In the world of the ARCA Racing Series, full-time teams are far and few between. The division, a small step in the ladder to climb up the NASCAR rankings, has been the stepping stone for several stars in the world of stock car racing.
For Michael Lira, he hopes to follow in that path. Driving for the family-owned Lira Motorsports, he has raced part-time in ARCA since 2013, attempting to prove to potential partners that he is worth their time. But in the meantime, he has been working closely with his father, Carlos Lira, who has developed a relationship as an automobile dealer mogul.
The company now has a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing, one of Ford’s major power plants in the NASCAR world. This year, the sides partnered up to put Xfinity Series driver Ryan Reed, along with some of RFR’s development drivers, into a handful of ARCA races, attempting to gain confidence for the future. With Lira’s guidance, the team now has two victories as it searches for success in the future. In this exclusive interview with Frontstretch, he discusses the team’s season, what the future holds and how working with Roush has improved the organization.
Joseph Wolkin, Frontstretch: How would you evaluate the team’s season overall?
Michael Lira: It started off so small in a three-day and three-car garage. We built it into this huge team with a new building, and we run four cars a week now. We have great personnel and have great equipment. We had some bugs that we needed to work out, and I feel like we have done a good job at working those out. We’re really looking forward to continuing to keep on growing in 2016.
Wolkin: The team has won two races this year and David Levine has had a strong season. Have you guys surpassed expectations?
Lira: Absolutely. I didn’t think we would be this successful. I knew we had good equipment, but I thought it would take a lot more time for us to start clicking like we are. It happened mid-way through the season. People got accustomed to each other and it just got into a groove. We have really been firing on all cylinders with this well-oiled machine.
Wolkin: What was the key change over the offseason that has been the biggest difference maker this year?
Lira: Over the offseason, there really wasn’t a team in October. We found Teddy Brown, who is our director of competition. He did a really great job at being in charge of the team, hiring people and manages what goes on in the shop. He really knows how to set up a racecar, too. That is definitely the biggest change that we had over the offseason, just a good place to start to build from.
Wolkin: Expanding from two cars to four, what additional resources did you guys need to do that?
Lira: The simple stuff like pit boxes, another hauler to grab the other two cars, more people and more spare parts. You can never have enough inventory in spare parts. I was surprised that a lot of people go to three or four cars and it’s usually like one car out of the four usually suffers and has problems. I feel like we did a really good job at having four cars. All four cars had a fair chance at winning the race.
Wolkin: You only ran a limited schedule this year. How much did it tarnish your performance being that you didn’t race weekly in ARCA?
Lira: It definitely helps racing week-to-week. Whenever I’m not racing in ARCA, I try to be racing something else like a late model at home or a go-kart. I just try to get my butt in the seat no matter what. I’m racing a Mustang at Road Atlanta this weekend. If it has four wheels and a motor, I want to run it.
Wolkin: What do you feel like you need to improve on moving forward?
Lira: My first season in 2014 was kind of like a learning season. It was kind of like David’s season – just make all the races and finish all of the laps and gain experience. I really didn’t have that much speed, but I was always able to get to the end of the race and get a top 10. This year, I started to get faster on the track and become a faster driver.
But what happens is you start pushing the limits of the equipment and that’s when wrecks happen. You’re pushing more when you’re going faster. The next thing I need to learn is to save the equipment better and figure out when a good time to gun it is and when it’s not. If I can put it together, that’s what will create race wins for me.
Wolkin: David said at Kentucky he isn’t signed on for next year. How difficult is it to have a top quality driver that you can’t re-sign due to a lack of funding?
Lira: That’s kind of the reality of the sport. It takes a lot of money to do this stuff, and it’s unfortunate. The right things happen to the right people and we’re hoping to put something together with him.
Wolkin: What are your plans for next year?
Lira: My plans for next year are to definitely get back in the seat in ARCA, trying to get some wins and top fives since that is what I’m missing. I definitely want to get some more experience in the late model rankings, trying to get some more wins. My resume is lacking wins a little bit, so I just need some more experience in general before we start moving up to the ranks of NASCAR.
Wolkin: Do you foresee running a Truck Series race in the near future?
Lira: I’m not sure yet. We kind of have that in the works as of now, but we’re not too sure about running any trucks right now.
Wolkin: You guys are starting to develop a relationship with Roush Fenway Racing. How did that get started and what do you see coming out of it as of now?
Lira: My dad owns a dealership that is the No. 1 dealership of Roush parts and Mustangs. Through that and gaining all that business for Roush and himself, he and Jack became really close friends. When dad started the race team, it was only natural that they would end up cooperating somehow. Jack saw that everything is really good equipment and everything is clean and we do everything like a Cup team basically. He was definitely excited about putting Ryan Reed in the car.