DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Coming off a breakout season in which he scored his first career win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and followed that up with two more victories, Michael Self is anxious to return to competition.
The 22-year-old Park City, Utah driver has even more to look forward to with his next race being at the “World Center of Racing,” as teams make their way to Florida to compete in the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach on the .4-mile short track at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Feb. 18-19.
“Every day, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or something on NASCAR-Home-Tracks(.com), I see more and more about the race,” said Self. “It’s really exciting for me. To see the hype around it and the amount of competition that’s going to be there. I’m really looking forward to that.
“We ended the season on a really strong note, with that win at Phoenix against a couple of the (K&N) East guys,” he continued. “With that momentum, we’re confident we can compete against them and we can hold our own against those guys. That’s really what we want to do in Daytona.”
Although he has attended the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in recent years, Self has never had the opportunity to visit the pits or actually go on the track.
“To get this opportunity is unbelievable,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m that much closer to actually getting to compete in the most prestigious stock car race in America.”
In notching a series win in 2012, Self is locked into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series feature at Daytona. Drivers who won touring series races and championships in 2012 secured locked-in positions for their respective features in the prestigious event. All others must qualify through heat races.
Earning that locked in spot was a big step for Self, who made a very quick transition after switching from racing go-karts to stock cars not all that long ago.
“I basically came out of a go-kart into a K&N car,” he said. “I did a season of Skip Barber formula car racing and I did some testing in Star Mazda cars and was really focused on road-course stuff.
“Before I got in the late model, I had never driven a circle track,” he said of the transition. “I’d never driven a car over 3,000 pounds. So, that was a huge, huge jump going from the formula cars to a heavier late model.”
He raced in eight late model events in 2009, before making his debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West near the end of the season.
“It was a big learning curve,” said Self. “Not only was I driving a completely different style of race car, I was driving on a completely different style of track. I had to adapt and change everything. It took us a long time.”
Self’s development continued in 2011 as he joined the Golden Gate Racing Team with car owner Jim Offenbach and veteran crew chief Steve Portenga calling the shots on the No. 21 Rockwell/Golden Gate Meat Chevrolet.
“We started doing more late model stuff and getting as much experience on the ovals as we possibly could,” said Self. “Throughout the 2011 season, I think we saw some big ups and downs. We were fast in practice and we had a couple top fives and top 10s, but it wasn’t the season we were looking for.”
The team entered 2012 determined to get results, according to Self.
“Coming into 2012, we really focused on what I can do to make it a standout year,” he said. “My third year in a stock car, it was time to make something and figure it all out. We started testing quite a bit at the beginning of the year.”
He spent several months at the shop in Bakersfield, Calif., working on the car and working with the crew.
Self considers that and the experience he gained in racing a late model stock car on dirt early in the year as being a key to his success in 2012.
“I got to go back East and run a race in Ty Dillon’s dirt late model,” he said. “I think that really gave me a different perspective. That was a huge change.”
The sixth race of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season at Brainerd (Minn.) Int’l Raceway was the watershed moment, according to Self.
“That is when things took off,” he said. “It almost seemed like that weekend everything just clicked for all of us. The car we had put together was so perfect. They set that car up perfectly. It seems like I just became one with the car that weekend.”
The team felt competitive and confident at every race after Brainerd, Self said. He was the top finishing K&N West driver in the East-West combination race at Newton, Iowa’s Iowa Speedway in August and then capped off the season with a win in the season finale at Phoenix Int’l Raceway in November.
Although he initially considered leaving the series, Self plans to return to compete full-time in 2013. He says he is also working hard on putting something together to run some races in a NASCAR national series during the year.
While waiting to head to the UNOH Battle At The Beach, Self has opted to put his driving talents to use in another fashion. He obtained a license and is driving for a shuttle company during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City.