By Kyle LoJacono
For 14-year-old Carlie Lewis of Zephyrhills, it seems only natural to race despite not being old enough to drive on public roads.
“It kind of runs in the family,” Lewis said. “My grandpa raced and my cousin David Reutimann is in NASCAR. Not a lot of girls race and I thought I could be good at it.”
Lewis thought correctly, as she is currently in the top 10 in the American Minicup Racing series sponsored by David Reutimann, according to her grandfather and crew chief Buddy Smith. The series Web site did not have an up-to-date calculation of the points as of June 30.
“I just love to see her run out there,” Smith said. “Her biggest attribute is how well she can move through traffic. She has no fear moving between small spaces on the track.”
Her ability is apparent from how she talks about the sport.
“I like starting in the back,” Lewis said. “Really it’s boring starting at the pole. It’s better to start in the back and work my way up through everyone else. When you’re in front it’s like you’re racing against yourself and that’s not real racing.”
Lewis, who has been racing for about two years, said she has won four or five races. She finished in fourth place last season and estimated she has been in 60 races. She can average about 100 mph on the larger courses and tops out around 120.
“My best moment on the track was in my sixth or seventh race when I passed someone on the last lap for my first win,” Lewis said. “That was a close call.”
The racing prodigy drives minicup cars, which are half the size of a traditional race car and are so small drivers have to climb in through the roof. She has also driven a pro challenge truck five times. The trucks are much harder to drive as they do not have power steering.
“I’m more fearful in the trucks,” Lewis said. “They are more powerful and I had a bad experience in it…Someone came up fast from behind me and turned me into the wall. I just had some bruises though.”
When asked if he is ever afraid watching Lewis, Smith said, “I know she has the ability. “I just think to myself be careful. She doesn’t really get that nervous though and she doesn’t even like to talk on the radio because it distracts her. She gets into the rhythm and does amazing things out there.”
The minicup series is mainly confined to tracks in central Florida. Men and women of all ages participate in the series and Lewis said she is usually the youngest in all the races.
Her favorite track is Desoto Super Speedway in Bradenton because it is larger and she can go faster on it. The closest track to her Zephyrhills home is the Auburndale Speedway.
Smith also raced right up until last year when he said his eyesight became too poor. It was his history with racing that got Lewis into the sport.
“I had this old car that was really just a frame,” Smith said. “One day (Lewis) saw a minicup race and asked me if we could get the old car to run. I told her I think it will if we work on it. So we fooled around with it and got it going and it evolved from that.”
They still have the old car they rebuilt, but now Lewis races in a newer minicup car — the No. 99. She said her grandfather is working to get her a spot in the Arca Racing Series, which is a step below NASCAR racing.
“She has the talent to do something special with racing and I’ll be very proud of her no matter what she does,” Smith said. “It doesn’t have to be in the racing field, just whatever makes her happy.”
Lewis has other interests outside of racing. She said she loves playing soccer and has played it throughout middle school and wants to play for the Zephyrhills High team when she starts there in the fall. Her dream is to be a professional soccer player, but really enjoys spending so many weekends at various tracks.
“I want to thank my grandpa for working with me all the time to help me get better,” Lewis said. “Also my friends Kristi, Nicole and Hali go to basically all my races and Hali records the races so I can see what I need to work on. All of them and my parents support me and I couldn’t do anything on the track without them.”
Lewis’ next race is at Auburndale July 17. For more information on the racing series, visit www.floridaminicup.com.