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Mike McVetta the new Flat Out Magazine this month

Mike McVetta, a Super Future

Todd Ridgeway
Flat Out Magazine
January 2016

Supermodifieds? Some say they are the pinnacle of the open wheel racing world. Others say they are the leftovers of days gone by, kind of like dinosaurs. A division that has definitely seen the highs and lows of racing throughout the years. A division that at one time defined the racing industry, helping to push motorsports to the for-front of family weekend entertainment, and was as popular as any racing division ever was or could be. Now, we find a handful of cars on the west coast, and the International Super Modified Association (ISMA) still thriving on the east coast with the lower budgeted, if there is such a thing, Midwest Supermodified Association (MSA) in the middle. The racers that made this division so popular were guys that worked a real job all week and worked on their cars all night. Just to do it all over again week after week. They were the driver, engine builder, and chassis builder all in one. Rules equaled a piece of paper and weight along with gum ball hard tires, just that simple. There was no set standard for the Super modified race car; they were built by fabricators, guys seeking an edge on the competition. If you got beat on race day, you went home and built a better mouse trap for next week, general finding parts at your local salvage yard or self-manufactured. Nowadays, most racers carry a helmet bag, while most cars are owned by car owners that pay someone to build a motor and maintain the car.

There is a new guy on the block that does it all the old school way, at least as close as you can get to old school these days. Enter Mike McVetta. Capturing both his first ISMA and MSA victories this past season, both races at Lorain (OH) County Speedway, his home track. The soon to be Father and 31-year old Wellington Ohio native was born to drive a Supermodified racecar. “My mom and dad are at every race,” started McVetta. “My dad helps me every week with maintenance on the car and My Father in law, Doug Saunier helps every week at the track. We all camp together, it is truly a family team. We just do it all together, racing is in my family. It started way before me, my grandfather raced, my uncles raced, my dad sponsored Randy Wynne, Dave Shullick, and Jim Shirey in the 90's. It's in my blood and I've been around it all my life. Growing up my heroes were Supermodified drivers,” finished McVetta. You can rest assured his wife Gina and soon to be daughter Stella is not too far away as well.

Like many open wheel racers, McVetta sported the Quarter Midget ranks then moved to the Paved Sprint Cars. Says McVetta, “My first race was at the old indoor quarter midget track at the Ohio state fairgrounds in January 1994 at age 9. I believe we finished 2nd. My first "big car" race was April 2001 at Columbus Motor Speedway in a 305 sprint car where I finished 6th. In 2011 I filled in for Jim Paller at Motordrome (PA) Speedway when he could not make it due to work obligations. I lead 33 of 50 laps and finished 6th in the race. A few weeks later Dave Koyan gave me a call and we worked out a deal to run the entire 2012 MSA season,” noted McVetta.

A 2007 graduate of The University of Toledo McVetta is by far not your everyday racer. Armed with an Engineering Degree and a wealth of intelligence, he would land a job with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Glenn Research Center in Cleveland Ohio. As an Engineer and Project Manager Mcvetta is up front for testing of items before the go into space high above the earth. A Supermodified racer with an engineering degree and NASA cutting edge technology can only spell success. According to McVetta the work he does for NASA helps him to look at his Supermodified racer in a different manor than others do. Thinking like an engineer, the math and science for both are very much alike. “In my final semester at The University of Toledo I started apply to several jobs openings and NASA was one of them. I started as an onsite contractor at NASA Glenn Research Center, and after a few years was hired on as a permanent employee with NASA. I treat the super modified as an engineering project. I constantly analyze different aspects of the car and try to make it better, just as I do at work. I love the ability to engineer the car and try different designs without fear of being penalized for creativity. It really boils down to creativity and transferring the knowledge learned to the race car. I look at the race car as a big engineering project,” noted Mcvetta.

