SARVER, Pa. – The spoiler on the rear of Michael Norris’ No. 72 car reads “CRUSHER” in bold, block letters, with his Rocket XR1 Chassis still donning a now-iconic black, red and yellow color scheme.
The young gun from Sarver, Pa. had always dreamed of standing atop a race car in Lernerville Speedway’s victory lane since he was a child.
Once upon a time, that dream got fulfilled.
June 22, 2018 is a date that still holds a strong place in the mind of the two-time and defending Lernerville Speedway late model champion.
A second-best time in qualifying, a win in his heat race and a pole-position redraw effort set him up for a chance at the biggest win of his career – a preliminary feature as part of the 12th annual Firecracker 100, the biggest stage in Pennsylvania dirt late model racing.
Norris grabbed the lead on the first lap and, when the checkered fell over him on lap 50, had given the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series regulars quite a tour of his home track – a place he had won at four times already that season.
He crossed the scales and met his overjoyed pit crew in victory lane, a first-time winner with the World of Outlaws.
In the record books, he became the 82nd driver all-time to win with the tour.
Almost immediately overcome with emotion, Norris stood tall in victory lane with series announcer Rick Eshelman holding a microphone up to him, and let out a gasping, “You’re gonna have to give me a second.”
No, it wasn’t the big 100-lap, $30,000-to-win Firecracker finale that Saturday night always boasts. But the gratitude he felt toward his team, his huge fanbase on hand to watch him dominate and prestige he earned that night was all worth far more than the check he received for the qualifying feature win.
It was never about the money and it was about his place in Lernerville Speedway history.
A third-generation driver, now in his 10th full season behind the wheel of a Super Late Model, 27-year-old Michael Norris is the son of Mike Norris, a well-known Late Model veteran around the western Pennsylvania area himself.
Michael made his first appearances at the track as an infant, watching his father race on a weekly basis. A handful of years into Michael’s childhood, Mike took some time off from the sport to focus on family, but Michael still remained around the race track.
“I would still go to the track with my grandma every Friday and watch,” he said.
A few seasons spent in the bleachers soon turned into a few seasons spent in the pit area, wrenching on dad’s race car, as Mike returned to racing once again when Michael entered his teenage years. Mike won the final super late model track championship at the now-reopened Latrobe Speedway in Latrobe, Pa., before offering the ride up to his son in 2009.
“I had a really close group of four friends from high school that wanted to help,” Michael said. “From my sophomore year on, that was pretty much what consumed our lives.”
In 2010, Norris got his first dirt super late model win at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway behind the wheel of a newer Rocket Chassis, after starting with his father’s Rayburn equipment. Ever since, he’s been a Lernerville regular.
Alongside his weekly racing efforts came the need to uphold the family business. Norris works a job in his grandfather and uncle’s scrapyard, Millerstown Pic-A-Part, and its sister branch D&D Auto Salvage — both sponsors on the side of his car. Part of that job requires the use of a car crusher, which spawned his nickname, “The Crusher Kid.”
Norris won his very first track championship at Lernerville in 2017, collecting an impressive five wins in 10 races that year.
That success set him up for what would be the most decorated season of his career — a nine-win tear through 2018, eight of which came in weekly competition.
In that time, Norris finished in the top two in every weekly race that year except for one.
But the most memorable night of that season goes to the eve of his triumph over the Outlaws. A very popular win among the Lernerville fans, Norris recalls that warm, summer night as if it happened last weekend.
“When I was driving, it felt like another Friday night,” he said. “I tried not to think about who was behind me. But standing in victory lane, with all the hype about it, it really hit me like a tidal wave.”
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