LAGUNA BEACH — For 10 years, Steve Lewis of Laguna Beach was publisher of the most successful active sportswear magazine in the country.
Action Sports Retailer magazine became the bible of an industry, inspired by the life styles of surfers, volleyball players and skateboarders. The magazine's trade shows in Atlantic City and San Diego are mandatory for sports enthusiasts seeking the latest fashions.
But after selling the successful enterprise last May, Lewis has concentrated on building a racing empire with a spinoff publication. Today, Performance Racing Industry magazine has a circulation of 16,000--the current issue is 244 pages--and trade shows featuring everything in the motor sports world from accessories to marketing tools for races.
But business successes notwithstanding, Lewis has failed in his efforts as a car owner to win the annual U.S. Auto Club Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix at Ascot Park in Gardena.
Lewis has met his share of deadlines as a publisher, but tonight's 50th edition of the 100-lap race on Ascot's famed half-mile track inspires a real sense of urgency for Lewis and the expected 90 entrants who will vie for 28 starting positions. This event is the last one at Ascot Park; the track's lease expires Dec. 31, and commercial developers are scheduled to begin construction there in January.
Lewis attended his first Turkey Night race in 1960 while attending college, and was surprised to see Indy car veterans Parnelli Jones, Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt among the entries.
"The stands were packed, and it all looked so intriguing," Lewis said. "Jones and Foyt considered midget racing one of the funnest forms of racing. It looked like fun, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Lewis met midget racer Don Horvath and became a "pit stooge," changing tires and learning the trade. In 1978, he met chassis builder Don Edmunds and his driver, Stan Fox, and became the owner of a racing team that featured Fox.
For 13 years, the bid by Lewis' Performance Racing team to win the Turkey Night race has ended in failure, frustration and bad luck.
Last year, Fox was running second behind Chuck Gurney of Livermore with two laps remaining when he ran out of fuel. Teammate Joe Gaerte had to be content with finishing sixth.
This year, Lewis has pulled out all stops to win the finale, entering three cars. Fox will drive the team's top qualifying car, and Gaerte, whose father built the engines, will drive the No. 2 car.
"We're keeping the third car open in case anything unexpected happens," Lewis said. "This is my last shot at winning Turkey Night, and all the bullets are in the gun. If we win, there will be a lot of relief. Our goal all year was to win Turkey Night. A victory would mean all the effort has paid dividends."
Lewis is counting on either Fox, a three-time qualifier for the Indianapolis 500, or Gaerte, who finished third in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, to reach the checkered flag first.
Each will drive an identically prepared car with a chassis built by Bob East of Indianapolis. They are capable of reaching a top speed of 100 miles per hour on Ascot's half-mile course.
Few open-wheel forms of racing are quicker than midget car racing. The 900-pound cars produce 300-horsepower with everything designed and functioning for one purpose: speed. Midget racing tests a driver's skill and finesse, not to mention an owner's pocketbook. Lewis has spent $15,300 for each engine alone.
Tom Sosbe heads an eight-man mechanical crew whose sole purpose will be to ensure that all three cars qualify in two-lap time trials for the main event, which is scheduled to begin at about 11 p.m.
Lewis says he is optimistic about his team's chances of winning, noting, "Our No. 1 car has set lap records at Ventura and Bakersfield the past two weeks. We have the top drivers, mechanics, engine and chassis builders in the country.
"We've been working nonstop for the past three weeks with one thing in mind: win Turkey Night. This is our last chance."