
Arpin wouldn’t delve into how much he needs to raise, but did note that all the Nationwide races are televised on ABC and ESPN, so some prestige and big money is associated with the series.
Perhaps even more impressive is that the two-time Emo Speedway champ has conquered the learning curve in his first year on asphalt. Arpin competed on dirt tracks prior to the 2009 season.
“It’s a whole different thrill, for one,” Arpin said when comparing the two tracks.
“With dirt racing, you get out on the dirt track, and in the heat races, you’ve got eight or 10 laps, and in the main event, you’ve got anywhere from 30 to 50 to 100 laps,” he explained.
“In a dirt race, you’ve got to make things happen right now,” he stressed.
But when racing on asphalt, pure speed isn’t enough.
“We’re going anywhere from 150-300 laps, so there’s a lot more strategy and everything involved,” said Arpin, also noting that speeds on asphalt can approach 200 m.p.h.—up considerably from the 120-130 m.p.h. on dirt tracks.
Arpin said his first year had its share of highs and lows, including a switch from Eddie Sharp Racing to Venturini Motorsports in mid-season in search of a better fit.
The move immediately paid dividends as Arpin recorded a season-high fourth-place finish at the Pennsylvania ARCA 200 in his first race with his new team.
“We just had a lot of issues over there [with Eddie Sharp Racing],” Arpin noted. “We had mechanical issues, we had a lot of performance issues, as far as quality of the equipment.
“To be honest, all the way through July was the low part of the year for us,” he admitted.
“We stepped back and looked over all of our options, and looked at what we could do to turn our season around.”
Arpin finished in the top 10 in six of his eight races with Venturini, with the other two derailed by an accident and transmission problems.
“It was a good, solid climb uphill for the second half of the season,” said Arpin.
“We had our ups, we had our downs, but we kept our head up high through all of it.
“We’re moving forward and now I have the opportunity to race at the second-highest level of all motorsports, so it’s a pretty cool deal,” he added.
If the local product is able to make the jump to the Nationwide Series, he may become one of the more beloved competitors on the circuit—if his “Most Popular Driver” award is anything to go by.
“That’s one of the most cool awards to win,” said Arpin. “It’s all voted on by your peers and the fans that follow the sport and everything, so it’s pretty cool to know that you have that kind of a following.”
Arpin added he had no idea he’d won the award until his name actually was called.
“They don’t tell anyone, it’s a complete surprise,” he noted.
“The whole deal began last February in Daytona, and it’s all about fans getting on arcaracing.com and voting for their favourite driver, and I guess we topped the charts this year.”
But to hear Arpin tell it, maybe the award shouldn’t be such a shock as he and his wife, Trina, work to build a relationship with race-lovers.
“We’ve always developed really good relationships with the fans, tried to stay involved with the fans as best we could, and just kept on building our fan base at every different city and every different track we’ve raced at,” Arpin remarked.
Arpin said his fan-friendly attitudes were shaped when he was a young boy at the races.
“I’ll never forget the drivers that actually took the time to talk to me and played with me and joked around with me, and the other drivers that just blew me off and gave me a card and sent me on my way,” he noted.
“I remember I was probably eight, nine, 10 years old and I swore to myself, ‘I’m gonna be someone someday and I’m gonna be the driver that the kids remember,’ he recalled.
“Without the fans, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Arpin stressed. “We’re there to perform for them and it’s just awesome.”