All text and photos by Jen Cowart
NEED FOR SPEED: Bobby Pelland, pictured here in his Cranston home, is a student at Cranston West and a Rookie of the Year racecar driver on the weekends.
Bobby Pelland seems like any other student at Cranston High School West. But, at the end of the day when many of his classmates are hanging out with friends or working their after-school jobs, Pelland can be found at the races.
Venture out to Seekonk Speedway racetracks on a Saturday and you’ll find Pelland in his late model race car, racing, with his family cheering him on.
At 17 years old, Pelland is a rookie in the racing circuit, having only started racing two and a half years ago. However, he’s risen right to the top of his racing division, taking the Rookie of the Year award his first year out, and now is just a few laps away from taking it again in his new division.
“I finished second in my third race of my rookie year,” Pelland recalls. “At age 16 I was the youngest in my division. Some people race for 10 years and only win one or two. It’s hard.”
Pelland didn’t have any interest in racing during his younger years, even though his father was also a race car driver.
“But then they changed the racing age to 15, and that was when we first heard him talk about it,” said Pelland’s mother, Paula.
Now, it’s how Pelland spends all of his spare time when he’s not in school or studying.
“The average upkeep is two nights a week, unless you have a wreck the week before,” said Pelland.
He has had a couple of wrecks, his car becoming airborne and crashing, but nothing too bad so far.
According to Paula, it’s difficult to watch her son race and not be nervous about him crashing, even having a husband who is a racer as well.
“I get nervous when he races. I’m used to it with my husband, but it’s totally different when it’s your son,” she said.
Each Tuesday and Thursday evening, Pelland and his dad drive to the race shop in Cumberland where the car is kept, and work on it.
“We go through four tires a week,” said Pelland, noting that each tire averages $150 to replace, and other expenses include traveling and gas, which costs $10 per gallon.
He is not completely on his own to cover the expenses he incurs when racing. He has several sponsors, and as he gets better, he hopes his sponsorship will increase as well.
“There are two ways you can get sponsors,” said Pelland. “You can show them a resume or you can be approached by someone with a team who asks you to race for them, [called getting a ride].”
He is hoping to get a ride and be able to race on a team for a sponsor in the near future, and is looking into colleges now as well.
“We’ll see where this takes me in the future,” he said. “I’m young and I have plenty of time.”
For the time being, Pelland is focused on the start of the new school year and his racing. He is going to try racing in the American Canadian Tour next, which is a step up from where he is right now.
“That’s the best drivers I can race with, having the kind of car I have now,” Pelland said.
Although he is one of the younger racers in his division, he’s happy there. Currently there are two other racers Pelland’s age, and the rest are in their 20s and 30s.
“My dad has always told me that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I could be racing mini races with kids my age, but I like it where I am,” he said.