When it comes to wheeling a race car around a track, no two drivers are exactly the same.
For some their technique was born from years of experience, trial and error. For others, it’s a natural gift.
Eighteen-year-old Mike Spitola III falls into the latter category. The young driver from Manhattan, Ill., has been making a name for himself in the world of modified racing for the past two seasons.
Spitola may be fresh faced, but he certainly knows the world of racing. Growing up, Spitola spent many nights in the garage helping his brother Ken Kasper on his No. 96 modified as well as his uncle Frank Heckenast’s No. 99 late model. By the time he was 8 years old, Spitola knew his life’s ambition was to drive a race car and in 2000 Spitola’s dream started to take shape when his dad, Mike, Jr., bought him a go-kart. Spitola selected the No. 89 to carry on the family tradition. Kasper was running with No. 96, while Mike, Jr. had occasionally run with No. 98, and his cousin Frankie was already beginning to turn heads in his No. 99 go-kart.
Having a talented family already entrenched in the sport certainly added some pressure, but it didn’t take long for Spitola to prove he was up for the challenge. By 2002 he had already captured a track championship, which he followed with another in 2004. During a four-year span, Spitola found victory lane more than 200 times.
After the 2004 season, Kasper decided to step out of the driver’s seat in order to focus on his wife and new baby. In doing so he made the decision to pass his entire operation down to 14-year-old Spitola.
Spitola made his big brother proud, capturing rookie-of-the-year titles at two tracks in 2005. He improved in 2006 and by 2007 was a proven winner.
In 2008, he upped the ante by competing on a regional level, winning nine features, a track championship at Indiana’s Kamp Motor Speedway, finishing fourth in UMP regional points and eighth in the national standings.
This past season, Spitola posted 64 top-10 finishes and 48 top fives to finish fourth in the regional standings and sixth in the national points.
While still in his teens, Spitola has put together a career most veterans would be proud of; but the first win always has a special place in the heart of any racer.
“My first modified win was at Kankakee (Ill.) Speedway and my whole family was there. The victory lane photo was just packed with people. It was a pretty cool deal,” he explained.
With a racing schedule that consists of approximately 85 shows a year, Spitola has very little free time, but as he said with a smile, “In the winter I like to hang out with my friends and family and just be a normal 18-year-old kid. But if I could race every day I would. I’ve been fortunate and have enough good people supporting me to be able to race as much as I do.”
The future is certainly bright for the young redhead they call “Opie.”
“Of course every young driver’s dream is to go Sprint Cup and I’m no different, but for now I like racing the mods and I really want to win some big shows,” he said. “I just want to make a living in racing. I have a job lined up with B&S RaceCars, so this winter I will be building race cars and I think that is awesome. This is truly what I love!”