Born on July 5, 2001, in St-Joseph-de-Beauce, Province of Quebec, Canada, Raphael Lessard, the youngest of three, made his mark as a promising racing driver right from his early childhood. His father François, a former racer, started on dirt ovals before switching to paved tracks. His mother, Chantal Perreault, loved racing and followed her husband as she developed a thorough understanding of amateur and entry-level professional stock car racing, as did Raphael's older sisters, Ann-Marie and Julie-Pier.
Surrounded by every toy and implement equipped with an engine and a steering mechanism, Raphael quickly realized that he wanted to be a race driver and committed himself to achieving that goal. His father quickly noticed the change in Raphael's focus and bought into his son's passion immediately, putting him in a smaller race car before Raphael had turned 11. That early start launched a career of achievements that quickly led to the young driver becoming one of the leading promising prospects in North American stock car racing.
Raphael made his debut in normal-sized cars in 2013, first in compact amateur classes, then moving up the racing hierarchy at local tracks. On his 12th birthday, Raphael won his very first race, in front of his family, at Autodrome Chaudière in Vallée-Jonction (Quebec). That same year, he became the youngest driver in history to take part in the Quebec Sportsman Series.
In 2014, Raphael ran a full season in the Quebec Sportsman Series alongside his father who naturally enough provided on track mentoring to his son. Raphael finished second in the Rookie Championship that season, only five points behind the winner, in addition to earning a 10th-place finish in the overall season championship. Raphael also ran in a few test sessions aboard a much quicker Super Late Model car. As a serious hockey player at the time, Raphael was aware of the importance of a high level of physical fitness and endurance necessary to deliver your maximum over three periods in hockey as well as from the green to the checkered flag in racing. Accordingly, he decided to follow a rigorous year-round training program tailored to the requirements of race driving, a commitment he has delivered on since the end of 2014.
In 2015, Raphael completed his first full season in the PASS North series with his own in-house team. Racing in the United States forced him to learn English. To do this, he spent at least four hours a week in private classes and is now fully operational in English as a professional racing driver. Over the same period, former NASCAR driver and current team owner David Gilliland was impressed enough with the young man's potential to include him in his team for the last four races of the PASS North Tour 2015 season. Lessard ran well enough in those four races to end the season in 7th position in the Championship, with three Top-10 finishes.
The following year, Raphael took his first victory on American soil at the New Smyrna Speedway (Florida) during the Daytona Beach 2016 Speed Weeks, in the Pro Late Model class. In this first full season with David Gilliland Racing, Raphael won the CARS Super Late Model Tour Championship with four wins, eight Top-5 and nine Top-10 finishes in his #99 Toyota Camry. He became the youngest Canadian driver to win a major American stock car series Championship. At Myrtle Beach Speedway (South Carolina), Raphael stood on the top step of the podium after taking pole and breaking the track record that day.
From 2016 to today, Raphael has been the only Canadian racer in the prestigious Toyota Racing Development (TRD) program where he follows in the footsteps of other young professional such as Erik Jones, Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland. Raphael also acts as a guest speaker sharing his passion with high schoolers in his Beauce region of Quebec, where he still lives. He finished off his 2016 season with the title of most popular North American driver according to a vote by Speed51.com.
Raphael returned to David Gilliland Racing for 2017, racing in twenty of the most important Super Late Model (SLM) events, all sanctioned by three of the most prestigious racing series: CARS Tours, Southern Super Series and CRA-Pro Series. Over the season, Raphael won two races and scored eight Top-5 and fifteen Top-10 finishes. He also raced in two ARCA Series events with Venturini Motorsport, including at the legendary Bristol Motor Speedway (Tennessee), where Raphael took pole with a quicker lap than the NASCAR Monster Cup cars and also won the "Shootout race."
Raphael worked with the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team in 2018, competing in 20 of the most prestigious Super Late Model races in the United States in majors series like the Southern Super Series, the ARCA-CRA Super Series and the Cars Racing Tour, where he had won the championship in 2016. Of these twenty races, Raphael won two (Bristol (Tennessee) and the All America 400 (Anderson, Indiana) while accumulating a total of seven Top-5 and nine Top-ten finishes.
In November of the same year, Raphael was awarded the Bertrand-Fabi Trophy by the Quebec Motorsport Federation as the outstanding Quebec driver on the international scene. Raphael closed out his season by leading 60 laps of the most important event of the Late Model season, the legendary Snowball Derby held at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.
Over the years of racing cooperation, Raphael and the Kyle Busch Motorsport (KBM) team have forged a strong relationship based on mutual respect and the highest level of performance delivered by the team and by the young driver-in-training. It came as no surprise when Raphael signed for five races in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races for 2019, including two with the David Gilliland Racing (DGR) team, who is also associated with Kyle Busch Motorports and Toyota Racing Development. Raphael took to the new-for-him racing trucks and tracks immediately, achieving speed and results well above expectations.
In Martinsville, Virginia, his first race in the NASCAR Truck series, Raphael qualified seventh out of 30. He fought his way to a 14th-place finish, while riding an almost- vertical learning curve on driving, car set-up and race tactics, and upgrading his NASCAR racing licence. In Dover, Raphael continued to deliver the goods, posting the quickest time in the first practice session, qualifying once again in 7th position for the race and finishing 11th in the high-speed event. In parallel with the NASCAR truck races, Raphael continues to race this 2019 season and impress in the highly competitive K&N, ARCA, ACT, LMS and NASCAR Pinty's Series.
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