Canada has its own NASCAR star—on top of the pit box
By: Tyson Lautenschlager
He’s one of Canada’s biggest newsmakers in the sports world this year, yet you probably don’t know his name.
Cole Pearn made NASCAR history in 2017 by becoming the first Canadian to ever win a championship as a crew chief in the sport’s 68-year run.
He and driver Martin Truex, Jr. won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November after winning eight out of 36 races this season.
Pearn, from small-town Mt. Brydges, Ont., grew up in racing.
The former CASCAR driver raced at London’s Delaware Speedway growing up.
Realizing a driving career at NASCAR’s top level wasn’t in the cards for him, Pearn turned to engineering, where he graduated from the University of Waterloo in 2006 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Common sense prevailed on me in a way. Once I graduated from the University of Waterloo, I was working and racing full-time. It was kind of burning both ends of the candle a bit too much,” he said.
“I realized it wasn’t a sustainable plan. I always wanted to race full-time. I realized the only way to do that was to give up the driving side and dive both feet into the engineering side.”
Winning the 2017 championship didn’t come easy for Pearn, Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team. Along with the team being located in Denver, Colo., the only major NASCAR team located outside of North Carolina, they also dealt with their fair share of adversity.
Truex’s long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex has been battling ovarian cancer off and on since 2014. The team’s co-owner Barney Visser suffered a heart attack only a few weeks prior to the season finale at Homestead. Adding to that, Jim Watson, a fabricator for the team, died of a heart attack while on a team outing prior to a race.
“You lose yourself in your work. It was a year of extreme highs and extreme lows. You only wish to have the highs, but the lows were pretty tough.
“We [sought] some quiet and relief in our work. It gave us a way to block all that other bad stuff out of your mind and focus on the task at hand, racing-wise.
“You grow thick skin. It’s a lot looking back on it, but we all pushed through and stuck together as a group. We were able to prevail.”
For Pearn, though, the biggest personal heartache happened in August.
Jacob Damen, his best friend died suddenly of a bacterial infection. In spectacular fashion, the team went out the same week and won the race at Watkins Glen International.
“It’s not like he was sick. I talked to him the day before,” Pearn said in a press conference after the win. “They were coming to Michigan next weekend. So just doesn’t seem real still. He’s got two little boys that are not going to know their dad pretty much.”
Despite winning the championship in mid-November, Pearn said the triumph still hasn’t sunk in.
“It’s been a surreal past month with everything that’s gone on post-Homestead. It’s been a blur in a way,” he said. “At some point over the holidays I’ll have a little time to reflect on it. It’s been a whirlwind and something I’m really proud of. All the praise I’ve gotten from Canadians in particular has been really special.”
Pearn even received recognition at Queen’s Park in December by Conservative MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, Monte McNaughton. Pearn called the congratulatory statement “amazing.”
“I was shocked when I saw that. It was a really, really cool experience for sure. I appreciate Monte doing that. Looking forward to hopefully meeting him over the holidays. It was a really cool surprise,” Pearn said.
As for the 2018 NASCAR season, Pearn and Truex will be back together in February, and the pair plans on being a powerhouse for the second year in a row.
“You have to be prepared [to] hit the ground running.
“The fortunate thing with NASCAR is 2018 is right around the corner, so we’re already back to work and getting ready for next year,” he said.
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