Any veteran athlete will tell you, one of the keys to success is to never underestimate your opponent. For two well decorated drivers, that means more than 40 years of sizing-up the competition. Both Gilles Gendron and Mario Baillargeon have been competing against each other throughout their careers, but on Sunday (May 19) Rideau Carleton Raceway is featuring what will be the first card with both drivers in eight straight head-to-head races.
During the peak of their careers, Gendron and Baillargeon each achieved success on the international circuit including championships in Florida, Buffalo, California, Germany and Australia. While the international competition was kind to them, both agree that nothing quite compares to their days at Blue Bonnets and competing in two-a-days between Montréal and Ottawa nearly every Sunday. Both Quebec-born drivers recalled the normality of the busy schedule at the time.
“That’s what we all did. It’s like going to church on Sundays,” said Baillargeon. With Rideau Carleton also open on Thursdays, Baillargeon and Gendron each had many starts in the nation’s capital, nearly twice a week in the late 1980s-90s, where they often competed against one another. “You gotta be lucky,” said Gendron, “[Baillargeon] was the guy to beat and I don’t want to be last, I’m there to win.”
That winning attitude is something Baillargeon noticed in Gendron early on, and has admired since before he even began racing competitively. “I learned a lot from him. He was like a mentor to me,” said Baillargeon.
It’s that spirit that has rubbed off on Baillargeon, especially when it comes to facing Gendron at the upcoming Rideau Carleton event. “He doesn’t stand a chance,” said Baillargeon.
Though Gendron has been surpassed by Baillargeon in overall earnings ($36.9 million versus $97.3 million respectively), Gendron proves he might have the edge. “I drive the same way I did 35 years ago, I’m in top shape,” said Gendron, “He’s got no chance with me.”
It’s been 10 years since Blue Bonnets shut its doors and both drivers have since enjoyed settling into a slower pace off the track. Gendron now drives a few races a week and Baillargeon is enjoying more training work through TheStable.ca.
Rideau Carleton’s May 19 event will represent the first meeting of the pair since the era of double headers. Both are looking forward to their return to Rideau Carleton and seeing familiar faces, including their competition. All of Gendron and Baillargeon’s purse earnings on the night will be donated to local Ottawa charity, Shepherds of Good Hope.