Michael James Lewis discovered his passion for racing at an early age. Born and raised in Laguna Beach, Michael spent his childhood at the racetrack with his father, Steve, owner of the Nine Racing midget series team that has included drivers such as Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne. Although Steve—who also founded (and sold) the locally based Performance Racing Industry magazine and trade show—never pushed him to compete, Michael eventually established his own name on the track, where he now drives a Porsche GT3 R for the Effort Racing team. Despite traveling the world and moving from amateur to professional status earlier this year, the 24-year-old maintains a humble attitude that no doubt plays a large part in his success. Michael spoke with us about his career highlights and memorable experiences.
Laguna Beach Magazine: What was it like racing near home for the first time at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach this past April?
Michael Lewis: That was awesome. That racetrack is really historic … [and] a lot of my friends went to it, which never really happens too often because I race really far away. … We ended up this year getting our best result there, fourth overall.
How do you prepare for each race?
Before the race, I do the track mentally, and I rehearse what I’m going to do. Well before the race, like a week out, that’s a little different style. … There’s a really intense cardio aspect to [driving] a racecar. … So a week out, I’ll just do a lot of running, study the track, do a little bit of simulator work, look at some notes, plan out what I’m going to be doing. … And then before the race, I have little things here and there that I try and do. But really just rehearse [the lap in my head] as much as possible.
You raced in Europe from 2010 to 2013, and now you’re racing major courses across the U.S. How have the experiences differed?
The racing itself is one thing. That’s awesome whether you’re in Germany or the U.S. … I feel really at home right now racing in North America, to be honest. I haven’t really raced here in a long time. It’s a new experience for me. … I’m from the U.S. and it’s cool to race and represent your country within your country. … Although I’m having fun here in the U.S., the people in Europe … just pushing me to win really developed my career for the better. So I have to thank Europe for who I am. Europe was definitely influential in how I think and how I drive.
You finished your first season in the Pirelli World Challenge with fifth place at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September. How did last year’s victorious performance there influence your preparation for racing that track again?
Just not being over confident. It’s a new year and things can change. … Because if I [went] in there [with the mindset], “I did really well here last year,” and not worry about it, that can come back to bite you. I make sure I see my plan of attack … and listen to my team. … That’s actually why I did well last year. I was just like, I’m going to go to the track … and not care about [finishing] first or second; just go out there and try your best.
In addition to your racing, you’re also a student at California State University, Fullerton. How do you balance school and a demanding career?
It’s pretty hard. Right now I’m trying to make [racing] happen so I might take fewer classes than the normal student. It’s really about being realistic and not adding on too much on the school side or even the racing side. … And then use school kind of as training or a way to develop your mind, [like] an asset for your racing career. It takes dedication and commitment to stick to the plan and not waver from it. … I want to be done. I just have to keep doing it slowly for my lifestyle.
—Written By Rachel Young | Photos by Camden Thrasher