Where are they now? Randy LaJoie reflects
The popular New England driver became a two-time NASCAR champion in his career.
One of the great things about NASCAR racing is how outgoing some of its drivers have been throughout history. Drivers realized the fans helped them in good and bad times and were always willing to engage with them at tracks. This week’s featured driver was one of the best at it – Randy LaJoie.
The Norwalk, Conn. native now focuses his time on his business – The Joie of Seating – his safety awareness program – Safer Racer – spending time with his family and watching his son Corey compete.
He took some time recently to spend with Motorsport.com to let fans know how he’s doing after retiring from driving in 2006.
LaJoie started racing go-karts when he was 12 and moved up to racing each week at the Danbury Fair Racearena when he was 18 where he won the track championship in 1981 winning 12 out of 21 races entered. After winning the track title, the facility shut down forcing LaJoie to look for another place to race.
“I loved racing at Danbury and had been going there since the 1970’s to watch my dad race,” LaJoie said. “I hated to see that track close, but if it hadn’t closed I might have never left there and had the career I did have later on.”
After weekly racing stopped, LaJoie raced some at Stafford Motor Speedway and at Waterford Speedbowl before getting an opportunity to drive for C.A. Crouch against his son Robbie in the NASCAR North Series.
“We had a fast car and I ran hard to the lead by Lap 30, but I got lapped on Lap 80 because I ran the right rear (tire) off the car,” LaJoie said. “I told them after the race I would have won if the car was any good. C.A. told me I was driving too fast in the corners.”
Time to go NASCAR full-time
By 1983, he teamed up with Bob Johnson who was partners with LaJoie’s dad Don in the full-fendered modifieds back in the 70s. He told LaJoie we ought to run the NASCAR North race at Dover in 1983 after they teamed with the Snellman Brothers.
They used the same car they raced in Daytona in the 1970’s and cut the body off.
“We went to my dad’s junkyard and found a body we could put on the chassis to run that race,” he added.
Racing for Johnson and Snellman Brothers, LaJoie won rookie of the year honors in the NASCAR North Series and decided to try and make the Daytona 500. He didn’t qualify in 1983 and suffered a horrific crash during the 125-mile qualifying race in 1984 that almost ended his driving career.
“I was driving up trying to pass Sterling Marlin and the car broke loose and that was all she wrote and I went for one heck of a ride,” LaJoie said.
In 1985, LaJoie and Johnson teamed up to win five races and the NASCAR North Series championship, although he wasn’t able to officially celebrate until 1988 due to a lawsuit.
Time to go national series racing
LaJoie made his NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1985 once again driving for Johnson starting 16th and finishing 14th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He made his first what was then the NASCAR Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) in 1986 with one top-10 finish in four starts.
His first big break came when Jimmy Spencer moved up to the Cup Series in 1989 and LaJoie moved into the car owned by Frank Cicci. LaJoie finished second at Hickory Motor Speedway in his first race for the team and made 15 starts the rest of the season.
Although he had respectable finishes in the car, he didn’t return for the 1990 season.
LaJoie made some spot starts for the next couple of seasons, had gotten married just before he moved South and opened up a fabrication shop in North Carolina to supplement his income.
He even used his CDL license so he could earn money transporting other drivers’ cars when needed.
“I did whatever I had to do to pay the bills there for a while after I got married,” LaJoie said. “I always worked on cars so I thought I could use my skills to make a living while I still chased my dream to drive full-time.”
Big break in a trading card
LaJoie was still trying to find a job and trying to start a family when he got an opportunity to drive for Cale Yarborough in 1991.
“Bob (Johnson) was working for Cale at the time and he called me and asked if I could drive a few races for them and I jumped at the opportunity,” LaJoie said. “I drove it at the end of the season and made four starts.”
While LaJoie and the team didn’t experience much success in the four starts – three DNF’s due to mechanical problems, something happened that helped LaJoie reach his dream a few years later.
“While I was driving for Cale trading cards were really taking off and I was able to get on a trading card through Maxx race cards,” he added. “I thank God for that happening because over the next couple of years when times got really tough and I thought of giving up on driving a royalty check would come in and get us through the tough time and allow me to keep chasing it.”
Family friend opens a door
Dick Moroso, who knew his dad from their days together in New England, offered LaJoie a seat in his NBS car in 1993 for what turned out to be eight races and just like he did back in his first start for Frank Cicci in 1989, LaJoie finished second in his first start for Moroso.
LaJoie got noticed running up front all day and finished second at Talladega Superspeedway in his first NASCAR race in almost three years.
“When Dick first called me he said he only had a two race deal,” LaJoie said. “We were able to work with his sponsor FINA and stretch that into eight races and score another runner-up finish and a couple more top-10s.”
That opened an opportunity to run full time with Moroso in 1994 and LaJoie would score four top-fives and seven top-10 finishes during the year.
“I learned a lot that year working with sponsors and we had a great relationship with FINA,” LaJoie said. “They had a lot of success on their fuel and plastics division with hospitality and business done through their relationship in the sport.”
Time to move up to Cup racing
LaJoie moved up to what was then known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1995 when Bill Davis offered him a ride and while LaJoie took the opportunity, he advised his sponsor on something that would pay dividends down the road.
