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By Hilary Hagerman

Joey McColm has the need for speed in his blood.

Growing up in Ajax, the thirdyear civil engineering student and professional race-car driver remembers his father taking him to local tracks to watch races.

He soon caught his dad’s racing fever, and at 14, he started his career with go-karts.

Six years later, McColm got a call that changed his life.

At the age of 20, he had been working his way up the racing circuit, and was asked to join the highest level of Canadian racing — the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

“Getting that phone call was one of the best moments of my life,” he said.

“It was amazing to finally be paid off for all my work and get that opportunity that’s so few and far between.”

McColm placed in the top 10 in his first race at the national level, gaining attention from sponsors and fans.

Now 23, he is gearing up for his fourth season of racing in the Canadian Tire Series.

A typical race day for McColm means showing up early to the track, registering, and then getting acquainted with the surroundings. He spends time walking around the track to “get a good feel for it,” and then starts off with practice laps.

Next, he races two laps in a qualifying round, which determines where he will be placed to start the race.

After a signing a few autographs during the break — the competition begins.

The autograph session for the fans is one of McColm’s favourite thing about race day.

“It’s really cool to be able to make kids happy just by giving them a quick autograph,” said McColm.

“Plus, it’s pretty unique to our sport. You can’t really go to a Leafs game and go in and interact with the players, where as in our sport, you get a chance to do that.”

And his enthusiasm for racing buffs is what made his current ownership group, CM2C, take notice.

“We were very impressed by Joey’s professionalism,” said Frank Marchionda, CM2C’s trade advisor. “But we were most impressed by his approachability … He was so friendly and willing to take pictures and sign autographs. I turned to my associate and said, ‘This young man really understands this business.'”

Although McColm’s racing season is typically 13 races and runs from May to September, racing is a full-time job.

“If it’s not racing, it’s working on the car, meeting with sponsors, doing community and charity jobs and promotions,” he said. “But I love every minute of it.”

But he said it can sometimes be difficult to balance racing with everything else in his life. “It’s pretty tough sometimes,” he said.

“It’s hard to show up to class when you have a meeting with a sponsor, because you can’t miss that.”

He said most of his professors and TAs are understanding and try to be as accommodating as possible.

But he still has projects, essays, and exams to worry about and engineering can have a heavy course load.

“It’s coming home and finding time to study and sleep too — that is what’s really hard sometimes,” he said.

And if school weren’t enough to worry about, it’s not an easy time for racers because of the recent economic slump.

“It’s hard to compete in every event when the sponsorship dollars aren’t out there,” said McColm. “It’s a little depressing, but it’s also a challenge for us to come up with new ways to excite sponsors.”

He hopes to be seen as a pioneer in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, and eventually would like to move to the United States to race at the American NASCAR level.

“I just want to keep racing as much l can,” McColm said. “It’s like living a dream every day.”

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