Michael Norris dipped his head and grinned. He knew where this question was going, but every time he hears it, he’s reminded of what fuels moments like these along with some good humor.
All drivers, those who especially win … a lot … and a lot … and a lot … manage it differently, whether by ignoring, muting, blocking, firing back, or simply not entertaining it by not having a social media at all. But Norris, who’s dang near made a living at Lernerville Speedway in his native Sarver, Pa. (back-to-back Super Late Model track championships and 13 wins over the last 27 features), is well aware of your criticism that he can’t contend at other tracks.
Mute them? Block them? Ignore them? Nah, Norris says. It’s a welcomed challenge.
“Why not? They’re not going to hurt my feelings,” Norris said. “When you read [comments on social media], you get a little chuckle out of it. … You try to be as humble as you can, but at the end of the day, we’re competitors. And if someone calls you out, you want to try to prove yourself. That’s why you do it, right?”
Notice how Norris said he’s trying to prove himself rather than prove others wrong, which is important to understand for 2019. This year, Norris is out to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of Mid-Atlantic Super Late Model competitors, that he’s more than just a backyard cherry picker.
While the 26-year-old has “nothing tentative,” he vows to beef up the schedule in his family-owned No. 72 D&D Auto Salvage and Millerstown Pic-A-Part Rocket Chassis XR1. In fact, he already has three Morton Buildings World of Outlaws starts with finishes of fifth, 21st, and 22nd. And though he won’t run WoO full-time this year, he’s 21st in the series standings.
“You can only be as good as the people you race with,” Norris said. “We’re young enough and I feel like I have enough help right now to venture out and hit some of these bigger shows. We’re fortunate enough to have good enough equipment and financial backing to do what we want to do. Ultimately, I’d love to do a touring series once, just to do it; either the Lucas [Oil] or [World of] Outlaws. I’d love to do that once just to say we did it. That’s not in the cards right now. We’re just doing what we can.”
This past Sunday, in just his second start at Port Royal Speedway, Norris topped a loaded, 47-car field to win the Zimmer Service Center United Late Model Series 30-lap, $3,000-to-win feature at the half-mile “Speed Palace.” He beat national touring regulars Gregg Satterlee (second) and Mason Zeigler (third), as well as Hall of Famer Rick Eckert (seventh) and 2018 Port Royal track champion Jeff Rine (10th).
Norris started sixth and made his way into third before the first caution of the feature came on Lap 17. That’s when he outdueled Zeigler for second after a multi-lap, side-by-side battle. On Lap 19, he powered by Austin Hubbard for the lead and from there all Norris had to do was hold down the middle of the track and stave off Satterlee on a late restart with five to go.
Not only does the win back Norris’ motto for 2019, but it bolsters confidence in a new car. He sold the late model he wheeled to Victory Lane 10 times in 2018 for a new Rocket Chassis XR1, and an accident at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park in February forced Norris to send his new machine to Rocket Chassis headquarters for repairs.
“It boosts my confidence in this car,” said Norris, who has one win, two top fives, and three top 10s in five touring events this year. “Coming here and being able to beat this field of cars — that car is OK in my book now.”
With a nickname like “Crusher,” dubbed from the long hours spent at his family’s junkyard, anything that has four wheels should make due. And while Norris sure hopes 2019 brings abundance, he knows no racing accolade will likely top his WoO Firecracker 100 preliminary night win at Lernerville Speedway last summer.
“It was a dream come true, honestly,” Norris said. “Hometrack. With the World of Outlaws. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
But this is, surprisingly, year No. 10 in Norris’ Super Late Model career —
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Norris said — and he wants to stretch and test his capabilities more than ever before.
Like he’s always done, Norris races for his family and just wants to put on a show for the fans … even the naysayers, too.
“You know what,” Norris started, “we’ll show them we can run on a different track.”