Mike Lewis will face uncharted waters on Monday afternoon.
For the first time in his life, he will head into the office on Monday as the winning driver on Sunday.
The Sr. Vice President for Don Schumacher Racing scored the Funny car title at the California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Ca, driving Henry Gutierrez’s Brand-X tribute Mustang. There were 33 AA/FC entries for this event.
Lewis ran a 5.785-second elapsed time at 244.38 miles per hour to out react and outrun Steven Densham in the final round.
Lewis opened the event by leading qualifying on the first day and even though he was able to beat hitters such as Will Martin, Rian Konno and low qualifier Chad Head to reach the final, he managed to keep his emotions in check thanks to a company motto at DSR.
“When you work for Don Schumacher you learn to take this one day at a time, one win at a time,” said Lewis. “It started off good for us Friday with the good run and then we didn’t go into Saturday behind the eight ball trying to do stuff we’re not used to.”
As great as his equipment performed, a trio of seasoned tuners led by Funny Car tuning icon Paul Smith proved to be Lewis’ secret weapon. Joining Smith was his son John Smith and former nitro team owner Virgil Hartman.
“I just had so much confidence in Paul Smith, Bodie [John] Smith and Virgil Hartman and the whole Texas Jungle team. These guys are perfect and the car is perfect every time.
“We may not have had the seven crew chiefs Chad and Del [Worsham] had but we had three awfully good ones; these guys we have here gave me an incredible amount of confidence.”
Even though the temptation was there to celebrate a semi-final victory over the seemingly unbeatable Head, Lewis remained focused on the big picture.
“To put things in perspective, God makes all things possible,” said Lewis. “Today, God gave me the opportunity … the opportunity to bring my beautiful wife here to share this with her and my family.”
The fact Lewis was driving the car dates back to a situation best described as opportunity crossing a path with divine intervention.
Lewis was introduced to Gutierrez in June by Maple Grove Raceway’s Lex Dudas. At the time, Lewis was driving Justin Grant’s Stardust Funny Car but when he sold the car it left Lewis without a ride and the track one Funny Car short for its 50th anniversary event.
Gutierrez had two Funny Cars but only one was entered for the event.
“He already had the Jungle Jim car committed and as it turned out he also had the Brand X car,” Lewis explained. “We did okay at the event and later in Cordova. We got our act together in Dallas which was our test to come here. I owe Lex for the introduction and Henry for having the faith and giving me a chance. Obviously driving for a team headed up by Paul Smith and his son Bodie is great. Then we had Virgil here as an extra set of eyes.”
Keeping an edge is a challenge for many Nostalgia Funny Car drivers due to the limited number of events offered as compared to the big show of NHRA Full Throttle competition.
“We don’t race very often,” Lewis admitted. “My whole career, I might only have 50 or 60 runs. This may sound like a lot but when you run only a dozen or fourteen times a year and then you put the car away. It means a lot to have a car capable of going out and winning a race which is the nostalgia equivalent to the U.S. Nationals.”
On Sunday, reaction time was not always Lewis’ greatest ally.
“I couldn’t cut a light and even beside Chad, I tried to get myself psyched but he nailed me on the tree,” said Lewis. “We got lucky to win that round. Somehow we got it all together. Schumacher always kids me and after he watched me run in Dallas, he made the comment, ‘Nice run, but I need to put a spark plug under your seat.”
“He did today and it must have gone off at the right time in the final.”
Sunday afternoon, at the conclusion of a day and weekend marred with numerous oildowns, Lewis could only smile and thank anyone who remotely had a hand in making the Texas Jungle operation successful. In the big picture of life, Lewis admits this was a needed win if only to serve as motivation as he prepares for off-season surgery to remove a slightly malignant tumor on his prostate, a tumor found in a random check-up.
“We’ll roll into the winner’s circle and take our pictures and tomorrow I will get on a plane and fly back home and go into the office in Brownsburg and realize this dream really did happen,” Lewis admits. “I’ve been hooked on this for a really long time. I’m putting this all in perspective. I’m 63 years old and I have a prostate operation scheduled in a month, then a recovery which will follow. The timing couldn’t be better and the incentive will be to get better to come out and attempt this again.
“I’m a blessed man to be associated with this Texas Jungle team and everyone Henry put together to help as well as my associates at Don Schumacher Racing.”
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