Short-Track Top Five: Michael Self
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Short-Track Top Five. Every week NSSN will talk to a different short-track driver and get his or her thoughts and opinions on a series of five questions.
This week National Speed Sport News talks to West Coast competitor Michael Self. Self, who calls Park City, Utah, home, just completed his first full season racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
Self, a winner of multiple karting championships, will drive the No. 21 Golden Gate Racing Team/RCR Development Chevrolet in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West this season.
NSSN: What influenced you to become a race car driver?
SELF: The big thing is my dad [Mike Self]. He grew up around it because he grew up down in Alabama. He was really good friends with Bobby and Donnie Allison. He never actually got the chance to race himself. I started out racing dirt bikes probably when I was nine or 10. Did dirt bikes for a long time, a bunch of the supercross stuff. I started getting hurt so much that I was just ready to go with four wheels and stay on the asphalt and not so much in the air.
When I was 11 he [Self’s father] was working at his car dealership one day that he owned back in Salt Lake City and he saw some guys drive by with a couple of go-karts on a trailer. He kind of flagged them down, asked them where they did that and where they got the go-karts. He came home and asked me if that was something I might be interested in doing. I said, “Oh, definitely.” From there on it just kind of grew. Started racing go-karts really competitively at the national level, winning a couple national championships, going over and racing in Europe a bunch and running for world championships. That’s basically where it all started.
NSSN: If you had the chance to race in the Daytona 500 or the Indianapolis 500, which would it be and why?
SELF: Definitely going to be Daytona just because I’m so into the stock-car stuff right now. I definitely had my shot at doing the open-wheel. I was actually sponsored by Champ Car for about a year to run their series. They put me through Skip Barber, up to Pro Mazda, do Atlantic and then Champ Car. But then the next year they merged with the IRL. That’s when I got the big decision [about] whether I wanted to do stock cars or continue in the Formula stuff. I definitely had an opportunity to run the Formula cars, to run Indy Lights and move up, but it was hard for me when I was driving to look up in the stands and not see many fans up there and know we were paying a whole lot of money for not really a whole lot of return.
I grew up in Alabama watching stock-car stuff, so I’m going to go that direction. Where I am right now I’d definitely have to say I’d take Daytona. Indy is definitely a famous race. It’s huge and very well known, but I haven’t gotten the chance to do Daytona yet. I’d definitely like to do them both. I think they’d both be awesome.
NSSN: How healthy is short-track racing in the United States?
SELF: Whenever we go to a short-track race, if it’s a late-model race, a super-late-model race or a K&N race on a short-track, there seems to be more fans and more competitors than anywhere else we go. We go to tracks like Phoenix and there are definitely a good amount of competitors. The Phoenix race I think we had 43 cars start the race, but you look up in the stands and there are only about six or seven thousand people up there trying to watch. We go to a short-track race at Roseville or Colorado and it is packed with 10,000 or 12,000 people. The racing is so much closer, everyone really likes to watch action. I think short-track racing is definitely really healthy and I think it only going to continue to grow with the series available. There is so much room for grassroots racers just to get into and follow it.
NSSN: What is the wildest race you’ve ever been a part of?
SELF: That’s a hard question. I’ve been in a lot of pretty crazy races. I want to say Phoenix at the end of last year, Nov. 11 I think was the date. It was my second race with RCR Development. I actually had a terrible qualifying [run]. I qualified like 32nd. Throughout the start of the race I knew we had a fast car. Coming up through that race, I want to say by lap 35 we were inside the top-10 and we hadn’t even made pit stops yet. We were just picking off a car a lap.
Then, basically after the first pit stops happened all those crashes started happening. There were so many people who wrecked out it was unbelievable. We’d get about a three-lap green-flag run and then go straight into another caution. Somehow I managed to make it through all that. On one of the restarts I got inside one of the guys in front of me and got a big whole in the bumper. That completely took off all the downforce on the car. From that point on, that was probably with about 40 laps to go, I was just fighting the car the whole race. The whole thing was pushing and would never handle right, but somehow I still managed to come away with an eighth. I was really happy with that. That was a pretty crazy race.
NSSN: At the end of your career, what do you hope people will remember about you?
SELF: I just want people to know my ethic and the ethic I have behind racing is the same one the guys that are just incredible, like Ayrton Senna and Dale Earnhardt, had. You’re there to race and to win. If you don’t go for the gap anymore than you are no longer a racing driver. I want everyone to know that I have that drive, I’m committed to doing that and that I’ll do whatever takes to win and to make it as far as I can in this sport, give it everything I have and be competitive with it. I don’t want anyone to think of me as a guy that was kind of cruising around mid-pack and only made it because of money or because I had the connections. I want everyone to know I it made because of my talent and because that’s what I was there to do.