It had been 1,512 days since Ryan Luza had driven a Pro Late Model, but he made the comeback count with a flag-to-flag victory on Saturday night in the Prelude to the Florida Governor’s Cup 50 at New Smyrna Speedway.
It was his first race in five years, but at the same time, not the most important race he had driven over the past 14 days.
To clarify, Luza captured the 2015 Pro Late Model championship at 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, but a lack of funding forced him to abandon the seat by the end of 2016.
Remarkably, he became a NASCAR champion the very next season anyway.
After stepping away from full-time Late Model competition, Luza turned his attention to the eNASCAR iRacing Coca-Cola Series, where he captured his first championship in 2017. The Pro Series is recognized as an official NASCAR championship no different than Cup, Xfinity or the Gander Outdoor Truck Series.
He has earned 17 victories in 69 simulated starts, but also believes he should be a two-time Coca-Cola Series champion.
He was leading in the closing laps of the season finale on Nov. 4 from the digital Homestead-Miami Speedway where he crashed racing for the lead with Bobby Zalenski with four laps to go. That race was conducted under the Final Four format used by the national touring divisions and featured a $100,000 payout to the champion.
Did that just happen?!?!
Luza's shot at $100K is GONE. pic.twitter.com/UuKF0s9QSp
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 3, 2020
That check would have gone a long way towards reviving his real-life racing career.
“That $100,000 would have been nice and that’s still eating me alive,” Luza said in victory lane at New Smyrna. “That’s life changing money no matter who you are.
“I don’t really cry but we cried that night.
“The race was over two or three times and there was a badly timed caution, so we took tires, and drove back to the lead. We just got hooked. It hurts to have that kind of speed and have the championship taken away that many times. It was a lot of money.”
Luza started sim racing in 2010 when he was driving Bandoleros and quickly took to the iRacing platform. That was valuable in planning for this weekend since he never turned a lap on New Smyrna Speedway until signing up with Dustin Skinner, Jamie Skinner and Race Car Solutions.
He won the pole by 2.59 seconds and won the race by 3.844 seconds over Brad May with Stephen Nasse completing the podium. Luza led all 50 laps after drawing an invert of two and starting the race from the front row.
He has raced Pro Trucks and Southern Modifieds over the past five years near his home at Houston Motorsports Park, but Luza says there’s nothing like a Late Model.
“I love Late Models and the way they drive,” Luza said. “I love everything about them.”
Luza will enter the Snowflake 100 at Pensacola next month with Jett Motorsports as well.
“Hopefully, we’ve run good here, and we can have a good run at the Snowflake, and attract something for next year,” Luza said. “It’s sucked being away this long. Today was such a good day, being back in a Late Model.
“Really enjoyed it and feel like I picked up where I left off. I would love to do it on a more regular basis but it’s just expensive.”
Regardless of his real-world opportunities, Luza will return to the eNASCAR Pro Series next season, in pursuit of redemption. Perhaps, if Derby Week goes well, he could be looking at an opportunity to become a double champion — one in the real world and one in the digital one.
Luza and the Skinners were protested by Nasse and Jett Motorsports, but nothing came out of the extensive teardown of the RW Engines crate motor. May simply said the Skinners have a ton of track time and gave credit to Luza.
“Those guys test a lot and get their cars good,” May said. “So, to put a good driver in it, and take advantage of their speed and testing, that makes a difference.”
Even though Race Car Solutions is his sons’ project, NASCAR Truck Series champion Mike Skinner was part of the crew on Sunday and could relate to Luza’s journey.
“I was what they called a 20-year overnight success,” Skinner said. “I didn’t get that opportunity until 20 years when my phone rang and it was Richard Childress on the other end, and got a break. I made the most of that break and was lucky.
“That’s what he’s trying to do right now.”
- Ryan Luza
- Brad May
- Stephen Nasse
- Daniel Keene
- Hayden Sprague
- Cody Hall
- Juan Gonzalez
- Colt Hensley
- Blake Suttie
- Randy Anderson
- Andrick Dimayuga