(Heath Lawson Photo) By CAMDEN PROUD
Mike Maresca has not had much of an offseason at all. The versatile driver from Hannawa Falls, N.Y. finished off his busy 2017 campaign making the first Super Late Model start of his young career at the Cherokee Speedway in South Carolina. It was then on to the Inaugural Indoor Dirt Nationals in Trenton, N.J. in the No. 7B Micro Sprint for car owner Eric Orozco.
After Trenton, Maresca and crew hit the road to drive to the Tulsa Shootout, also with Orozco’s car. Impressively enough, Maresca won his heat and qualifier in the new Outlaw Non-Wing car that was purchased only a few short weeks earlier. Mike brought home a 17th place finish in the A-Main out of the 267 total drivers that were in competition.
A 7th place run in Maresca’s Super Late Model debut at Cherokee prompted car owner Russ King to make the long haul to the Arizona Speedway for the Keyser Manufacturing Wild West Shootout, this of course after Mike appeared at the Allentown Indoor Auto Racing Championship event at Allentown with his family’s TQ Midget. He was just in Atlantic City two weeks ago as well, by the way.
In Arizona, Maresca was in the A-Main by night 3, once more on night 4, and yet again on night 5 and 6 finishing 8th and 9th in his final two shows in Arizona.
Finally, yesterday marked what was only Maresca’s eighth career Super Late Model event as part of the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series Winternationals at the East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa, F.L. Maresca noted; “I did a little Crate stuff in 2016 and in 2017 I ran one Crate race at Ohsweken and then the one at Cherokee at Thanksgiving time last year.”
Russ King Racing’s original plan was to head to the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series ‘Winter Freeze’ opener at the Screven Motor Speeedway, but that event was called for the weekend due to rain. With that, King pointed his hauler further south to west Florida as the team rolled into the Winternationals on Thursday evening.
Not expecting much at all, Maresca certainly accomplished quite a lot, timing eighth fast out of the twenty total cars which took time in the second qualifying group. In his heat race, Maresca started third, which was perfect, because the top three cars qualified for the main event. Unfortunately though, a mistake set the St. Lawrence Radiology RKR team back quite a bit on the initial start as Mike fell all the way back to the seventh spot. He recovered for fifth, but had to go to the B-Main.
“It was really pretty cool,” Maresca said of his Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series debut. “We were going to go to Screven for the Outlaw race and the whole weekend rained out so we decided to come to East Bay. Our goal originally was just to do OK, we didn’t really expect to make the show, but we just wanted to be in the hunt and learn some things. We rolled out of the box with a really good piece, timed pretty good, made a mistake in the heat race I thought. That was quite a bit to adjust to.”
The 22 year-old certainly adjusted well though. After starting fifth in the LCQ, it didn’t take long before the No. 7MM was at the front of the field as Maresca paced most of the LCQ out front, impressively transferring into the Winternationals out of nearly 60 total cars that attempted to qualify.
“It was nice to get the win in the B-Main, I thought going into the main we had a really good car,” Maresca stated. “It was just easy to drive all night. Getting to make the show and race with all of those guys is really pretty neat. They are super, super good so if you aren’t on it 100% then you aren’t going to be very good so that’s a testament to my crew chief (Russ) on how prepared he is when it comes to this stuff. He knows all about setting these things up.”
The two clearly work well together, as timing 8th fast, winning a B-Main, not to mention going on to finish 14th as part of Maresca’s first career main event with one of the most prominent touring series in the country is no easy task. Like Mike does with so many of the different classes of cars he competes in, he showed his rather broad talent, and adapted very quickly.
“It’s cool for sure,” Maresca said. “I think because I come from big blocks these cars a lot different but they suit my style a little better. With the big blocks I’m definitely not the greatest, I think I struggle a lot. But these Rocket Chassis cars are really good, smooth to drive and I really enjoy driving them, so I think that makes it all a little easier on me. Russ (King) and I can talk a lot about what the cars doing and I’m starting to learn more about these cars and how to set them up and what different things do as well, so we are taking our time learning one thing at a time and I think that really helps a lot too.”
