Gary Lewis was done.
The West Coast driver of 30 years was hanging up his fire suit. Career lows had finally caught up with the highs and for Lewis, chances at wins couldn’t outweigh the hardships of racing — spent time, money and energy — anymore.
“I just got to the point where I needed a break,” Lewis told Speed51.com. “With racing, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. We had won so much from 2005 to 2010, in fact people started turning on us because we were winning so much. Then, we just kind of went into a slump where we had constant problems, parts failures and wrecks. Basically, 2011 to 2015 was terrible. The frustration built up so much where I was like, ‘I’m done.’”
Lewis began life outside of his driver’s seat, but family and fans never stopped asking when the veteran would strap back in to his racecar.
The answer was two years. It took from 2016 all the way to the closing months of this season for things to feel right to Lewis. Work resumed on the car and a new endeavor was set into motion: a four-peat in the Idaho 200.
“We stepped away and I’ve had tons of pressure from my family and friends to race ever since,” Lewis said. “We started wrenching on the car and picking and choosing races. Out of the handful left in the season, the [Idaho 200] kind of popped up right away. We’ve won the race three times before so we just wanted to make it happen.”
Lewis had no problem shaking the dust off on-track leading up to the prestigious 200-lap event at Stateline Park, but the biggest struggle on Saturday was inside the helmet.
Am I going to be able to do this? Am I going to be as good as I was? How long will it take to get back in the winner’s circle? These are questions that rushed through Lewis’ head as he climbed back behind the wheel.
“When you take all that time off because you struggled and there was so much frustration, you start to second-guess a lot of stuff,” Lewis said. “No one ever comes back and is better. So I put a ton of pressure on myself to keep our winning ways going because when we show up to the track, that’s what people expect.”
Track conditions and multiple late-race cautions tested Lewis’ resilience after the green flag dropped, but it wasn’t enough to keep the 48-year-old from adding one more victory to his resume.
“The track was hot and greasy,” Lewis said. “The driving line had to be perfectly spot on. You couldn’t overdrive it or anything. It was just a hard fought battle all night long. We had like five or six restarts at the end of the race. It’s like they kept giving second-place every chance to come back and beat me.”
“But man, just coming back and winning the Idaho 200 right off the bat like that is amazing,” Lewis added. “We needed this really, really bad. Now, we’re super excited.”
With a big win under his belt, Lewis is planning to run several races in the Northwest Super Late Model Series to cap off the year.
-Story by: Melissa Strahley, Gulf Coast Editor
-Photo credit: Michele Martin