|Canaan O'Connell and father Johnny|
It's not an easy task to follow in your dad's footsteps in racing. Especially if your father is a champion.
Just ask Canaan O'Connell, the 22-year-old son of four-time Pirelli World Challenge GT champion Johnny O'Connell.
The younger O'Connell is doing just that this weekend (August 12-14) at Utah Motorsports Campus as he makes his pro racing debut in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Utah Motorsports Campus presented by Energy Solutions.
O'Connell will compete in the No. 24 TechSport Racing Chevy Sonic in the TCB division while his father, Johnny, wheels his popular red No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. in the highly-competitive GT class. The older O'Connell dominated last year's PWC GT action with a double-victory which led to his fourth consecutive series title.
"I wanted to go pro racing for a while now but things just didn't come together," said Canaan O'Connell, who is a driving instructor at the Bob Bondurant School in Arizona when he isn't racing. "But my dad told me I had to put the deal together on my own. He said he would teach the racing techniques as I came up but that he wasn't going to pay to put me in a car."
Just as personable as his outgoing father, Canaan knew the battle that was ahead of him to get in the driver's seat.
"I was a go-kart junkie back home in Georgia and I just wanted to learn as much as possible," he admits. "I started out as a ‘gopher' at Bondurant's and have now worked into the instructor role. I'm more of a coach and right-seat passenger there. But sometimes, the guys let me run early in the day or after work. That way I can get some seat time behind the wheel."
O'Connell has been racing in 2016, competing in a Mazda Miata in the NASA series. But he is looking forward to jumping to the Pirelli World Challenge this weekend in Utah.
"I'm so anxious to get to the track for my first PWC event," said Canaan. "It will be so fun to race on the track and on the same weekend as my dad. I look forward to the track walk with him before the races. I'm sure he will give me some tips."
Canaan O'Connell is thankful for the assistance of his father and some other friends and associates to give this opportunity.
"Making my pro racing debut is something I've thought about for as long as I can remember, said O'Connell. "To finally achieve that dream is an amazing feeling. It's a feeling I'll cherish for the rest of my life. Obviously I'm very grateful to TechSport Racing and the team owners Deborah Popolizio and Kevin Anderson for putting the faith in me.
"It's even more special because I get to do it in a GM product. Not only because of my father's success within the company, but because of the incredible people that are at GM. Jim Campbell, Mark Kent and of course Gary and Robin Pratt have all been huge influences on my life."
But he knows he has to show his talent in the car too.
"Hey, I know the O'Connell name brings some attention in racing," he said. "But in the end, I know I have to show that I can do it behind the wheel. Your name only takes you so far. It's true for any second or third generation driver."
O'Connell owes this weekend's debut to many people who have assisted him as he prepares for professional competition.
"A big thanks goes to Eric Powell and TechSport Racing, for letting me be a part of the team for the weekend," he said. "Also a huge thanks to the Bondurant Racing School, Jem FX, Johnny O'Connell, Dan Fastuca, Chris Cook, Alan Rudolph and many others. They have been instrumental in getting to this point in my career. I'm off to Utah for my first Pro Race!"
Canaan and Johnny O'Connell will be among the 100 drivers competing this weekend in the Pirelli World Challenge Utah Motorsports Campus Grand Prix presented by Energy Solutions, as all eight Pirelli World Challenge classes will race at the 3.048-mile, 14-turn outer road course.