Eric Bourgeois won a mini stock championship at Thompson Speedway in 2018. But in his first year of retirement, he’s shifting his focus to teaching is son, Evan, to drive – in more ways than one.
Evan Bourgeois, who recently turned 16, has been taking driving lessons from his dad on the road. When they’re not behind the wheel of a regular car, the father-son duo are working on Evan’s mini-stock car, which he’ll drive at Thompson Speedway this season.
The Bourgeois’s raced against each other last season at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, a high-banked 0.625-mile asphalt oval track in Thompson, Connecticut. It was Evan’s first season at Thompson.
“Last year when he was racing with me, it was nerve-wracking at first but once you get into it, start having fun and race against each other, it’s fun,” Evan said. “It’s nervous before and during the race, but we had a lot of fun. And then this year he’s not behind the wheel but helping out with the car and everything. It’s a lot of fun.”
Eric started racing go-karts in the early 1990’s, and won several championships all over the northeast. But an accident that broke his back in 2000 forced him to switch to a full-bodied car, and he built and started racing his mini stock the next year.
“For me, it’s an adrenaline rush,” he said. “When you’re out in the car, it’s adrenaline. You can’t describe to people what it feels like when you’re behind the wheel. The guys who race race cars knows the feeling but you can’t describe it.
“I work on cars a lot of times just by myself or with Evan. I own my own business and I go out there and it’s like therapy for me. It calms me down, it de-stresses me. I go out, I tinker on stuff. It just gets me out of all the ins and outs of daily stuff.”
Evan also got his start in go-karts around the age of eight, before switching to mini stocks a few years ago.
“It’s kind of like, when you actually get behind the wheel, that feeling that it gives you and just being around the track,” Evan said. “The people at the actual race track, whether you tear a car up or someone else tears a car up, everyone is there to help you. It’s really fun to be around everyone. And whether you actually are racing or you’re just at the track having a good time, it’s just overall a fun experience.”
Eric hopes to be able to run two or three races this season to continue to teach his young son everything he knows about racing. The shift from the car to the crew hasn’t been easy for the elder Bourgeois. He said the toughest thing is watching his son from the sideline
“I think I’m more nervous now than when I was racing against Evan,” Eric said.
“It’s a hard transition. I’ve always known that I go to the track, I work on my stuff, I get in my car and I drive. Now it’s I go to the track, I work on the car, and I watch him pull away. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s something wrong with this picture.’ And you’re up in the stands and watching the cars go all around and it’s a totally different feeling.’”
Even with his nerves, Eric has proven to be a great teacher for his son. The elder Bourgeois got interested in racing when he was around Evan’s age, going to races and walking around the pits asking older crew members if he could help out in anyway he could.
It was their willingness to show him the ropes that helped him get his start in racing, and Eric said now he wants to also provide opportunities for other young drivers who show an interest, including Evan.
And to him, the most important part of racing is knowing the car beyond just how it feels in the driver’s seat.
“With Evan, he works on his own cars. I tell people you can’t drive a car if you don’t know anything about it,” Eric said. “A lot of kids don’t know. They show up with their helmets, they jump in, they drive. They don’t know much about the cars. I told Evan you have to know everything about the car before you can race it.”
“He has been the main one who has coached me through racing my entire life pretty much,” Evan said. “I’ve learned most things from him that had anything to do with racing, from on the track to working on it in the garage. Pretty much everything.”
Part of coaching Evan this year has been getting him out of his comfort zone.
“Trying to get him to be a little more aggressive. We had two totally different driving styles,” Eric said. “I’m the aggressor, he’s the laid-back finesser, we call him. He tends to not want to tear stuff up, where I’m not scared to move somebody to go for the win. Evan will take what he gets, so I harp on him constantly, ‘You have to be a little more aggressive… ‘If they’re going to block you, go by him.’
In one race so far this season, Evan spun out on the first lap, but made his way back through traffic and finished fifth. While he said it wasn’t his best race, he was happy with the way he recovered from the early misstep.
He’ll race for the second time this Sunday night in Thompson’s 4th Annual Limited Sportsman Long Distance and Military Night, featuring modifieds, late models, lite modifieds, limited sportsman and mini stocks.
After progressing through his first season last year, Evan said he’s hoping to just carry that momentum into this season, and most importantly get more seat time and keep learning, with his dad helping lead the way.
“Just trying to get better,” Evan said. “Find more speed, more than we have… It’s looking pretty good so far… We’re hoping for top 3 in points, and a win or two if they fall. Pretty much the best finishes we can get and some seat time. Getting ready for the upcoming years. To be as fast as we can, finish as best we can.”
“My biggest thing is seat time,” Eric said. “There’s no substitute for seat time. You’re not going to learn if you’re not in the driver’s seat. So if I can get Evan at any track any time I can, we’re going to the races.”
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