William Mancebo, NASCAR
TOOELE — Ever since he was a young boy, Michael Self has felt the need — the need for speed.
Self got interested in auto racing at the ripe old age of 10, when the Utah youth started competing in go-kart races at Wasatch Race Park in the small Utah County town of Lindon.
Now, a dozen years (and countless miles spent speeding around racetracks) later, he finds himself in contention for this year's NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship.
With five races remaining in the series — beginning with Saturday's iON Camera Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park — Self sits in third place in the season-long points standings with 402 points, just 29 points behind series leader Derek Thorn of California (431).
Canadian driver Cameron Hayley currently holds down the second spot with 408 points, and another California driver, Greg Pursley, who has won the Utah Grand Prix the past three years running, is right on Self's tail in fourth place with 400 points. Self, Thorn and Pursley have each won three races thus far this season.
Like every other driver worth his weight in socket wrenches, Self has his sights set on someday competing in NASCAR's main event, the Sprint Cup Series, against the big boys of the sport like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and this year's series leader, Matt Kenseth.
"It's always been the dream to one day race NASCAR," Self said of his career aspirations of reaching racing's main circuit. "Hopefully, next year, I'll get a chance to run in either the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series."
Yes, there are definitely dues to pay and a ladder to climb for drivers who hope to reach the top echelon of stock car racing.
"You've got to be marketable, and you've got to perform and look good on and off the track," said the slender 6-foot, 140-pound Self, who drives for the Golden Gate Racing Team.
But he is already on the fast track (pun intended) toward that goal by being selected as one of 13 drivers to represent NASCAR Next — a program which promotes the sport's top up-and-coming drivers. He flew to Chicago on Wednesday as part of a media event being staged in preparation for this weekend's Sprint Cup Series race there, but he'll be back in Utah this weekend to compete in the biggest race of the year at MMP.
And he's hoping to find better fortune than he's found here in the past.
Home-track advantage? Hardly.
"I've had horrible luck here," Self said Tuesday, running down the list of mechanical problems — a burned-up alternator, blown transmission, engine trouble — he's endured in previous runnings in the Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park, where he works as a coach for the Ford Racing School.
A strong showing in Utah could help catapult Self on his career path, which started when he raced go-karts as a kid. Self switched to open-wheel cars at the age of 16, then turned to racing late-model stock cars a couple of years later.
"I'd go to school on the weekdays and spend my weekends at the racetrack," said Self, 22, who was born in Alabama but grew up in Park City and graduated from Park City High School in 2009. "I started winning races against kids who were older than me, and then I started racing nationally and winning there, too.
"When I entered those national races and started doing well there, I saw what a really amazing feeling it is."
And his love for the sport took off from there, getting great financial and moral support and guidance from his dad, Mike, along the way.
It hasn't been without setbacks, however. In 2010 at Irwindale, Calif., he hit a wall head-on going around 105 miles per hour.
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