BRISTOL, Tenn. – Canadian Raphael Lessard has joined Bill McAnally Racing to contest this weekend’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The 17-year-old native of St.-Joseph de Beauce, Quebec will pilot the No. 50 FRL Express Toyota Camry, a fourth entry for the traditional K&N West juggernaut, in Saturday’s Zombie Auto 150.
Lessard will be teammates with K&N East championship leader Derek Kraus, K&N West point leader Hailie Deegan and series rookie Brittney Zamora as he makes his series debut.
“The car looks really good sitting here, doesn’t it?” Lessard joked to SPEED SPORT on Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway. “The guys at BMR did a really good job at getting it ready for us. This came together pretty quick; I was not supposed to race a whole lot this year, but I think the first few races I’ve run with Toyota this season have proven that I deserve a place running with some of the veterans.
“I just can’t thank Bill McAnally Racing, NAPA Belts & Hoses and FRL Express enough, along with all the people who support me, for helping to make this opportunity possible,” Lessard added. “It’s awesome and I’m really glad to be back here at Bristol again.”
Lessard returns to Bristol this weekend full of confidence, and for good reason. He won the CARS Super Late Model Tour portion of the Short Track U.S. Nationals last May at the half-mile concrete coliseum and believes he has a chance at similar success in a K&N car this weekend.
“For sure, I believe we can have success this weekend,” Lessard noted. “I know what it takes to win here after last year, coming in with Kyle Busch Motorsports and leaving with a sword! I actually believe the super lates are faster than the Cup cars are here, so coming back now in a K&N car will be a little bit different experience to adapt to.
“I’m ready, though. I’m excited and we’re here for the win.”
Contrary to many who come to The Last Great Coliseum, Lessard enjoys the high-intensity style of racing that Bristol’s half-mile of high banks delivers in every series that races there.
“I just love the high banks and the speed; it’s so much fun,” said Lessard. “You always have to be on your game, focused and looking at everything, because if someone wrecks in front of you, it happens really quickly. You have to react fast to stay out of trouble and Bristol, for sure.
“There’s a lot of pressure on your body, especially through the corners, but I love those types of tracks.”
After a recent near-miss in the ARCA race at Five Flags Speedway and a rough-and-tumble NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Lessard is hoping for smoother sailing this time around as he chases his first victory of the season.
“We’ll see what happens, but I’m looking forward to this whole weekend,” he said. “I was not very used to the big cars before the season started, but running the ARCA car in Pensacola and the Truck at Martinsville has gotten me more used to how they race, even if we have had some bad luck. I believe it’s going to be a fun weekend, though, and that we can shake all that off and focus ahead.
“I know the first couple of laps will be about getting a good feel, and after that it will be all about figuring out how to make this thing go fast around here.”
Lessard is hoping to soak in as much as he can this weekend, in advance of his return to Bristol in August for his final of three scheduled Truck Series starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.
“It’s all about learning,” he said. “I want to come back and be really strong in the trucks. That’s my goal.”