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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Lewis Does Things His Way With a Four-Car Team

November 17, 2000|SHAV GLICK

Two-car teams are becoming the rage in motor racing, from NASCAR to Formula One, from CART to the IRL.

Steve Lewis is carrying the multicar trend to extremes.

The Laguna Beach entrepreneur, owner of Performance Racing Industry, will field a four-car team in Thursday's 60th running of the U.S. Auto Club's Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway.

All will be in near-identical Beasts built by Bob East, a former California Racing Assn. driver now living in Brownsburg, Ind., and will be powered by Ed Pink-built Ford engines. All will also display Lewis' fetish for the No. 9.

* Tony Stewart, the winningest driver in Winston Cup this year with six victories and last year's Turkey Night runner-up, will drive No. 19.

* Jason Leffler, a three-time USAC midget car champion who defeated Stewart on the final lap in last year's dramatic race, will drive No. 9x.

* Dave Darland, 1999 USAC sprint car champion from Kokomo, Ind., and third-place Turkey Night finisher last year, will drive No. 9.

* Kasey Kahne, newly crowned USAC midget car champion from Enumclaw, Wash., will drive No. 91.

Why always a nine?

"My first year in midgets was 1979 with Stan Fox and he drove a No. 9 car," said Lewis. "He finished ninth in the standings and after that I kept writing nine on my membership application.

"I fell in love with No. 9 because of the way [car painter] Paul Knirm filled the tail of my midget with his sweeping No. 9. It really has a flair to it."

Lewis' midgets have won USAC national championships in six of the last eight years, with Stevie Reeves in 1993, Stewart in 1995, the late Kenny Irwin in 1996, Leffler in 1998 and 1999 and Kahne this year.

Kahne's championship this year was a bit of serendipity.

"We had watched Kasey run World of Outlaws and saw he had a lot of talent, so we worked out a deal to run him in selected races this year," said Lewis. "When he built up such a lead early in the season, we decided to run him all year long and he won six nationals and had no DNFs [did not finish]."

Lewis became a midget racing enthusiast when he was 10 or 11 and his parents took him to Saturday night races at the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.

"They weren't particularly race fans, but in those days there was no TV, no Lakers, no Dodgers, and going to the races was just something to do for entertainment Saturday nights.

"I became fascinated with the midgets. Like the old saying goes, 'You never know when you take a kid somewhere what might come from it.' "

He keeps seven midgets in his Laguna Beach race garage, four for pavement and three for dirt tracks.

Lewis' businesses are publishing a weekly trade magazine, Performance Racing Industry, and producing an industry trade show in Indianapolis.

"We have to work real hard at our business so we can go racing," he said.

This year's show, largest in motorsports, is scheduled Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

*

Racing won't be the only attraction Thanksgiving night at Irwindale.

Four new members of the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame will be inducted, plaques featuring the 74 hall of fame members will be on display, winners of previous Turkey Night races will be feted and the whole affair will be designated as "Cody Unser Night at Irwindale."

The hall of fame inductees, all deceased, are Roy Russing, winner of the 1940 and 1941 Turkey Night races and the 200-lap 1936 season opener at Gilmore Stadium; Ken Brenneman, who staged the first professional sanctioned midget race at the Sacramento Junior College stadium in 1933; Johnny Baldwin, five-time winner of the Bay Cities Racing Assn. championship; and Jack London, a prominent Bay Cities car owner and race promoter.

Among the Turkey Night winners on hand will be Mel Kenyon, 67, the 1963 and 1975 winner, who has filed an entry for the 100-lap race.

Kenyon, winner of an all-time USAC-record 111 midget races, will be making his 20th Turkey Night start. He won in '63 at Ascot Park and '75 at Speedway 606, across the highway from today's Irwindale Speedway.

In reality, he didn't win on Thanksgiving in 1975, when the race was postponed because of rain and run on Sunday.

Other former champions competing will be Leffler, last year's winner, and Jay Drake, who won in 1998.

Others expected to attend are eight-time winner Ron Shuman, 1979, '80, '81, '82, '84, '87, '92 and '93; Parnelli Jones, 1964 and '66; Stan Fox, 1990 and '91; Tony Simon, 1972; Kevin Olson, 1983; Danny Oakes, 1945; Brent Kaeding, 1985; Rick Goudy, 1978; Chuck Gurney, 1988 and '89; Jordan Hermansader, 1994; and Bubby Jones, 1976.

Irwindale will be the first host of a series of "Racers Care" fund-raiser nights to bring an awareness to Cody Unser's national effort to find a cure for paralysis and transverse myelitis. Cody, 13, daughter of Shelley and Al Unser Jr., was paralyzed below the chest early last year with a rare spinal cord inflammation known as transverse myelitis.

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