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A Class Act
By Dan Schechner on July 24, 2017

Late last week—July 20, to be precise—PRI founder Steve Lewis was inducted into the United States Auto Club (USAC) Hall of Fame alongside fellow 2017 honorees Donald Davidson, Frankie DelRoy, Gene Hartley, Howard Linne, Robbie Stanley, Steve Stapp, Johnny Thomson, Chuck Gurney, Lloyd Ruby, Ken Schrader and Bob East.

Lewis, who established the venerable Nine Racing team in the late 1970s, would go on to record 133 national wins and 10 USAC National Midget Series championships over a dominant 25-year span that brought top drivers like Mike Bliss, Dave Darland, Bobby East, Joe Gaerte, Tracy Hines, Kenny Irwin Jr., Kasey Kahne, Jason Leffler, Stevie Reeves, Dave Steele, Tony Stewart, J.J. Yeley and others into victory lane time and time again.

We caught up with Lewis on the eve of his induction to reminisce a bit over his career achievements. Following are his insights on “what all of this means”:  

On the accomplishments he’s most proud of:

We raced for 25 years, earned 10 USAC National Championships and amassed 133 USAC National feature wins in the process. Most important during this amazing journey were the contributions of a group of extremely talented and motivated individuals who all made very valuable contributions to the Nine Racing winning effort. 

I was fortunate to work closely with Don Edmunds (Autoresearch) Ray Fitzpatrick and Bill Steiner (Autocraft Engines), Bob East (BEAST Chassis), Earl Gaerte and Tim Sosbe (Gaerte Engines), and finally Ed Pink (Ed Pink Racing Engines). 

We were also blessed to have talented drivers that all had the desire to win, work hard and contributed so much to the program through the years.
 
On one or two particularly special accomplishments:
 
When Stan Fox won the team’s first USAC feature in September 1979 at Anderson Speedway—I thought, how I could ever achieve anything more rewarding? I had no idea what was coming. But I do remember how special it was to see the #97 Linne Lewis midget in victory lane at Anderson that evening.

Another very special moment came in November of 1990 at the annual Thanksgiving Grand Prix held at Ascot Park. This was to be the last Thanksgiving Grand Prix ever for Ascot Park, so over 100 midgets and drivers came to race.  When the checkered flag waved on the 100th lap, Stan Fox, driving the #9 Gaerte BEAST midget, won the race. And for everyone on the team, that fateful evening [we all] felt something very special had occurred.
 
We took great pride when our drivers were selected to “move up” to the NASCAR ranks. Drivers that won championships and went on to NASCAR were Stevie Reeves (1993 Champion), Tony Stewart (1995 Champion),  Kenny Irwin Jr. (1996 Champion), Jason Leffler (1998), Kasey Kahne (2000 Champion), JJ Yeley ( 2003 Champion) and Bobby East (2004 Champion).
 
On a couple of memories that stand out among the rest:
 
We had the good fortune to also work with a number of talented drivers on a “hit and miss” basis, one of which was the late Dave Steele. Dave Steele was such a talented pavement driver and a real master of the Phoenix Mile track. 

Dave was selected to drive the BEAST–Toyota midget to debut the new Ed Pink Toyota engine. It was a masterful performance by Dave and the team as he put his #91 Beast Toyota midget on the pole and won the 25-lap feature.
 
USAC veteran Dave Darland earned his USAC midget championship driving our Nine Racing midgets in 2001. Dave was noted for his prowess on dirt, and during his tenure with the team he won 25 features, mostly on dirt.

However, one of the most memorable feature wins for Dave (and the team) was when he won the 2007 Thanksgiving Grand Prix on pavement at Irwindale Speedway. This was a huge win for Dave and a real accomplishment to come out on top with all of the best pavement specialists in the business to race against.
 
On his feelings over what the team accomplished during its 25-year run:

I am so proud.… It is a true honor to be inducted into the USAC Hall Of Fame, and to join a very special group of people who dedicated their lives to pursue their passion as drivers, mechanics, car owners, and race event producers.

When you are operating a race team, you think only, “How can we win the next race?” It was very fun and rewarding to be a part of the team of special, dedicated, talented people. Our success throughout came as a result of the combined efforts of the very talented people who all made such valuable contributions to the Nine Racing winning effort.

 

About the Author
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Dan Schechner is the Editor of Performance Racing Industry Magazine.
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