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A budding car enthusiast

Paul Byron married into a family that's big on cars and competitive NASCAR racing

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

MONTREAL - Paul Byron didn't grow up a stock car racing fan, but he's certainly developed an appreciation for the sport in recent years.

His wife Sarah's family has a lot to do with that.

Sarah's father, Jean, and brother, Neal, own and operate the Leblond Race Team out of Buckingham, QC. They're both drivers, too. They currently boast three cars in competition bi-weekly at Autodrome St-Eustache - two that compete in the NASCAR Sportsman Lucas Oil Series and another in the NASCAR Modified Legends Series. Neal is in his sixth year in the NASCAR circuit, while Jean has been driving for four.

"Everyone thinks you just get in a car and drive really fast. It looks easy, but it definitely isn't. There's a lot of time and dedication being put into it, and there are a lot of moving parts. It's pretty tough," said Byron, who does his best to get out to the track a couple of times every summer to cheer Jean's No. 8 and Neal's No. 88 cars on from the stands. "Seeing how they do it and how they compete, you learn pretty quickly that you can't just throw a car in there and expect to be in top spot. Everyone out there has skill."

The Canadiens' speedster learned that first-hand a few years back when his mother-in-law, Kathy, purchased a driving experience for him as a birthday gift. It completely changed his outlook on race car driving.

"It was a package at St-Eustache that gave you three laps. You could pick between a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, and a Nissan GTR. I wanted to try the Ferrari. Just pushing on the gas was a little scary. I don't know how they can get in the car and do that at full speed. You never really have that feeling until you get in a car and go that fast," said Byron, on his experience ripping around the track. "Throw in 40 guys behind you, bumping each other for position and it's a scary reminder that one wrong move and you could be in serious trouble. Staying mentally sharp is so huge."

Enter Byron's first-ever trip to this weekend's Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. The Mercedes supporter won't be getting behind the wheel this time around, though.

"I think it's going to blow me away. I know it's obviously a lot different than NASCAR with all the twists and turns. Seeing that live and just hearing how loud the engines are, it should be pretty cool," said Byron, who plans on heading out to Île Notre-Dame with Sarah and possibly his kids, Elianna and Brysen. "Everyone I talk to says Formula 1 is probably the best weekend in Montreal, so I'm looking forward to that."

The self-proclaimed Gran Turismo, Need for Speed and Fast and the Furious fan has also taken a big-time interest in classic cars as well. 

His father Randy owned a 1972 Corvette Stingray, and his father-in-law boasts quite the extensive collection of his own.

"Seeing Sarah's dad collect all these older cars has definitely had an impact. He has a 1970 Mustang Boss, a 1969 Camaro SS, a 1970 Chevelle, a 2008 Shelby," said Byron. "They're all pretty nice to see up close in person. I wasn't really a big car guy as a kid, but it's definitely growing."

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