Luza Looks to Clinch Allen Turner PLM Track Championship in Style at Tune-Up 100 Saturday Night

Luza Looks to Clinch Allen Turner PLM Track Championship in Style at Tune-Up 100 Saturday Night




By Chuck Corder


In some ways, Ryan Luza is the envy of many.


The 19-year-old Texan, a budding late model star, wheels racecars. Luza sits a qualifying lap away from putting a bow on the Allen Turner Pro Late Model track championship at Five Flags Speedway.


In other ways, many wouldn’t trade places with Luza if their lives depended upon it. Starting his third semester of college, near his Houston-suburb home of Cypress, Texas, Luza carries a full plate of courses. One of those is a 2½-hour calculus class.


While fans and some drivers might get queasy at the mere mention of formulas and slopes and curves and rates of change, even math revs Luza’s engine.


“I wish all my classes could be math,” he said. “That’s my strong suit.”


Don’t be mistaken, though. Racing takes a backseat to no subject — math included.


“Driving for sure!” Luza said when asked to choose between the sport and math. “Math, there’s always right or wrong. Numbers have always been good for me. And, obviously, there’s some carry over into racing.


“If I can’t eventually make it to NASCAR as a driver, I’d love to be involved in the sport in some way. And all of it involves math and engineering.”


Here’s some easy math: Luza carries a 74-point lead over Wayne Niedecken Jr. into the Allen Turner Tune-Up 100 on a special Saturday night of racing at Pensacola’s high banks. Boasting virtually an insurmountable lead, Luza is nearly a lock to hoist his first-career track title at Five Flags.


He is riding a three-feature winning streak, sweeping the 20-/30-lap doubleheader last month and capturing the previous 30 lapper in July. He finished second at Five Flags’ season-opening 100 lapper in May.


In seven races, Luza has finished on the podium six times and that lone blemish was a fourth.


“We’ve been really consistent and running well,” he said, “and that’s the biggest thing as far as the championship is concerned.


“My crew chief, J.C. Umscheid and the team at Umscheid Race Services have been incredible. Hopefully, we can get a good run Saturday and finish this championship off.”


The Faith Chapel Super Stocks, too, will decide a champion Saturday. Randy Thompson leads Gary Sutton by just seven points, but neither has come home with a checkered this season.


The Sportsmen and Bombers round out the night’s card, competing in their penultimate features before their Night of Champions on Sept. 26.


Gates open at 2 p.m. this Saturday with all divisions qualifying at 4:30. Features begin approximately at 7 p.m.


Admission is $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, military members and students; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; and free for kids under 6.


While he has a job to finish, Luza couldn’t contain his excitement that past two-time Daytona 500 champion (1994, 1995) Sterling Marlin will be in Saturday night’s field.


“It’s really cool,” Luza said. “It’ll bring more people to the race and if we can beat him, that’s a really great achievement and an accolade to have. I know we’re up to the task.”


Luza would love to close the regular season on a high note and post another win, giving him four in a row.


Not only to build some important momentum for the Snowflake 100 during Snowball Derby week in December, but also to point the spotlight on his current growing number of sponsors, and to potentially attract new ones.


1st Choice House Leveling (of Texas) and McGunegill Engine Performance have been two instrumental sponsors this year. Building Wealth Home Loans is another sponsor that will make its debut with Luza on Saturday.


For a driver, who’s already contemplating his next move — be it climbing up to Super Late Models, ARCA or NASCAR’s K&N Series — Luza grasps the significance of maintaining and gaining sponsorship.


“Hopefully, we can get this championship for all of them,” he said. “Really, it’s our first year to have considerable sponsorship. Hopefully, we can build on that and continue those partnerships next year. It’s good to have the wins, but more important is attracting sponsors.”


And when you have nights like Luza did on Aug. 28, attracting sponsors should come easy. Driving fellow driver Larry Blount’s car after a wreck in practice Thursday night trashed his No. 14, Luza swept the night. He swiped the pole, besting his closest qualifier by nearly two-tenths of a second, and then won both features — the second in dramatic fashion.


“I can’t thank Larry Blount, and the people that work on his racecars at Racecar Solutions, enough for what they did for me that night,” Luza said.


Back in his family’s car Saturday, Luza will be multitasking this weekend. He hopes to enjoy a milestone celebration courtesy of the potential track crown while also cramming in some classwork.


“I’m taking the books with me to the track so I can study a little bit,” Luza said. “I’ve got a calculus test Monday.”


First up Saturday, though, Luza will try to ace his Five Flags final.