Age is just number, right? Well, that’s at least what one driver in the ARCA Series says.
2013 marked the start of one young man’s journey to the top. Actually, that journey started years ago. Since he was a nine-year-old, Michael Lira has always been in the seat of a race car.
Lira currently races for Kimmel Racing – owned by fellow driver Will Kimmel. Working with Will and his father Bill Kimmel, the two have created one of the top teams in the ARCA Series. With Lira joining the organization late last year, Kimmel Racing has begun to see an added level of success.
“He definitely helps because he’s out there driving,” Lira said of his teammate. “I have been switching over to his radio channel – asking him a lot of questions because he is running really well. It has been huge to have him as a mentor – especially with the places that he has been too and knows already.”
Splitting time between the team’s flagship cars, the no. 68 and No. 69 Fords, Lira is going to be running 14 of the 20 events in the division this season. In addition to racing in the ARCA Series, he hasn’t forgotten about where he came from either.
Lira and his father have been able to raise the funding to race. With the ownership of Gary Yeoman’s Ford in Daytona Beach, Florida, the father-son combination has worked their way up through the stock car ranks. The family’s Ford dealership is one of the most successful in the country, and it is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. Due to the dealership’s success, the pair has also developed a relationship with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Jack Roush.
“My dad and I have a good alliance with Mr. Roush," Lira said. "Our dealership, Gary Yeoman’s Ford, is the number one seller of Roush Mustangs and Roush Performance Parts in the world. They are good friends. Jack has helped me here and there. We use all Roush-Yates stuff. I want to do as many races as I can possibly do. ARCA is my main focus, but I won’t be able to race Daytona, Talladega or Michigan I believe because I don’t turn 18 until July next year."
After running eight races so far in this season, Lira has three top-10 finishes. Kimmel, however, has four in just seven starts. With his experience, he has been able to help his 17-year-old driver at tracks he has never been to. But even while running for a team that is finding success, both drivers have had trouble attaining additional sponsorship – the bread and butter of achieving their goals on and off the race track.
Running on a part-time basis has helped him develop to the level of competition. When he isn’t racing in the ARCA Series, the Florida-native is racing Super and Pro Late Models with his family. But the best part about this year in his mind is that he is able to gain experience on a weekly basis.
“The biggest thing is that we are not running for points," he explained. "It is like a giant test session for me. Every time you come back to a track for a second time – a lot of these short tracks that I went to that I didn’t test at – I felt like I was a lot better at the end of the race than I was at the first lap. If we came back here (Pocono) next week, I feel like we’d be setting ourselves up for a really good run, so we have a good future here.
“For the short track races, we kind of just showed up on race day and tried to learn the track in the two short 45-minute practices. After the race – I feel a lot better about it. I feel like when we go back to these tracks in a year or two when we are back and I have been to all of these tracks, it is going to be huge for me when I’m in the car.”
As he prepares for 2015, Lira will be entered in nearly every event in the ARCA Series. Since he doesn’t turn 18 until next July, he is restricted from competing in the restrictor plate events, along with a few other races. With hopes of racing full-time sooner rather than later, the high school student is focused on just getting better with time.
Since the father-son tango has a relationship with Roush, they are hoping to piece together a development deal in the near future. Roush is a partner with Kimmel Racing, but they also worked closely with Roulo Brothers Racing in ARCA as well. Most of Roush’s developmental drivers – including Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher – started out their deal with the organization by racing for the Roulo’s. However, before they can come up with a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, Lira will need to find just a drop more speed on the race track.
“We’re hoping to work out a development deal soon, but we need to get more top-fives and start winning races before we can start talking about that,” Lira said. “Obviously, equipment is huge for everybody. You see people who move up quick and have good funding behind them and they can run well. You have to make sure that when you move to a new team or a new car that you have good people around you. More than expertise, it is about the people that are around you.”