Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – “Four weeks ago, we were fighting with each other,” Chad Jeseo said after Saturday’s DIRTcar Pro Stock feature in honor of fallen competitor Steven LaRochelle.
“However, the day we got the bad news about what happened, it feels like we’ve lost a friend.”
Sometimes, some things just don’t seem to matter anymore, do they?
You may fight. You may argue. You may even want to throw things. However, when someone pays the ultimate sacrifice, everything else just seems insignificant.
On Saturday, August 12th, the Lebanon Valley DIRTcar Pro Stock racer succumbed to his injuries from an off-track accident he was involved in the night before. That’s why the words Jeseo spoke after the event put things into perspective and did so in the best way possible.
“Over all the years of racing, we had a lot of really good races with Steve,” Jeseo said. “We’ve lost a big piece of the racing community. The LaRochelle family has been such a big supporter of racing at Lebanon Valley for many years. This was just terrible to hear.”
LaRochelle’s passing was a shock to many and truly something nobody ever could have imagined. That’s why Saturday’s memorial for him before the start of the Pro Stock feature was amazing to see.
Through the course of last week, word of this night was plastered all over social media. August 19th at the West Lebanon oval was going to be one to remember, and it was.
The stands were packed. The pits were full, and as the memorial began, each side of the catchfence began to flood the frontstretch.
Steven’s father, Paul, made the unimaginably hard decision to compete in his son’s Pro Stock for the evening, and brought it to victory lane where a throng of people, many adorned in #178 gear, surrounded it.
From the eloquent words of track historian Brian Bedell along with track announcers Dan Martin, John Stanley and Tim Goewey, to the invocation from Pastor Ed Harkin and then John Flach, the love expressed to the LaRochelle family, team and friends was a sight to behold.
However, what happened just before the main event left me absolutely speechless.
As the crowd began to disperse, Steven’s #178 remained. That’s when his wife, Taylor, father, Paul, along with Paul’s girlfriend, Deana, and Steven’s mom, Colleen, stood arm-in-arm at the nose of the race car.
After a few moments to reflect, the entire field of full-fender machines, the largest of the season, drove around the family and paid respect to their fallen competitor.
Then Paul climbed aboard his son’s ride and drove it to an 11th place finish. However, for many in attendance, it was a win.
Now, on a personal note, here’s a story I have to share. A few years back, I had the opportunity to design a custom firesuit for Steven.
One snowy night that off-season, he and Paul came over to my shop in New Lebanon so I could measure him. We share way too many laughs during the process but also shared plenty of racing stories.
Well, when the suit came in, everything was perfect on the black, blue and orange suit, just as Steven had wanted. He tried it on and it fit just right.
However, there was one minor flaw.
The epaulets of the suit were orange, as was to be all of the piping around the blue stripes. Unfortunately, the suit company embroidered the piping in red.
I felt horrible about it but Steven loved the suit and all he could say about it was, “it’s fine. It really doesn’t matter to me because I know it’ll look great in victory lane.”
That the type of thing I’ll remember about the guy who drove #178. He may have been mad that the suit wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t going to tell me. As long as he was safe, all he cared about in racing was holding that checkered flag.
Steven LaRochelle was a fierce competitor on track but it’ll be his infectious laugh and larger-than-life smile that will remain in the memory bank for a long time.
He was a part of many trips to victory lane, as a driver and as the kid watching his Dad. He also had several close battles with competitors, but through all of the bumps and spins, to many, he was just Steve. He was just Paul and Colleen’s little boy from Dalton.
From myself, along with the whole RPW family and the entire racing community, we send our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to the entire LaRochelle family right now.
To Taylor, Colleen, Paul, his family and all of his friends who are missing him, we share in your grief. We will never know what you’re going through but understand that you’re not alone.
Everyone that knew Steven is thinking of you and will always keep him in our hearts.