SNOHOMISH, Washington — Growing up watching races at Evergreen Speedway, Gary Lewis dreamed of someday competing against the best late model drivers the Northwest has to offer and someday winning races and championships over those competitors.
After a strong performance last Saturday night at Yakima Speedway on the ASA Northwest Late Model Tour, Lewis has eclipsed Ron Eaton (three) in regional championships and matched another great with title number four.
“When I was younger I dreamed of the day I could even be on the same track as Garrett Evans (who like Lewis has four regional touring championships), Eaton or Tobey Butler and now here we are coming off a strong run in Yakima and capturing our fourth championship,” Lewis said.
“It’s so tough to win a championship these days especially when there are only 10 races in a season (like 2009). You just have one DNF (did not
finish) and you’re almost totally out of the picture. We had our fair share of problems this year but we were able to push through and still get some good finishes. Our season and this race team are not done yet and there is still more to strive for going forward.”
The ASA season has many races that stand out for the SEFNCO Communications team including a second win at Spokane County Raceway in as many starts, winning for the second time in as many seasons at Pacific Raceways and winning again at Douglas County Speedway. To define one moment above the others is tough but the 38-year old four-time champion does have a favorite moment.
“Actually this last race in Yakima stands out the most for this Sign Factory USA crew and myself,” Lewis noted. “Passing everybody in the second groove and letting it all hang out I found myself sitting in my happy chair. Running behind (Jared) Vorse I was thinking that we could wrap this (championship) up and win it or gamble and go for the win and maybe lose everything.
“As that thought entered my head we’re going down the front stretch one time and heading for turn No. 1 and by the time we entered the corner I was already focused on trying to win the race. Just like we have been saying all year ‘we go to races to win’ so I went for it.”
While that moment in the south end of Yakima Speedway was a highlight in the chase for a 2009 championship there are others that stand out, Lewis added.
“This year was a very special one for our Nutter Racing Engines bunch.
Being able to win the Montana and Idaho 200’s for a third straight season and then back all that up with a championship is awesome. Each championship and race win is special in its own way and this year’s accomplishments are going to be very fulfilling for the team and our sponsors.”
Yakima Speedway had challenged the Shocked by Mike Leary Racing Products Impala over the last few seasons and Lewis finds himself heading back to the famed half-mile in just over 10 days looking to add one of the region’s biggest prizes to his trophy case–a 200-lap Fall Classic Super Late Model victory.
To achieve the victory Lewis takes comfort in knowing that his ARP Racing Bodies Chevrolet is starting to return to form on the bigger tracks of the Northwest.
“I love racing at Yakima and we have ran very well there for most of my career. We have had many wins at the Speedway during the NASCAR touring days (where Lewis is a two-time champion) and then a couple in 2007 during our run to the ARCA (West Late Model Challenge Series) championship season but in 2008 we made some changes to the car and that hurt our program on half-mile and bigger race tracks.
“We went back and adjusted the car to what we’ve run in the past at Yakima and right now we have a great car for the Classic. Our concern heading into the race is that the tires need to last a little longer for us. The company that supplies the tire is having some huge problems these days with the right side tires coming apart so that is not helping matters as we prepare for the 200 laps we’ll have to run. It should be a great racer and we’re looking forward to the challenges that are ahead of us.”
All of the things that Gary Lewis Racing has accomplished have come with the help of dedicated volunteers that sacrifice work schedules and family time so that together they strive for victories. To win a third championship in a four-year stretch would not be possible without their help, Lewis acknowledged.
“It does take some great sponsors and team members to make this happen and the cool thing is everyone on the team are great friends. My guys contribute to this team in so many ways from Ralph Lewis who owns the car and serves as our crew chief to my spotter and tire technician, Chuck Pickens, to our mechanics Jeremiah Moore and Mark Jenkins to Alec Hale who came on board this season and is learning a lot to Kelly Hale who keeps our car detailed. Steve Curtis and his wife Barb are there for support and play an important role on our crew as well as those that take care of our team, Leslie Lewis and Lynn Marzano Moore to Nanette Pickens who keeps Chuck in line to Ann Erickson that keeps me in line to my son Zach whose gotten to experience some great times this season as part of the crew.
“All of them are a part of this championship and it’s about them and what they can do for us that makes this whole deal go.”