NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – Saturday’s Prelude to the Florida Governor’s Cup was Ryan Luza’s first real-life late model start in five years. However, he made it look as though he’d never left.
Luza, who won the pro late model track championship at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., in 2015, qualified fastest and led all 50 laps Saturday night en route to a dominant victory at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway.
He won by 3.844 seconds over veteran Brad May after earlier topping the qualifying session by more than two tenths of a second.
In short, Luza made a convincing statement after having to curtail his real-life racing in 2016 due to a lack of sponsorship.
“This means a lot,” said Luza, who was driving for Dustin Skinner and Jamie Skinner, the sons of inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Mike Skinner. “I’ve missed late models so much. They’re so much fun to drive, and obviously, we had a badass piece for this race.”
The 24-year-old native of Cypress, Texas, had never turned a lap New Smyrna prior to racing there on Saturday. He had never even seen the facility in person.
As it all turned out, that lack of experience didn’t matter.
Luza, who turned to eSports and became a champion of the simulated eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series in his rookie season in 2017 after his real-life racing program stalled, used his iRacing chops and virtual tools to prepare for Saturday’s race.
That preparation paid dividends. After an invert of two shifted him to the outside of the front row for the start of the feature, Luza soared to the race lead as soon as the green flag waved and was never seriously challenged.
After the checkered flag, Luza’s race-winning machine was protested by Stephen Nasse and Jett Motorsports, but an extensive teardown of the engine under the hood of the No. 15 revealed nothing out of the ordinary. On this particular night, Luza was simply that strong.
May came home as a distant runner-up, but credited Luza and the Skinners for their efforts and preparation prior to Saturday night’s race.
“The Skinners test [at New Smyrna] quite a bit and get their cars really strong,” May said. “When you put a good driver in a car like that and they can take advantage of that team’s speed and the time they spend testing, it does makes a difference. He did a good job.”
Nasse crossed the line third, followed by Daniel Keene and Hayden Sprague.
Saturday’s victory soothed a few wounds for Luza, who was denied a second eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship on Nov. 2 after late-race contact with fellow title contender Bobby Zalenski sent his virtual No. 53 into the outside wall, heavily damaged.
Had he won that title – which utilized the same Championship 4 format as the three NASCAR national series – the $100,000 prize would have gone a long way toward re-establishing his real-life racing efforts, Luza noted.
At this point, however, Luza’s only other scheduled start in a pro late model is the upcoming Snowflake 100 at Five Flags in early December. It’s a race he badly wants to win.
“That $100,000 would have been nice and that’s still eating me alive,” Luza said of the eNASCAR finale. “That’s life changing money no matter who you are. I don’t really cry, but I cried that night.
“The race was over two or three times and there was a couple bad cautions, so we took tires, and drove back to the lead. We just got hooked,” he added. “It hurts to have that kind of speed and have the title taken away that many times. It was a lot of money, but this makes up for it.
“We’ve run good here, so hopefully now we can go and have a good run at the Snowflake, and attract something for next year. It’s sucked being away this long, but this was such a good day, being back in a late model.”
Ryan Luza, Brad May, Stephen Nasse, Daniel Keene, Hayden Sprague, Cody Hall, Juan Gonzalez, Colt Hensley, Blake Suttie, Randy Anderson, Andrick Dimayuga