Mike Valentine
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spotlight mike valentine tsrMike Valentine had a plan. He was going to buy a dune buggy and have a good time racing in the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and Baja California. Then he became friends with Kartec Off Road manager Dave Bonner and his plan changed.

Valentine said he always had been intrigued by the desert but after Bonner “educated me a little more on the specifics like prep, the amount of money it takes, the amount of guys you need, the amount of equipment you need for every race, it kind of wasn’t appealing any more, just because of the logistics. I don’t come from off-road so I don’t have a bunch of friends to go with me to the desert.

“He actually said to me ‘why don’t you check out short course. I just got a car, come check it out; with your circle track background it’s probably perfect and you can do it with a couple of guys with no problem.’”

Today, after coming home from Miller Motorsports Park in Utah with his first win in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series presented by GEICO June 21, the 36-year-old Valentine is second in the Pro Buggy standings, 11 points behind leader Garrett George and an equal number ahead of third-place Dave Mason Jr.

That’s good progress for someone whose first exposure to the sport came roughly two years ago, after a five-year hiatus from any sort of motorsports competition.

Like many other kids in Southern California Valentine started out racing motocross, first on a bicycle and then on a motorcycle. In his mid-20s the Norco, California, resident began racing Lightning Sprints and Sprint Cars, only to be sidelined by the slumping economy. Then three years ago the owner of Full Throttle Powder Coating in Corona, California, “had some money and wanted to buy a desert car” until he enrolled in Bonner’s graduate school of off-road racing and focused instead on short course competition.

“I think I went and found the car and bought it and then me and him tested it at Elsinore (Lake Elsinore, California, Motorsports Park) and I figured it out,” Valentine recalled. “He was kind of blown away. My first session I pulled into the pits and he has his arms up. I’m thinking there’s something wrong with the car and he says ‘are you kidding me? You’re already up to speed.’”

Valentine made his entry into the sport by driving three races in the national series and winning the final three rounds in the Pro Buggy class in the Southern California Regional Series in 2013.

In the off-season Valentine said he built a new car, the AlumiCraft Ecotec Chevrolet he drove to victory in Utah, and competed in both the regional and national series. He won five of the seven races and the regional Pro Buggy championship and had two podium finishes and was eighth in the national standings.

“We did a lot of homework in this off-season, made a lot of changes to the car and tried to micro-manage everything,” said Valentine, a bachelor father of two children. “We basaically went through every part of the car and said ‘what can we do to make it better?’ We already had a great package, but we found some things and it seems to be working because we’ve been running up front.”

The Utah win was the fifth podium in eight rounds for Valentine, who thinks his experience in dirt sprint cars helped him make the quick transition to short course racing. It’s also made him hungry for more, because another of the changes he and crew chief Ronnie Imhof made over the winter was to trade the motor home and 26-foot closed trailer they had been using for a 60-foot tractor-trailer with lots of room for the names of sponsors and partners.

“I’m in it for the long haul, I love it, so I bought this whole rig,” Valentine said. “I just think it’s more appealing, sponsor-wise. Kind of sadly, you have to have the presence to get noticed. That’s our biggest thing. I tried pursuing some sponsor stuff in the off-season and we got some product stuff. But I’m looking to stay here and this is just the start of that.

“I’m looking to move up. I’ve got to work on funding, that’s the biggest thing, try to acquire some sponsors to go along. I’m not afraid to invest my own money. I’m not looking for a free ride at all. But I can’t do it all by myself.

“I tell everybody this is the best racing I’ve ever done, hands down. I love the Lucas Oil short course series.”

MIKE VALENTINE AT A GLANCE

Age: 36
Lives in: Norco, California
Marital status: Single; two children
Occupation: Owns Full Throttle Powder Coating
Car number: 78 Pro Buggy
Type of chassis: AlumiCraft
Engine: Wiks Racing Ecotec
Crew Chief: Ronnie Imhof
Sponsors: Wiks Racing Engines; Mickey Thompson Tires; LAT Oils; Rzc Filters; OMF Performance; Folts Transmissions; Ntense Tees; Barstow Del Taco; DC Shock Services
Years in racing: 32
Divisions raced: BMX, Motocross, Lightning Sprint Cars, Pro Buggy
Series points standings: 8 Pro Buggy (2014); 17 Pro Buggy, 1 So Cal Regional Pro Buggy (2013)

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