Car queue in the bad traffic road. Selective focus.
Seven-time Canadian skating champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion Elvis Stojko has decided on a career in automobile racing. Like most beginners, he’s starting out in karts. Freelance writer Gary Grant caught up with Stojko, 40, by phone a few weeks ago when he was training at Le Circuit Karting, Mont-Tremblant in the Quebec Laurentians.
Gary Grant: What are your plans?
Elvis Stojko: I’m going to the Canadian Nationals (for kart racing, next weekend) here in Mont Tremblant and, hopefully, one day make it to the World Finals. That’ll be a stretch because I only got into a kart for the very first time last October. I started shifter kart racing right away.
I live in Mexico and basically everyone runs shifter karts there. Sergio Checo Perez (a Formula One driver for Sauber) actually trains at our track during the off-season, as does his brother Antonio, who’s a NASCAR racer (in the NASCAR Toyota series in Mexico). I learned a lot, really quickly.
I bought a used CRG kart, ran it hard, blew a bunch of motors, just to learn. Then in February I bought a new ItalKart and started getting faster. Now, I’m pretty much up with the faster guys in my class there.
Then I came back to Canada to train during the summer. They run Rotax (engines) here, so I started working with Daniel and Marco Di Leo at Goodwood (Kartways). They hooked me up with a Rotax and I started running with other Rotaxes and getting used to them.
I did an ECKC round (Eastern Canadian Karting Championships) with the seniors, where most of them are half my age. I actually hung on with them pretty well, because I had only had about two weeks in the kart. I was placing roughly 18th and 23rd out of 35, which was pretty good for me as we had a grid of six or seven Canadian champions and a bunch of world champions.
After that, Michel Boisclair (owner of a karting facility) said: “I think we want to put Elvis in a DD2, he’s learning quickly. We want to promote DD2 and it’ll be more like his shifter, what do you think?” So Marco hooked me up with an Intrepid chassis, kind of a sponsored thing. I had already bought an Intrepid Rotax so they figured it would make it a bit easier for me.
Boisclair hooked me up with a Rotax motor and invited me to come up (to Mont Tremblant). I’m training here with Ben Cooper and Zachary Richard-Robichon, who are high-end drivers. Ben’s a two-time world champion. They’ve been training me this week and I’ve been picking up time.
I really want to go somewhere with this and then eventually get into car racing as well. It’s all about trying to get the money together to go in that direction. I also want to promote karting. A lot of people think karting is all about the regular rental go-karts but these things rip.
I want to go car racing, but I’ll always keep karting to stay on top of things. After watching guys like Perez, who during the off season of F1 comes back and races with us at the local track, you know you’ve gotta keep your skills sharp and karting is the best way to do it.
GG: From a Canadian standpoint, Ron Fellows has been really big at promoting the sport here, backing young drivers who are coming up through the ranks. Have you had any involvement with him at this point?
ES: No, I haven’t crossed paths with Ron yet. Maybe at some point he’ll be able to come by. People have been talking to me saying that it would be great for me to be involved to give some more exposure to karting. There’s more to it than just sitting in the kart and just driving around. There are a lot of technical aspects to it and a lot of driver skills that you can learn. If we can develop young drivers into Indy or F1 or NASCAR drivers, it all starts in karting.
GG: What’s your goal as far as cars? Where would you like to go? Open wheel or tin tops?
ES: I’ve been loving the karting, so open wheel would be kinda nice. But I’ve always loved World Touring Car Championship stuff as well as the Porsche Cup. I’m just wondering what direction this will lead me?
Open wheel would be something I would love to get into. People have suggested maybe Star Mazda, which I think I can get into later on. I have picked up racing quickly. After talking with Michel (Boisclair), he didn’t realize that I had only been in a kart since October. I was recovering from a rib injury, so I’ve really only been practicing for five or six months. I’m already getting up to speed pretty fast, so I’m excited about that.
This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, so my heart and passion is in this more than anything else. It’s definitely something I want to pursue so I’ve put my energy and time into it.
GG: I’ve long had a belief that dancers are perfectly set to become racers because they understand weight management and balance and subtlety. Do you think your background as a skater applies in the same way?
ES: Absolutely, without a doubt. Speaking with Ben yesterday about different aspects of racing, there are subtleties and techniques for weight shifting and balance and the focus of the mind. All of these things totally go into karting.
It is something I can relate really quickly when I’m comparing things, especially with skating. Angles, carrying speed, carrying momentum, that type of thing, when they are using these terms I can just apply it right away. When they say “change this or do that,” I can do it right away. I’m able to pick things up really quickly and I think I can attribute it to skating and the martial arts training I’ve also done over the years.
I used to do a lot of motocross as a kid. Not racing, but riding with friends on tracks all over North America for fun. I was still skating at the time, so I couldn’t race. A lot of that from dirt biking, snowmobiling, jet skiing has applied. All of that combined has really helped me progress very quickly.
GG: Would you have any interest in getting into a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series event (being held in Montreal at le Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve this weekend)?
ES: You know, you never know. If someone approached me and asked if I wanted to try one of those out, I would be totally up for it. Just to see what it would be like. Any opportunity would be fantastic. They just need to see what I’ve got. I wouldn’t have gotten the sponsorship from Intrepid or an engine from Rotax if they didn’t think I had something to offer.
People know me from my skating past. I’ll promote it well and give great exposure to whatever series I’m involved with.