CONCORD, N.C. — Michael Self is no fool.
The ARCA Menards Series regular and the driver of the No. 25 Toyota for Venturini Motorsports has been around racing for a long time. At 28 years old, he’s pretty sure he won’t be racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series anytime soon.
In fact, Self doubts he’ll ever make it that far, and he’s OK with that.
“That would be a great goal to have, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that is a goal of mine because I know how unrealistic it is,” Self said. “I don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.”
Self has had his fair share of success at the lower levels of NASCAR. From late 2010 through the 2013 season, Self drove for Jim Offenbach in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and was a Richard Childress Racing developmental driver.
He earned six victories in three full seasons of racing for Offenbach, but his career stalled after the 2013 season and he was left rideless due to a lack of sponsorship.
“I’ll sit here and tell you honestly that I was never slated to go up the Richard Childress ladder by any means, because we didn’t have the financial resources to do it,” Self acknowledged. “Even though I was technically an RCR development driver, that didn’t mean the money was just there.
“After the 2013 season, we didn’t have any sponsorship because I had been funded by my dad up until that point and we didn’t have the money to go on any further,” Self added. “In 2014, I knew I still wanted to race. I’d only known racing up until that point. I didn’t know what else I would do.”
The next few years were rough for Self. He moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 2014 and began knocking on doors in search of a job. He was a spotter and driver coach at Turner Scott Motorsports, working with Kaz Grala and Justin Haley.
From 2014 through ’16, Self was rarely on the race track. In 2014, he ran a pair of ARCA Menards Series races. In 2015, he raced in seven NASCAR Xfinity Series events for JD Motorsports.
In 2016, he ran just one race — the ARCA finale at Kansas Speedway. It was the turning point in his career. However, in the months leading up to that race, Self admits he nearly gave up racing.
“I kind of had … I don’t want to say given up, but I had succumbed to the fact that you know, I’m probably not going to race again,” Self said. “I’d been searching for sponsors and trying to do my own thing. I’d kind of just gotten sick of it.
“I went back to school that year,” Self continued. “I decided I wanted to go to college and get a degree and focus on that.”
Everything changed for Self after his father cold-called someone with the Sinclair Oil Corp.
“My dad called up and basically was like ‘my son races cars, and we’d like to talk to you about sponsorship,’” Self recalled. “We have a platform that could generate a couple million dollars for you guys in business-to-business relationships. They took that really seriously and invited us in for a meeting.”
That meeting led to a sponsorship deal for Self to compete in the ARCA finale that season at Kansas. Driving for MDM Motorsports, Self finished third in his return to racing.
“I think we kind of knocked it out of the park that weekend,” Self said. “We put in what I felt was a really solid showing for Sinclair on and off the race track.
“That kind of kick-started that sponsorship agreement going forward.”
Since then Self’s driving career has continued to grow. He ran all but one of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races in 2017, winning two races while driving for Bob Bruncati. He also was back in the ARCA Menards Series with sponsorship from Sinclair, running six races and winning the season finale at Kansas Speedway.
He upped the ante last year, running 10 ARCA events and winning twice, including a marquee victory in the opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
This season, Self and Sinclair are all-in, teaming with Venturini Motorsports to chase the ARCA Menards Series championship. After a rough outing in the opener at Daytona, Self scored his fourth ARCA victory at Florida’s Five Flags Speedway in March.
With all these good things going on, you’d think he’d be chomping at the bit to move up the ladder. Not Self.
“I’m really proud of every opportunity I get to race because of what I’ve done with Sinclair,” Self said. “Because of what I’ve done with them, I think my long-term goal is to race. Selfishly, that’s what I want to do. It’s what I have fun doing.
“More specifically, my long-term goal is to continue building a program that is beneficial to them and continue being the guy who has brought this oil and petroleum company into auto racing and successfully built a sponsorship.
“If I can do that, then my realistic goal may be outside of a race car. My realistic goal may be working for Sinclair or maybe working in sports marketing.”
Even if he never makes it to the upper levels of NASCAR, it appears Self is already comfortable with his place in the sport and what he’s accomplished.
You can’t fault him for that.