Feature Article, Open Wheels, Washington — July 22, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Mike Steltz (issue 107)


IT-107 Mike Steltz outlaw f8

By Steve Heeb

Mike Steltz was in the Ninth grade when he built his first car with Neil Hamlin.

“I would go to his house right after school to help him build the ’79 Nova,” Mike recalls. “He drove that to a track championship.”

Mike was inspired to build a street rod for himself and after bolting a 327-cid motor in his Chevy short box pickup, the tickets came almost as fast as his truck.

“It got me in a lot of trouble,” he says of 28 infractions in a three-month period. “I parked it in ’89 for a frame-up restoration. I still have it and restore it when I’m not working on my race car.”

His first race car for Figure 8 competition was a Nova like he had helped the Hamlin team build earlier. He piloted the Nova to the 1992 F-8 Nationals championship and then sold it to Steve Peters.

The following season Mike drove Sunny Scott’s Camaro, which was then sold to Dale Larson.

Mike raced off and on for several years before buying his first Outlaw F-8 car from Seth Funden.

“We used to race at South Sound Speedway,” Mike says of the Outlaws group. “That’s where the club started.”

He also has raced in Monroe, Stateline and Hermiston.

Once, after getting kicked off the track at Monroe, Mike gave Spanaway Speedway a try.

“The flagman there called me the Outlaw,” Mike laughs. “I only raced there once but it was enough to get the nickname.”

“I like the speed at Hermiston,” Mike says. “It’s hard on the equipment and it needs better lighting – 110 through the dark is intense. It’s a little nuts but that’s what we are.”

Stateline also appeals to him.

“I like the feel of the track there,” he says of the Idaho facility. “It’s like the car is getting ready to fly.”

Mike struggled a bit in the early seasons just to get the car ready for the track.

“I would work on the car right on the trailer and test it on the road,” he explains.

That road testing is what caught the attention of neighbor Dan Reina, who had been watching Mike’s efforts.

“Dan called me and asked me to make a list of what I needed,” Mike says of the unexpected offer. “I told him I needed a clutch.”

Mike says his initial list of about $3000 worth of equipment didn’t faze his generous neighbor.

“He handed me a check for $5000 and asked if that would get me started,” Mike explains. “He started with me and he is still with me.”

Mike says the partnership got off to a good start with an investment somewhere around $20,000.

“I got lucky to have a few people that really believe in me,” he says. “I’ve had some good races and I really want to get the wins for Dan real bad.”

The car’s chassis was brought to the Northwest from Indianapolis.

“It was originally built by Doug Gregg, brought here and assembled by Ryan Gunderson at Gunderson Speed Shop,” Mike says. “In 2011, Corey Turner from Indy drove the car to several wins here in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.”

The 400-cid small block was bored .030 over to make it a 406, producing close to 600 horsepower.

“It’s taken some time to figure the new car out,” Mike admits.

Fiancee Tina has confidence Mike will be successful.

“He’s good,” she says. “They don’t call him ‘The Outlaw’ for nothing.”

Having been around racing since the late-‘80s, Tina helps out with Mike’s crew that also includes Jeff Reinstra, Ron Steltz, Gary McCallister, and Mike’s brother James.

Mike also credits support from James Harmon at JH Construction; Reinstra Consulting; Sno-Gro Indoor Gardens; and Jim Sekulich and family.

Another sponsor approached Mike from an unexpected source.

“Derek Korte from Cheap Cycle Parts in Kentucky saw me on facebook and wanted to sponsor me,” Mike says. “He was looking for a F8 car in the NW to work with.”

Rather than being painted, the car is powder coated by sponsor Superior Powder Coating..

“I think that is a lot more durable,” Mike says.

Graphics by Tracy DeYoung at deyounginc.com keep the car looking nice.

Through his career Mike also has benefitted from advice from veteran drivers, including “General” Gary Lee.

“He came up after a race and hit me,” Mike says of some post-race feedback in the pits. “He said: ‘Don’t you ever let me by – you race me!’ I remember that every day.”

Mike offers his own advice to drivers new to Fig-8 racing: “Don’t get in over your head. Give it time and figure out what makes the car go ’round the track. And be smart around the intersection.”

Mike recalls full fields for the popular 60 Minutes of FEAR events at Evergreen Speedway.

“Back in the day we always had 30 cars on the track,” he says. “It got interesting. And when a fast car comes up on a slower car it can get scary.”

When Mike isn’t maximizing the downforce on his F8 car, he does some heavy lifting as a Local 302 union crane operator working for Seattle-based General Construction.

Mike says he’d like to someday see the Outlaw F8 group race in Wenatchee, and also considers the World Championships at Indy high on his bucket list.

“Hey, I’m a Figure 8 driver,” he grins.

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