Mike Garvey has made only two Late Model starts since the 2016 season, after a racing accident resulted in a back injury. The result was lingering numbness from nerve damage in his legs. Garvey has made a slow recovery, while concentrating on his business MGR (Mike Garvey Racing) over the last several years. But the driver from Pensacola, Florida is ready to strap the driver’s helmet back on and make his third trip to Irwindale Speedway (CA) for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series “Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame” on February 6. He will be driving a second car out of the Chris Davidson stables as a teammate to the Friendswood, Texas driver.
Garvey was once one of the most successful drivers in Late Model competition across the country. He had 21 wins in the now defunct American Speed Association (ASA) National Tour, scoring the most season wins on three occasions. From 1999 to the series close in 2004, Garvey never finished worse than sixth in the championship standings, finishing third in that final season. Garvey was the NASCAR All American Challenge Series Champion in 1990, a predecessor to the NASCAR Southeast Tour Series, which began the following season. Garvey has wins in the All-Pro Super Series, X-1R Pro Cup Series, NASCAR Southeast Series, ARTGO Challenge Series, and USAR Hooters Late Model Series to name just a few. He has two victories in the prestigious All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (TN) and multiple big event wins.
Garvey’s return to the Super Late Model wars was the direct result of his good friend and client, Chris Davidson. The opportunity to get back behind the wheel is something Garvey feels will benefit both he and his clients, and it made perfect sense with Davidson making the haul from Texas.
“Chris Davidson came to me and said, “Why don’t we just run both cars out there?” Garvey explained. “Racing is getting so advanced and so tight, any information you can get is just more information. It just helps us make everybody better. It’s really the reason we are doing it. We have a good group of guys (race drivers) that we work with, and we are going to be out there anyway, so why don’t we just race both cars and we can get more feedback that will help everyone out.”
Garvey’s absence behind the wheel of the short track wars had been predicated for multiple reasons. His business at MGR was a big part of the equation, as Garvey made the decision to put his efforts into his client’s best interests. The other was an accident that left him with nerve damage, and an inability to feel comfortable with the feedback his legs were giving him in competition.
“I got in a wreck at Montgomery (Motor Speedway) (AL) and I hurt my back,” Garvey recalled. “It messed up a lot of nerve endings in my legs, so they had a real weak funny feel to them. But even at that point I was going to race less because my business was taking off and we were doing really good, and you gotta put your customers first. They never figured out anything that was wrong. Just over time it gets better and better. The urge to race just never goes away. You think about it every single day.”
Surprisingly enough, this will not be the first time Garvey has visited the half-mile at Irwindale Speedway. He was at the All-Star Showdown at Irwindale helping Chris Davidson in 2020. He also competed at the track in the ASA National Tour. He finished 31st in 2001 and ninth in 2002. He will be back with his friend, client and teammate Davidson, as he looks forward to competing at a track that excites the veteran racer.
“I’ve been working with Chris for 14 or 15 years now,” Garvey stated. “He is probably the longest running customer I have. He is not just a good customer; he is one of my best friends. We were up at Irwindale last year, before that we went to Kern County (Raceway) (CA). I actually raced Irwindale way back in 2001 with the ASA Series. The track is awesome! Anytime you have that many grooves and that many lanes, it gives you a lot of options. Back then I was amazed, and last year it was still the same thing. You have all these options, where you are not just stuck at the bottom, the middle or the top. You can move around and make something work. As a racer, that’s cool; that’s fun!”
The former NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series competitor’s time behind the wheel has been limited over the last half dozen years, but his expectations haven’t changed over time. His goal is still to win races, but with his business interests and his long-time friendships, he wouldn’t mind a different outcome in this instance.
“My goal is to win every time I get in a racecar,” Garvey asserted. “I know that is a little lofty and maybe a little far-fetched, but that is the plan. We are going to go out there to win. We have had some tests, and we were extremely fast at Pensacola. We want to go out there and run strong. I actually hope Chris (Davidson) wins, that would be the best. I’m just going there to try to help and move things along with some different ideas. If someone is telling you something, you try to visualize what it is, but if you feel it, you know exactly what they are talking about. It’s a lot easier to break it down.”
In Garvey’s racing endeavors, it is obvious his clients come first at MGR. His stints behind the wheel are designed to help him understand how today’s cars feel with the changes in tires, shocks, suspension components and chassis. Working with Senneker Performance and nearly a dozen clients, Garvey is continuing to add to his knowledge of the sport, and how to make winners within his organization.
“I’ve always built race cars, and I built my own myself,” Garvey explained. “I have a good group of clients I work really close with. I’ve been aligned with Senneker Performance for three or four years now, and I’ve got a really tight relationship with them now. I won’t race a lot, as my customers come first, but with Chris and I just us going out there, it gives us the opportunity to do it. I’ve got nine or 10 guys we are working with out here, and it is pretty much all over the Southeast. Chris does the most travelling going out to California, then up north to Pennsylvania and Canada. It’s a lot of fun and we get to go to a lot of different places.”
With a successful racing operation, it takes a lot of help in all phases of the operation. Garvey is appreciative of his good friend, as well as the businesses that make it possible to race next weekend.
“I’d like to thank Senneker Performance, Earnest Performance, and All-Star Racing. Those are the guys that help us out and make it possible. This is mainly Chris’ deal and Chris is taking everything over and if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t be doing it this way. You really have to give it up to the promoters and everybody with the series to still be able to put races on like this, without being able to have fans. I give them all the credit in the world to pull everything out and put these races on. That is really a big deal, and thankfully there are people out there like that who are committed to it, that will do that type of stuff. That’s great!”
To say Garvey is excited about the weekend is an understatement. But that is not a surprise for an individual who loves to race, as it also brings out the inner child in the veteran racer.
“I’m like a 10-year-old kid. I’m excited about racing again, the urge never goes away. It’s fun, it’s fun that I get to race with my friends and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
With the help of Bob Bruncati and the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, the 2021 “Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown 200” will pay $30,000 to the winner of the 200-lap feature event at Irwindale Speedway. The Spears Pro Late Models presented by Sigma Performance Services, as well as the SPEARS Modified Series will join the action, racing for $15,000 and $5,000, respectively. An optional Test Day is slated for Thursday, with the official Practice Day getting underway on Friday.
Saturday will see the Super Late Models practice from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with Qualifying for all divisions beginning at 2:30 p.m. The Modifieds will go first followed by the Pro Late Models and Super Late Models. Opening Ceremonies are slated for 4:30 p.m, with “B”-Main Events set for 5:00 p.m. The “Pro Late Model Showdown 150”, “Modified All-Star Showdown 100”, and the “Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown 200” will follow. The Modifieds and Pro Late Models are scheduled for the inner 1/3-mile oval, while the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will see action on the ½-mile.
For those unable to attend, the event will be shown live at www.SpearsRacing.TV and on a tape-delayed basis on MAVTV.
Celebrating its 21st season in 2021, the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series is a regional stock car series competing on paved ovals in the southwestern portion of the U.S. “The SPEARS Southwest Tour Series…Where the Champions Race.”
-Story by Kevin Peters, SRL
-Photo credit: Chris Davidson Racing