PENSACOLA, Fla. — Less than a month ago, Ryan Luza made his first late model start in five years and promptly returned to victory lane. Saturday night, he’d like to make it two for two.
Luza is targeting his first win in the Allen Turner Hyundai Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway. It’s the same track Luza won the pro late model championship in 2015, the last year he raced full time.
The Cypress, Texas, native will drive the No. 53 for Jett Motorsports at the historic half-mile oval only weeks after he beat the team in his pro late model return at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway during the Prelude to the Florida Governor’s Cup.
That night, Luza drove a car owned by NASCAR veteran Mike Skinner and he stomped the field by nearly four seconds en route to victory. It was a performance that impressed even Luza.
“The whole deal that weekend was big for me,” Luza told SPEED SPORT. “I expected that from myself, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking it would be quite as dominant as we were. I do have the confidence in myself that I can contend with all of these big-name guys, though. It’s just about having the money and getting a chance to actually do it.
“Hopefully we get a good run here at the Snowflake; I think we should, but you never know until you pull it off, you know what I mean?”
After that race, Luza’s winning mount was scoured for several hours during technical inspection. Despite a formal protest by Jett Motorsports, Luza’s victory was upheld.
“I actually preferred that,” he noted. “It was nice to have the car torn down and prove to everyone that we did it the right way. The goal now is to come here with the Jett guys and win in a similar fashion.”
Luza’s Snowflake 100 deal with the Jett team was inked before he won at New Smyrna. The protest was rooted in an incident between the Jett and Skinner squads at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in February.
During the five years that his real-life racing opportunities dried up due to a lack of sponsorship, Luza spent his time dominating NASCAR’s esports circuit, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Luza, 24, won the Coca-Cola Series championship in his rookie year in 2017 and ranks third on the all-time win list with 15 career victories, including three this year en route to a fourth-place finish in the standings.
He credited his sim-racing experience with keeping him ready to be able to jump back into a race car in real life at a moment’s notice.
“I think the Cup (Series) car that we drive in the Coca-Cola Series is actually along the same feel, honestly, as a late model just with the way you have to drive it and how momentum-based it is,” Luza explained. “The driving style kind of aligns toward the late model, I think, and it has helped me adapt pretty easily to be able to be fast with opportunities like the ones I’ve had recently.”
Not only has Luza used iRacing in some of his preparations for the Snowflake 100, the esports company jumped onboard with Jett Motorsports as a primary sponsor of Luza’s effort this weekend.
The iRacing logo is displayed prominently on the hood of Luza’s pro late model for the Snowflake 100, and Luza is appreciative of their support in his real-life racing efforts.
“It’s really cool to have them on board this week,” he noted. “I’ve always considered iRacing to be more of a tool for race craft and keeping your mind sharp, personally, where you’re not making mistakes in the race versus trying to get the feel of the race car figured out. But, obviously, I love the competition that iRacing brings to the table with the Coca-Cola Series and everything we get to do with that. It’s a lot of fun and we’re still trying to chase even more marks and records on that side of things, too.
“It has grown so much, particularly the pay and purses. I’d be doing it even if we weren’t getting paid, but I’ve loved seeing the sim and the series grow like it has. It’s really, really nice.”
After reminding himself and others that he still has what it takes to race competitively in real life, how big would a Snowflake 100 victory be in Luza’s eyes?
“It would be huge,” he said with a smile. “I would consider it a pretty big disappointment, honestly, if we don’t go out there (Saturday) and run in the top five. Obviously, we’d love to win, but there’s going to be a lot of fast cars in contention. We just want to be able to fight for the win, which I think we should have a good shot at if we hit everything right on the setup. You have to hit the balance on the head at Five Flags. It’ll make you pay real fast if you’re not handling right.
“If we win this thing, it would be very big for us, and I think it would be a pretty big story in general,” continued Luza. “Hopefully, we can make that happen because I’m ready to get after it.”
Luza did encounter a bit of a setback during practice on Friday afternoon, with a mechanical failure sending him into the outside wall at the entrance of turn three and damaging the right side of his car.
However, he told SPEED SPORT that the damage is repairable and he expects to contend for the pole — as well as the win — come Saturday evening.
“I think we showed people who I can be in top-tier stuff at New Smyrna, and that was pretty incredible,” noted Luza, who was still fastest in that Friday session despite his brush with the wall.
“Now, I want to show them that I can beat the best of the best on the biggest of stages.”