With the team’s major goal for the weekend out of the way already, that doesn’t mean Maresca is losing sight of what he wants to do; qualify. He believes he knows what he has to do to get there as well as improve his finishes day by day, while still noting that “It’s all about qualifying. To get into the race I need to execute better and do a little better job out there, improve my time. The car is really pretty good, but I just made some mistakes. The East Bay track caught me off guard when that tide comes in and runs all the water up the track it makes things pretty slippery so it’s slimy for a bit. You have to pay attention to that, drive accordingly, make less mistakes and hopefully get a top ten.”
With all this being said, the Winternationals come to a close on Sunday. So what’s next for Maresca? Of course, Late Model and Big Block week rolls around at the DIRTcar Nationals at the Volusia Speedway Park beginning Monday. Maresca’s St. Lawrence Radiology Big Block owned by his father is on its way down south as well. So now, Maresca has a choice.
Following a big night in the Late Model to boost his confidence on Thursday, I asked Mike if the plan was just to focus on that division at Volusia. He said, “Yeah that’s kind of our plan. We will go down and do the first two UMP shows and shake it down, run the first couple World of Outlaws races and if it allows that we run our Big Block that’s great too. I just kind of want to focus on one thing. We’ve got this Late Model running pretty good and that’s kind of where I want to be at. That’s my goal and I want to prove that I can do it, so I’m going to have to get after it the next couple of days to show people that I can do it and maybe see if it’s worth running the season with, but all of that comes down to these next couple of days so I’m just going to do the best job that I can. If we aren’t running great in the Super and we don’t really feel like it’s going anywhere than we’ll run the Modified and get that tuned in, but our focus is kind of on the Super right now.”
There’s no question that this young man is living the dream already, but a good portion of the World of Outlaws Late Model schedule isn’t out of the question for the Super DIRTcar Series regular this season either. In fact, much of the 2018 schedules for the RKR and St. Lawrence Radiology teams will be based off of Mike’s performances in Florida.
“It all depends on Volusia, but I’d love to do a lot of the World of Outlaws stuff if we could make that happen,” Maresca commented. “It’s definitely a tough, grueling schedule, so we’d have to work on sponsorship quite a bit and all of that stuff, but we’ve worked hard and I think we could do it, but we’d just have to do some weekly racing here and there to keep up with the testing and all of that stuff, so I’d love to do that, it would be a dream of mine. It all comes down to these next few days, how I perform and if I’m ready or not so that would be the ultimate goal.”
For those that like watching Maresca in the Big Block Modified division, that’s not going away at all. A winner at Fonda Speedway last year, Mike has a whole slew of races and tracks he’d like to run at and win at. There’s no doubting that some of his schedule will allow for Modified racing this season, especially back at home and on the Super DIRTcar Series should he not run the Super Late Model as much as planned.
“If not, we will run our Modifieds back home, Big Block and Small Block,” Maresca said. “Try bouncing around a lot, weekly points for the Super DIRTcar Series, I’d like to do Friday at Mohawk, Saturday at Fonda and Sunday at Utica-Rome and then anything else that’s going on that’s feasible to run with. Maybe we run the Super DIRTcar Series again and race around a little bit, get to some new tracks and try to get a couple more wins, maybe some big wins at home. We haven’t really got any of those. I would love to grab a couple 100 lappers, things like that. It would be nice for me to run at home.”
Maresca has received an overwhelming amount of support within the past several hours from his fans, sponsors, crew, and fellow drivers back at home in New York State. It’s an exciting time for Mike as he lives his dream in the Sunshine State, and he was quick to give credit to everyone that’s making that dream become a reality.
“I have to thank my Dad, St. Lawrence Radiology, Rex X Racing, Russ King Racing, all the crew, Clements Racing Engines, Keizer Manufacturing, Integra Shocks, all the sponsors that put on these races, all the fans that come out, and all of the people back home that have sent me words of encouragement or good job, things like that. I really appreciate it, I’m trying to get back to everybody and it means a lot. I’m trying to represent everybody from around where I’m from and it makes me proud to be where I’m from and do well down here, so thanks to everyone back at home for cheering me on too.”
No matter which path Maresca ends up taking in motorsports, there’s no doubt that the future is bright. We will be seeing this growing talent wheeling all kinds of different race cars for many, many, many years to come.