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Go-carts alter Carpentier's path

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 23, 2003

TAMPA -- Patrick Carpentier may have been back on the ice Wednesday afternoon but, unlike his first 11 years, he wasn't trying to skate circles around the competition.

The former CART rookie of the year, in town to promote next month's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, met with members of the Lightning and Canadiens during their morning skate at the St. Pete Times Forum.

For Carpentier the jersey exchange was more than a chance to mingle with other professional athletes, it was a return to where one career ended and a new one began.

Born Aug.13, 1971, in La Salle, Quebec, Carpentier initially competed in speed skating. Because he was young, he was limited to distances from 200 to 1,000 meters, but that didn't stop him from excelling.

In 1982 he won the North American Championships, and his father rewarded him with a trip to a Montreal go-cart track. A couple laps around the circuit, and Carpentier's dreams went from Olympic medals to points championships.

"I quit right there," Carpentier said. "I stopped speed skating. He bought me a go-cart and we started in racing."

At first Carpentier liked go-carts more than skating because it required less training and exercise -- "when you're 11, you don't really want to train that hard," he said -- though that attitude has changed the past two decades.

Since he broke onto the CART scene in 1997, Carpentier has realized that conditioning and off-track training are as important as being able to drive an open-cockpit car 200 mph through city streets.

Part of his offseason regimen includes riding a bike through the trails near his Las Vegas home for two to three hours, keeping his heart rate above 160 beats per minute. He arrived at that number after figuring out that during an average race, the driver's heart is between 130 and 180 beats per minute.

"It's so much more intense at this level," said Carpentier, who finished third in the points standings last season. "The traveling, the training. It took a couple of years for me to get in good enough shape to finish a race and still be in good shape. I've always loved how dedicated you have to be because at this level, it's not talent that makes you so good, it's all dedication."

Carpentier's offseason dedication will come to bear Feb.21-23 when he and at least 17 other drivers arrive in St. Petersburg to race along the 1.78-mile course through downtown streets.

St. Petersburg is the first of 20 races on the CART schedule that will take drivers from Florida to California, Canada to Australia. It is also the beginning of a physically demanding schedule since only three of those races are on ovals.

"I think a road race is tougher. Physically, it's a (heck) of a lot tougher because you're always braking and going and braking and turning sharply," Carpentier said. "And some of the courses are more bumpy."

Organizers say the St. Petersburg course will be one of the smoothest in the series, and that's also how they expect the first CART race in the area to come off.

Though the search continues for a title sponsor, John Dunlap, director of public relations for Dover Motorsports, which is putting on the event, said the race will go on no matter what.

Dunlap also said he expects an announcement concerning the musical entertainment in the next two weeks.

Past races have featured bands such as Train and the Goo Goo Dolls in the midwaylike section of the venue where fans can experience extreme sports, games and other nonracing activities.

"You want to develop fans of all ages," Dunlap said. "For a gathering like that it's like a big old party and we want to have a group that relays that feeling."

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