When he was young, Sebastian Arias was offered to race karts across Europe.
It’s a typical route for a future open-wheel racer. Many grow up racing local circuits of their native countries and then begin competing around the world before moving onto the lower ranks of open-wheel racing, hopeful for a chance to make the cut into the upper ranks of Formula One or IndyCar.
That was the route Arias was on … until he watched his childhood hero Juan Pablo Montoya take on NASCAR.
Montoya, a driver who’s won multiple Indianapolis 500s, Rolex 24s and even Formula One Grand Prixes, raced in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time from 2007 to 2013 and claimed two victories in the process.
Arias followed Montoya’s path growing up, and now the 23-year-old is following in his fellow Colombian’s footsteps as he begins his stock car racing career in the ARCA Menards Series West and part-time ARCA Menards Series races.
This year, young Arias has partnered up with the No. 4 ARCA team of Nascimento Motorsports and has brought on sponsors Rubbermaid, Betco, Brady IFS, Wiley X, BeyondEnergy and SPARCO to compete in the West Series. He has already earned his first top 10 in only his third start, coming at Irwindale Speedway in March.
He’s also already made his first career ARCA Menards Series start coming at Phoenix Raceway when the main series competed in a combined field with the West regulars. Arias finished 25th out of 39 drivers.
In early April, Frontstretch caught up with the stock car rookie to talk about how a Colombian racer destined for a European racing career ended up in the American motorsport world of NASCAR.
Dalton Hopkins, Frontstretch: Going back to your early life in Colombia, what was it like growing up?
Sebastian Arias: It was pretty fun. Everybody in Colombia, they love Formula One. Of course, they respect Juan Pablo [Montoya] as a driver since he came from Formula One, IndyCar and then NASCAR, and then he went to prototypes, so everybody still talks about him as pretty much the reference [point]. Back in the day, I used to race go-karts when he was in NASCAR, and I said, ‘Hey, you know what? I want to make it there. and I want to make history like he’s doing right now,’ – at that time.
Hopkins: What’s the racing culture like in Colombia?
Arias: Everybody pretty much focuses on road courses and going to Europe to pursue the Formula One dream, but I think I was the only kid to pursue NASCAR. I always loved NASCAR, so that’s why I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to take this route.’
Hopkins: You also went over to Europe and raced go karts and then you got the NASCAR bug and you mentioned that Montoya was driving NASCAR at the time. Is that kind of what got you into stock car racing?
Arias: Yeah, Montoya was my reference. I used to watch him when he was racing with the Target car – the Dodge car, so it was cool. That’s why I fell in love with NASCAR, because I started making research and watched more videos, more races from back in the day, and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’
Hopkins: Have any of your other friends approached you and said, ‘NASCAR? Really?’
Arias: Yeah, I actually have a couple of friends that were racing Formula Renault in France at the time, and we were in touch, and they would come ask me like, how I was doing here in the States. They’re like, ‘Really? NASCAR?’ And I say, ‘Yeah!’
Hopkins: Now you’re in the ARCA Menards Series with Nascimento Racing. How did that deal come to be?
Arias: So, everything came together because of my manager. We closed a deal pretty much at the end of last year. We brought onboard Brady IFS and Rubbermaid and we were like, ‘You know what? Let’s do it. Let’s keep going.’ and that’s how we got it together.
Hopkins: Tell me about your schedule for 2022.
Arias: We have seven races in there in the West series. We are finalizing. We’re trying to close the remainder of the races. [Editor’s note – these races are now confirmed]
Hopkins: What track are you looking forward to in this year?
Arias: Well, pretty much every track. I mean, I’m looking forward to the next one, Kern County Raceway. It’s not online racing, but I did try to do something similar. I’m looking forward to Sonoma [Raceway], it’s on my bucket list. My background is road courses, so I have a great feeling about Sonoma, and of course things at the end of the year, which […] I think Phoenix has become one of my favorites.
Hopkins: Now you’re racing on these ovals. How have you been getting used to that? Are you using iRacing at all, have you been doing any simulator stuff? How have you been studying for these oval races?
Arias: Every day. Thanks to Thrustmaster and Next Level Racing, I have a simulator at home. Pretty much every day, I’ve been working on all those different types of tracks, all those different cars — ARCA cars, Xfinity cars. To get used to that, of course it’s similar, but it’s a little bit different than real life, so that’s what has that has helped a lot.
Hopkins: You mentioned road course racing being your background, and now with NASCAR bringing on the road courses even in the Cup level, what’s your career end goal?
Arias: I want to be a Cup driver. I want to end out my career in the Cup Series. I want to race for one of the top teams. Could be Penske. Could be Hendrick. Those are my goals. In fact, I have a mission board in front of me with those teams. So yeah, that’s what I’m working on right now.
Hopkins: Have you reached out to any of them? Have they reached out to you at all?
Arias: I actually did have a chance to go to Hendrick Motorsports like two years ago, and that’s when I fell in love with that organization. They have a great headquarters. I mean, wow, it’s just huge. Have you had the chance to go there?
Hopkins: Oh yeah, I got to go there a few years ago.
Arias: Yeah, it’s amazing. So, I was like, ‘You know what? I got to make it there.’ That’s what keeps me going, to work harder.
Hopkins: Have you been following any of the other drivers in the top level? Are you a fan of anybody on the top level right now?
Arias: I really like Kurt Busch. I’ve kind of been following his career for a couple of years. I actually had a chance to talk to him in Phoenix last year. Great guy. So yeah, that’s one of the guys that I look forward to hopefully racing with in the future.
Hopkins: How have your sponsors have come to be? How your team has come together? Did they reach out to you? Did you reach out to them?
Arias: So, actually the story behind Brady IFS and Rubbermaid, it was three years ago. I had the chance to coach the CEO of Brady in Daytona [in driving]. So that’s how I met him, and since then we built that rich relationship. These guys were with me when I was racing late models. So that’s how we pretty much built or relationship with them and with the CEO especially.
Hopkins: What is your goal with this new team, with these sponsors, with Nascimento? What would be the perfect way for you to end the 2022 year?
Arias: Well, my goal is to have at least one win this year. Finishing the top five pretty much as much as I can, but I’m going for that win. Learn as much as I can for next year, because next year we’re going times 100.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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