McVetta’s No. 22 Red and Yellow car is a 2014 Rocket Chassis that is updated every year. “We built the car in-house using our own designs. We do it all, maintain it all, we only send out the engines. The engine is a 468 cubic inch big block Chevrolet built and maintained by Griff's racing engines in Sandusky Ohio. Being the designer and builder of my own car I can better understand how adjustments can make the car react. I'm also very good in lap traffic as a driver, so that helps. However, maintenance is the key. To finish first, you must first finish. We also keep a detailed notebook on everything we've done in the past so we don't make the same mis-adjustment twice. We do our best to listen to the car and let it tell us what it needs to be better. It sounds crazy, but the worst thing you can do is do the same old thing and expect different results,” noted Mcvetta.

The transition in 2015 from basically a local MSA schedule at three different tracks to a full ISMA schedule of several different tracks was a learning curve. “Race notes, they are extremely important. We struggled last year at all the new tracks we went to that we didn’t have any notes on. On the other hand, at the local tracks we had been to before we excelled with very good results. I expect next year we will be much better off now that we have stablished notes to go off of. Really, the biggest adjustment was setting the car up for longer races and training myself to save the tires for the end. With the MSA shows you could really lean on the car the entire time and not have to worry if the tires would still be good at the end. Getting the car done early to accommodate the extra travel time was another adjustment. We had a base setup we could start with. My father in law has run most of the tracks in the past, so he has been a great help to get us started. I also like to watch the other drivers in practice and learn their lines. Mentally the best thing to do is relax. The more stressed I am the harder it is to concentrate. The best thing for the car is to keep up with the maintenance and constantly inspect parts to make sure they don't fail. If we are busy fixing a broken race car, it's hard to make improvements on the track. In the longer races I try to save the tires as much as possible for the end, but always try to pass as many cars as possible when the opportunity arises. I always try to pass one car on every restart,” said McVetta.

“The ISMA competition is unbelievably tough,” notes McVetta. “On any given night over half the field is capable of winning. I feel racing with these guys I have become a much better driver. The speed, the G-forces, and the ability to have a fairly open rulebook that we can constantly try new things without fear of being penalized for creativity. It's a thrill being the premier division and racing in front of huge crowds. We have some great sponsors that help us out a ton and we make most everything in house to cut cost. With Supermodifieds, we have the freedom to try crazy off the wall ideas that would not be allowed in other divisions. Funding is the biggest challenge we face. We have great sponsors that help us out immensely, but we just don't have the funding to keep our engine program complete with the latest and greatest components, but we do the best we can with what we have.”

In racing you win some and lose many and that is just the way it is with the competition level. On winning and losing? “Generally I think more about what we could have done to win,” said McVetta. Being new to the ISMA circuit and most of the tracks, we learned a lot our first year and took a lot of notes at the different tracks so we can improve next year. We constantly try to improve our program.”

In June of 2015 the ISMA group visited Lorain County (OH) Speedway form the first time in series history. Mcvetta would get on point and blister the field in a 50 lap fast paced barn burner of a race. With a late race yellow flying with just a handful of laps to go McVetta would fend off the challengers to secure the victory, his first in the Supermodified race car. “It was really unbelievable to win the biggest event of the year at our home track. It was by far the race I wanted to win over any other. It's always great to excel in your backyard. The fact that it was at my home track, Lorain County Speedway, minutes from my house and a large portion of my family and sponsors were there to see it and the fact it was with ISMA, the toughest Supermodified group out there.

“You know,” said McVetta, “I have truly been blessed with so many accomplishments in life it’s hard to pick just one. From getting my bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, to my career at NASA testing equipment before it goes to space, to marrying my wife and the anticipation of my daughter being born at the end of the month. It's impossible to pick just one thing! Racing is a huge part of my life. I really enjoy building cars for myself and for others. I also enjoy working with antique vehicles and tractors. As a racer I want to be remembered as the underdog that excelled and was a fan favorite. And a guy that would support any sanctioning body, including non-wing. We are going to continue running with the ISMA series in 2016. We are also finishing up the design of a new car that we hope to debut at the end of the year or beginning of 2017. The great family time I've had racing, I just couldn't imagine going racing without my family by my side through it all.”

A thinker, tinkerer, engineer, fabricator, and driver all wrapped in one. This is the equation that equals Supermodified future. Not afraid to think outside the box, and not afraid to change things. Mike McVetta is probably going to be around a long time in the Supermodified division and that…folks…is something the Super World could use more of.


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