Ransomville, NY – Steve Lewis remembers watching the Daytona 500 on TV every year growing up in western New York. Daytona was one of his favorite races, and he knew if he ever had a chance to compete at the storied superspeedway in Florida, with its massive banking around 2.5 miles of history-making pavement, it would be a dream come true.
In February, the second-generation DIRTcar 358 Modified racer from Ransomville turned his dream into reality.
Lewis has watched as fellow New Yorker Andy Jankowiak competed in several ARCA Menards Series races, which convinced Lewis to give it a shot on his own. With some money he saved post-college graduation from the University of Buffalo, he found a suitable vehicle in December 2022 and set it up for Daytona. He first traveled from Ransomville to Daytona International Speedway in January to get approved for competition by NASCAR. He returned the following month to race in the Brandt 200.
“I went down in February with not much experience in asphalt racing,” said Lewis, who finished seventh overall in the 2022 DIRTcar 358-Modified championship. “That was my first-time asphalt racing. I ended up getting 13th, so it was a pretty successful weekend.”
Beyond the privilege of competing, Lewis welcomed and appreciated the camaraderie of drivers from all over the country and viewing the event from a different perspective.
“Being around all those guys, I got to meet a lot of other drivers,” said Lewis, who enters this weekend fourth in the Ransomville Speedway championship standings. “They come from all over the country. That was pretty cool. Just being on pit road, I think that was a pretty special part of the race. The whole driver introductions, the national anthem, all that stuff was pretty cool when you look ahead and see a huge stadium like Daytona.”
The trip was such a fulfilling experience, and the dirt racing season had yet to commence in New York, that he decided to turn around and run the General Tire 200 in April at Talladega Superspeedway. Unfortunately, his car suffered electrical issues and he didn’t place as well as he was hoping. Still, the experience proved to be a significant learning experience when he returned to Ransomville.
“After doing Daytona and Talladega, you definitely notice a difference in speed,” Lewis said. “I feel like everything kind of slowed down a bit in the 358. I feel like those asphalt races teach you to be really smooth as a driver, which I think suits me a little bit.”
Now focusing on DIRTcar 358 Modified races, Lewis is ready to put in the work to meet the goals he set for his sixth year in the division.
“I would like to get a few wins at Ransomville [Speedway],” Lewis said. “The 358 Series is tough, so just to be able to compete, [be in the] top-10, top-five, on the Series would be pretty cool … if you can do that, the wins will come. The points will take care of themselves. I feel like that’s what will make it a successful season.”
The DIRTcar 358-Modified Series gets underway on Sunday, June 4 at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park in Fultonville, NY with the $4,000-to-win Mohawk Valley Showdown.
For the full DIRTcar 358 Modified schedule, visit dirtcar.com/schedule.
Photo: Chad Snopkowski