Drivers in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will face a unique challenge this coming weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt Raceway. The Great Railing 150 presented by Barbera’s Autoland is the one and only road-course event of the 2014 ARCA season. For many drivers, the transition from oval tracks to a road course is a daunting proposition.
However, for one young ARCA racer, sixteen-year-old Spruce Creek High School student Michael Lira from Port Orange, Florida, the change of pace is an exciting opportunity.
“I’m actually really looking forward to the road course race in New Jersey,” Lira said. “I’ve already raced in a few road course events this year at Daytona International Speedway. That experience has helped me tremendously. I think it’s made me a more well-rounded driver. I feel like I have a good feel for the style of racing that we’ll see on the road course, so I’m very confident going into this weekend’s race. I’d love to break through and get my first ARCA victory at New Jersey.”
Lira already has two top-10 finishes this season and he’s hoping that his recent road-course experience will give him an edge in this weekend’s race. Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park features 2.25 miles of asphalt, 12 challenging turns, and one half-mile straightaway. The track is a test of a driver’s skill as well as his endurance.
“I’d say road-course races are more physically demanding than most oval tracks,” Lira said. “You’re constantly shifting and on-and-off the brakes. It’s a completely different challenge and I think it really shows who the best all-around drivers are. What makes road-course racing harder is the wide variety of turns that you face. In one lap, you’ve done some fast turns, some hairpins, lefts, rights. And, you’ve been through four different gears, too. I believe if I can keep all four wheels on the track all day, we can come out with a solid top 10.”
Lira has competed in two road-course events this year, both of which were held just down the road from his hometown in Port Orange, Florida, at Daytona International Speedway. Lira completed his first road-course race of the year in May in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) event at Daytona. In his first official SCCA start, he finished 8th overall and 4th in class. Also competing in the event was Lira’s father Carlos, a veteran racer himself with many years of road course experience.
“Running in the SCCA race was a blast, especially because my dad was racing, too,” Lira said. “We were ribbing each other about it. My fastest lap was only one second slower than his fastest and I was on older tires. Of course, he was quick to point out that I had 50 extra horsepower. It was fun. One of my favorite things about road-course racing is how long the laps are. One mistake on a short track means you’ve blown this lap and possibly the next one. On a road course, you have 15 other turns or so to make up time.”
Lira completed his second road course race of 2014 last week, running in the CHUMPCAR World Series 14 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Lira started from the back of the pack – 119th in a field of 121 entrants— but made quick strides toward the front. With slightly under four hours gone by Lira had already moved all the way up to 17th place. Unfortunately, some brake issues forced the car to the garage to undergo repairs, costing the team about two hours. But, Lira still managed to bounce back for a solid 41st place finish.
“Going into this race, I’m really confident,” Lira said. “I think I’ve taken to the road-course style pretty quickly and I think this is a definite opportunity for me to score a quality finish. I’ve always had so much respect for the guys who are just as dangerous on road courses as they are on superspeedways. Guys like Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch. That’s when you see who’s the cream of the crop.”
The Great Railing 150 presented by Barbera’s Autoland is scheduled for Sunday, June 1, 2014, at 1:00 p.m. EDT. Follow Michael on Twitter for news and updates at @LiraRacing and @1MichaelLira or on Facebook at /MichaelLiraRacingOfficial.