My nephew first told me about Michael Lira, one of his fellow International Baccalaureate (IB) classmates at Spruce Creek High School, who just happens to be a racecar driver. “Seriously?” I asked, but indeed this unassuming teenager is indeed an award-winning race car driver. I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Although Charlotte, NC is commonly referred to as “NASCAR’s back yard” Daytona Beach is the home of “The World Center of Racing.” There are racing schools in the area and more kids just like Michael. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking to him about his racing career, friendship with living legend Jack Roush and upcoming debut in the ARCA series this weekend at Berlin Speedway, MI. Enjoy!
MH: I just want to thank you for taking time out, I know you’re really busy, to talk to me for My Life at Speed. How’s the summer been going?
ML: It’s been pretty well. I’ve done a little bit of racing here…pretty good, keeping really busy.
MH: Right! You’re sixteen years-old, correct?
MH: Wow! I mean most kids, their summer job is mowing lawns and stuff like that; and here you are – you’re a race car driver. That’s cool, right?
ML: Yeah, yeah – it’s pretty cool. I’m pretty lucky to do what I do.
MH: How old were you when you started?
ML: Well I started in Go Karts when I was nine years-old, and I moved up to my truck when I was twelve. That was on my first, full-sized track.
MH: What are some of the tracks that you’ve raced at?
ML: I’ve raced at New Smyrna and Orlando in Florida; and then I travelled to a few tracks and tested for my ARCA races coming up. I’ve been to Salem Speedway in Indiana, Berlin Raceway in Michigan, which is where I’m racing this weekend; and Madison International Raceway in Wisconsin.
MH: You have an arrangement with Mr. Roush, right?
ML: Yes, I’m very good friends with him.
MH: What is that like? You’re sixteen years-old and he’s a legend in NASCAR, in racing here in the US – and here you are. You know him. What is that like?
ML: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. You know it’s not a full-on contract that I’m going to drive for him but my sponsor, Gary Yeomans Ford, they’re the number one seller of Roush parts and Roush Mustangs. So every time there’s a NASCAR race in Daytona, he comes and visits at the dealership, and we talk and stuff; and he’s good friends with the owner.
And then he came out and watched one of my races at New Smyrna. It was my first-ever Super Late Model race and thankfully I finished second. I had a good race, a very good race. He couldn’t believe I’d only had one test in the car, never seen the car before…so he was really impressed, extremely proud of me. So that was good to see me do well like that.
MH: That is very cool. How do you feel about starting in the ARCA series this weekend?
ML: It’s like a mixture of nervous and excited, you know but whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to go out there and do the best that I possibly can, and stay relaxed about it. If I go into it being nervous, I’m not going to do as well so…I’m just excited to hopefully get out there and get a good finish. The race will be on TV on NBC Sports. That’s going to be really cool.
MH: Are you going to be racing in ARCA regularly or is this just, you know, testing it out for the first time?
ML: There are two other races this year, after this weekend then I’ll hope to go racing, but it’s dependent on whether or not we can get sponsorship. But next year, I will most likely race every short track.
In the ARCA series, you have to be fifteen to run the short tracks; but then if you want to run mile and a half tracks, sixteen. And then stuff like Daytona and Talladega, and Pocono you have to be seventeen or eighteen years-old. So I can’t run a full points season, but I can run some races; and then if I build up to run the full season, I’ll already have run those short tracks, and I’ll be able to win races and possibly contend for a championship.
MH: I know that being an IB student places a lot of demand on time; and you being a race car driver, there are also demands for training (physical fitness and stuff). Do you have a lot to juggle and how do you do it?
ML: Yeah, it’s quite a bit I mean…I do my best but you know, the racing is mostly just on the weekends and sometimes I work on my own racecars, in the shop during the week. So, it gets hard when the teachers assign a lot of homework over the weekend or something, because they think I have a lot of time over the weekend but I really don’t.
MH: Well I think you have less time than most people. What are your goals? Do you want to go to college and still do racing; or do you want to go into racing full-time as soon as possible?
ML: I definitely want to go to college. I mean, I think you can race full-time and go to college. There are multiple people that have done that. Ben Kennedy is doing it right now, he goes to University of Florida; and he races a full season of racing. He’s getting ready to move up to the truck series right now, and there’s many people that have…if a football player can fly out on Wednesday or whatever and go play across the country and still take classes at their college; then I should be able to leave you know on Friday and come back on Monday. It’s possible.
MH: Have you had a chance to have any encounters, to meet any of the elite NASCAR drivers?
ML: Umm, a few. I mean I’ve talked to Carl Edwards. He was really nice but those Sprint Cup guys, they’re really busy. They’re either giving an interview, signing autographs or they’re in their trailer, or they’re getting into their car. They’re not just hanging around. But I know quite a few people in the ARCA series like umm, I’m really good friends with Chris Buescher, who’s actually getting ready to umm, now he runs Nationwide part-time with Roush. We’re pretty good friends, and I know all my team mates at Kimmel Racing and all that stuff.
MH: Is there anything about that lifestyle of a Sprint Cup driver that makes you nervous. You know the press, the demands that are placed on your time. Do you feel like that’s something that you’re looking forward to dealing with or you’re not really up to it yet?
ML: I like it. I mean, I try to do all of my own PR stuff myself. You know, I looked up online some classes on how to market yourself, stuff like that; and I really think it’s a common sense thing and I don’t really think someone needs to be paid to do it. So I try to get my own sponsors myself; and find radio interviews and website interviews and stuff like that myself. I think it’s kind of fun!
MH: It’s something you know that a lot of people, they’re saying that it’s less about driving and too much about marketing; and public appearances and stuff – but it’s just part of doing business, part of doing motorsports now is that it’s business; and you have to be able to sustain your team. Sponsors are important.
ML: Yeah I mean there’s only forty-three cars that race every weekend. You’ve got a choice between two drivers that are probably going to race the same, but one of them has the bigger sponsorship. That’s just…they take the guy with the sponsorship. It’s cruel that way, but that’s just the way it is. That’s the way NASCAR is today.
MH: Which drivers do you look up to?
ML: Umm, I definitely admire like Kyle Busch.
ML: Yeah…and every racer admires Kyle Larson just because they want to be like him you know. Flying out to Australia to do some race, and flying back overnight and doing a Nationwide race. I mean, that’s everyone’s dream. To race six races a week like he does. That’s just really cool.
MH: Do you see for yourself that you’d be open to trying other forms of racing besides stock cars or trucks?
ML: Absolutely! Even when I’m running my ARCA stuff next year, I’ll still be running my late model back at home and possibly trying to do dirt races maybe. I just love racing! I just want to be in a race car.
If you want to find out more about Michael Lira’s racing career, check out his website. You can also follow him on social media via Facebook and Twitter. We’re looking forward to seeing and hearing more from this talented teenager.