“When I was offered the Cup ride with Bill Davis, I told the folks at FINA to not leave the sport because it was good for their business,” he added.
LaJoie made 14 starts in the Cup Series, the most he would ever make at NASCAR’s top division in any season, with one top-12 finish before he was released.
“I called Bill Bumgardner because I knew Johnny Benson was moving up to Cup after winning his title and I wanted to see if I could get an opportunity to drive for him,” he said. “I knew Lipton was leaving the team and I called FINA and tried to keep them in the sport and keep the deal going. There top marketing guy said if I could save the deal with its dealers they would come on board and we were able to do that. I made the most phone calls I’ve ever made in my life the rest of 1995 to set up the deal for 1996.”
He finished the 1995 season in the Dennis Shoemaker No. 64 Dura Lube car.
Championship years and back to Cup
LaJoie and the No. 74 team found a perfect working chemistry right off the start that produced five wins and 20 top-10 finishes in 26 races to give LaJoie his first NASCAR Busch Series championship.
The team stayed together and he became, at that time, the third driver to win back-to-back titles in the series in 1997 with five more wins and 21 top-10 finishes in 30 starts.
“Those were some fun years and we had a great three to four-year run together,” LaJoie said. “In 1998 we only won one race and finished fourth in the points after Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. won his first of two straight titles. That is the year I felt the Busch Series went to the next level.”
LaJoie would go on to fill in for an injured Ricky Craven in 1998 making nine starts for car owner Rick Hendrick finishing with one top five at Martinsville.
Next stop in NASCAR’s No. 2 series
LaJoie would move on to James Finch for the next two seasons picking up a pair of wins highlighted by taking Daytona in his first start with his new team. He would later move on to drive for Ed Evans in 2001 scoring his second straight season-opening win at Daytona.
He would drive for Evans midway through the 2003 season and later go on to make part-time starts for several teams before returning full-time to Cicci in 2005.
LaJoie would finish out his NASCAR Xfinity Series career with 350 starts, 15 wins and nine poles.
Realizing it was time to do something else
In 2006 LaJoie was asked by Richard Childress to practice and qualify the car driven by Kevin Harvick during his championship season.
“I really had a lot of fun driving that car and I was proud that in every practice I drove that car for them we were in the top three by the end of the day,” LaJoie said. “It was fun being in that car and I went to Richard and asked him if I could drive some races for him. He told me he couldn’t get sponsorship for a 40 year old much less a 45 year old. I knew it was getting time for me to do something else.”
“Ready to get my business going”
LaJoie had started a business in 1996 building seats because he felt after a couple of hard crashes he experienced that he could build something better.
“So I started working with aluminum seats after NASCAR came to me and said I couldn’t use my fiberglass seat anymore,” he added.
LaJoie, who’s fiberglass seat was purchased in 1972 from Mark Donohue by his dad, decided to try and build his own after being told by several seat manufacturers that it was too difficult to build out of aluminum.
“I’m glad I was his size back then,” said LaJoie.
NASCAR was open to the idea and LaJoie worked with officials from General Motors and Ford as their engineers helped educate LaJoie on some of the forces drivers faced in accidents.
“Once GM sled tested my seat I realized how much work we had to do to make the seat stronger and that led to what we develop today and also work with drivers and tracks with our Safer Racer program,” LaJoie said.
Life today and in the future
LaJoie is proud of his accomplishments on and off the track in his NASCAR career.
“I look back and I know I had some chances to go Cup racing full-time, but I always wanted to spend more time with my family and I just didn’t want to be away from home as much as I would have been,” said LaJoie. “I was able to compete to win races and championships in the Busch Series and I was happy. I’m proud of my Daytona wins and my championships.”
LaJoie spends a lot of his time now at his seat shop in Concord and visiting various tracks throughout the country educating racers with his safety program and providing safe, strong aluminum race seats.
In the past 10 years since he retired, LaJoie has visited over 128 race tracks across the country to promote his Safer Racer program.
LaJoie plans spending time watching his son Corey race this season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for BK Racing and supporting Casey, who’s decided to work on the broadcasting and media side of the sport.
“I’m proud of my boys and I want to be there to support them and also spend time with my wife Lisa, who’s a seven-year cancer survivor.
Thank you to the fans
“I can’t thank the fans enough and especially the ones that still stay in touch and support me,” LaJoie said. “I just got inducted into the New England Hall of Fame and that really meant a lot to me and my family.”
A second-generation racer who loved watching modified legends compete at short tracks throughout New England, LaJoie always remembered where he came from and many of those fans who stayed with him through his over two decades career driving race cars.
“I can’t thank the fans enough,” he said from his office chair. “The fan’s support made the bad days good and the good days great. I’ll always appreciate their support.”
Randy LaJoie Driving Accomplishments
Race Starts: 394 (350 NASCAR Xfinity Series, 44 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series)
Poles: 9 (NXS)
Race Wins: 15 (NXS); 50+ Short Track wins
Titles: 1996 & 1997 NASCAR Busch Series (NASCAR Xfinity Series) championships
Honors: Named to New England Auto Racing Near Hall of Fame (2016)
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|Drivers||Jimmy Spencer , Randy Lajoie , Johnny Benson , Ricky Craven , Cale Yarborough , Corey Lajoie|