Joel Desjardins: Driving The 23D Provides Rewards On And Off The Track
By Thomas Slager / candidbadger.com
Joel Desjardins began racing in 2008 and has been driving a mini-mod since 2012. He started on the “Devil’s D” of South Buxton Raceway and now competes on the new ⅜ mile oval that is Southern Ontario Motor Speedway. He can be found driving the number 23D within one of the five classes that form the staple of Saturday night racing at the facility located 20 minutes from Chatham, ON.
Mini-mods are purpose-built race cars and are often seen as an entry-level into racing. “We follow a very strict set of rules,” said Desjardins. “Everything from how high our RPMs are allowed to go, to the size and type of tires we are allowed to run. A lot of them are made up from old late model chassis that have been cut shorter and added in a four-cylinder engine.”
“Modifieds,” Desjardins explains, “are about 6 inches longer and running V-8 engines with a steel block and aluminum heads. We’re only steel block 4-cylinder engines. We run a stock transmission, they run aftermarkets. You can pull out the gear and put it in really quick. They call it quick change. Mini-mods have stock rear ends. You have to pull everything apart and put them all back together. Everything else is very similar. We run with no fenders, just like the real modifieds. We don’t turn as fast as laps, but we’re getting there.
“We have one of the biggest fields. We have always carried from 20-26 cars. It’s been slow going because of Covid, but our counts are definitely going to improve now that fans are back.”
It’s the thrill of being on the track that he loves. “When you are on the accelerator, you are always pushed back in your seat. If you look at my car, I have a headrest. My head is pushed up against it as you’re going through the corners. You don’t try to fight it because, by the end of the race, your neck is going to be really sore.
“The old ‘D’ that we had, you might have been able to get 3 wide. You can now easily race 5 wide. With the banking, there is so much track there now. Sometimes it’s rough. I’ve had some very smooth tracks where you don’t feel anything. That’s the challenge. Every time you hit the track whether it’s dusty or tacky or wet, your cars gonna react differently. You gotta set up for that. It’s dirt with cars on it, I love the challenge.”
As much as he loves the challenges that racing provides, it is not the thing that ultimately motivates him. Desjardins says, “My favourite part is showing up early and being in the pits at 4 o’clock and having the BBQ beforehand, chilling with my friends and my pit crew, having some laughs. My family is all involved as well. Nothing beats that. Not even the racing aspect of it. That is the best part of race night for me. Then the close second, getting out on the track and racing with my peers.
“For myself, I don’t go out to win. I go out to have fun. I go out to be an example for the kids out there. I want to see kids enjoying themselves. They are our next racers. I want to be a good example and I try to be that all the time.”
Racing has also become intertwined with his professional life. He is co-owner of Great Lakes Gymnastics and saw an opportunity to promote his business along with giving back to racing. He now sponsors the division he drives in. While on the surface gymnastics and racing would seem to be worlds apart, there is a thread that connects them. Dejardins said, “In gymnastics, you have a competitive stream. There are also very competitive race car drivers out there. The competitiveness in myself is what drew me to the racetrack to bring on the sponsorship.
“We’re fairly new. We’ve only been open for two years. We need to get noticed, and we are getting noticed. Knowing that it was going to be on Youtube and what the track was going to do for us–the flags and getting our names announced on the radio–it was great promotion.
Like many race fans, the lure of the track is in his blood. “I started helping with the Haskells. I was a crew member for both of them. That’s how it started. Things proceeded from there and I had to get my own car.“
Desjardins sees himself as an ambassador for the sport and the local racing community. He knows that ultimately, this is family entertainment. Going to the races at the local track is something that families do. One of his highlights is at the end of the night when all the racing is finished. The gates to the pit area are opened to fans who want to get a close-up look at the cars or meet the drivers.
“I want kids to come over, get an autograph and get a hero card, and pick up a 23D sticker and a Great Lakes Gymnastics sticker. I love it. I love getting that interaction with the fans, with the family.
“Even if you had the worst night racing, and you get that one little kid that comes over and says ‘can I have your autograph? You’re my favourite driver, it changes everything. It’s always been like that for me, always. I don’t think that will ever change. I can be 50 years old and I can still be emotional about that kid coming up to me.”