Life in the Fast Lane
Mike Sestili isn’t your average race car driver. He doesn’t descend from a family of speedsters. He didn’t race so much as a go-cart before his first foray onto the track at age 34. His street car is a Mustang. His race cars have been a Pinto and a Honda.
Although Mike isn’t a legacy driver who followed his family’s footsteps on the track, his love for racing was indeed nurtured by his father at an early age. When Mike was six years old, the elder Sestili opened his son’s eyes to some of the sport’s all-time greats: Andretti, Fittapaldi, Unser.
Sestili developed his need for speed as a youngster, but it wasn’t until three years ago that he brought his lifelong love to its piston-pounding, turbo-fueled fruition. Now, the one-time racing neophyte spends his summer weekends pitting his new Honda (replacing his beloved Pinto, more on that later) against the competition of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, among others.
Sestili – who manages the Market Bar and Restaurant on Linda Street in Rocky River when he isn’t racing – didn’t take long to make his mark in Mid-Ohio, garnering the Sports Car Club of America’s Ohio Rookie of the Year after his freshman campaign in 2011.
Throughout the process, Sestili’s father has acted as fan, coach and confidante.
Racing is a passion Mike shares with his dad. “My father took me when I was six to watch an Indy car race back when Mario
A FAMILY AFFAIR
”My parents have always been outrageously supportive, but it’s really cool to be able to share this with them.. Because it’s not only for me - It’s something that was my father’s passion that he gave to me, so it’s so much fun to have him be able to watch me. And even though he’s never raced, I’ve gotten so much good advice about racing from him. You know, I come off a weekend or something and I can’t stop thinking about it and I give him a call and he’ll talk me through about strategy and technique. He’s read more about racing than a lot of people I know. So he’ll tell me stories about Jackie Stewart or other guys, and this is what they would do or this is how they would do it. And so maybe try this or try that. And it’s helped me immensely.“Before I got in the car for a race at Mid-Ohio, I took a moment to think about the number of legendary guys like Mario Andretti and Jackie Stewart and Dan Gurney who have all raced at Mid-Ohio, and, while I was doing a smaller version, I was competing like they had. And I was thinking how amazing that was and it put a big smile on my face and calmed me down to just focus on what I was doing. And that came straight from my father, who also reminded me to enjoy the race.”
“He used to take my mom down there to the Trans-Am races and stuff. - One weekend I was down there he actually brought me an old program from one of the big Trans-Am races that Dan Gurney was racing in. It’s an experience I really can’t put into words; it just makes me so happy to be able to share this with them and have them be a part of it.”
A ROUGH RIDE, A NEW HONDA, and 2012 DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Finally, a couple of racing friends from Mentor, Maurice and Debbie LaFond, lent Mike their blue and white Honda Civic. He raced it as car #43 and by the end of last season, he had done well enough to win the 2012 Driver of the Year honors for Northeast Ohio, adeptly avoiding the early onset of sophomore jinx.
“It really blew me away,” says Mike of the honor. “It meant a lot. My parents were able to be there and it topped such an amazing season. And we did so well in the Honda that they’ve asked me to run nationals in the Honda this year. So, providing we qualify, we’ll be up in Wisconsin at Road America in the middle of September for about a week. It’ll be televised on the Speed Channel and whomever wins will be crowned the national champion.”
Team Sestili has also attracted its first official sponsor, Buckeye Vodka, its home-town brand emblazoned beside the #43 of the flying Honda.
In addition to Mid-Ohio, Mike has this year already raced at Pittsburgh International Raceway and Nelson’s Ledges along with Gingerman in Michigan, all stops on the journey toward Road America.
“Every time I go out, I learn something new, whether it’s learning about the car I’m driving and understanding its feedback or watching someone who’s been doing it for 20 years,” says Mike. “We don’t know that we’ll have enough money to make the car good enough to win in Wisconsin, but we have enough to compete. And that’s all we’re looking to do. We’re gonna go up there and see how we stack-up.”
Andretti and Emerson Fittapaldi and Al Unser, Jr. and Charles Tracy, all those guys were racomg. And the sound. The speed. Seeing the cars. I just was kind of hooked immediately. And my father’s always been a big Formula One racing fan. It’s something that over the years we’ve always talked about. Even when I was away at college and I missed a race, we’d talk and he’d tell me what happened at Monaco this weekend, who won or wherever.”
Mike’s parents, Mike and Nancy Sestili, have been watching races together at Mid-Ohio since they were teenagers. Years later, it’s their son speeding around the oval, and the family affair with racing has hit an entire new gear. After a race, the younger Sestili diligently phones his father to talk strategy.
“[My dad} bought me, many years ago, a steering and foot pedal for his computer so we used to get on that and race and just loved doing it. So that passion for racing is definitely come through my father. They rarely miss a race.”
Read more about Mike’s race day experiences and see the Pinto spin out TheRockportObserver.com
Joe Gabriele and Matthew K. Weiland
Joe Gabriele is a member of the Rockport ensemble and writes for Cavs.com. Matthew K. Weiland is founding editor of the Rockport Observer