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From Trials to Triumphs: Steve Summers’s Unexpected Championship


By Ainsley Jacobs

Photos by NMCA/Kevin DiOssi

For a season that started out with stress and surprises, Steve Summers rallied in a big way and finished out the 2017 year with his name indelibly inked next to the coveted number one in the VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod championship points chase results.

Summers began the season with a new Jerry Bickel-built ’16 Camaro and a self-built, all-billet 522 ci engine boosted by a set of 94mm Garrett GTX Gen 2 turbochargers.

He was off to a solid start, as he qualified fifth in VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod at the season opener in Florida and got a round one win for the race. For the second stop of the year in Georgia, Summers improved to qualify number two, then took home the runner up honors for the event. For round three of the NMCA tour, Summers was the number one qualified driver in Kentucky, but went out in the semi-finals. He continued his impressive performance by qualifying third in the massive field that showed up to race in Illinois, and picked up another round win along the way.

Unfortunately, Summers’ momentum came to a halt at the 16th Annual Honeywell Garrett NMCA All-American Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. The issues that popped up meant he was out of the running for the race, and possibly out of contention for the championship, too.

“Basically, what happened is that I just got behind on maintenance,” admitted Summers, who is based out of Utica, Illinois, and has no trouble owning up to the fact that he simply got too busy with running a business and with life to focus on maintaining his operation the way he usually does. “That engine was in my car for almost two whole seasons. I was pushing the envelope and saw some potential failures that could have happened if I didn’t get it out of the car.”

Wanting to prevent possible pitfalls, Summers yanked the engine and swapped in his back-up one – which also had nearly two seasons on it. He had qualified 3.817 at 216.03 mph, but struggled to get down the track in the first eliminations pairing against Greg Seth-Hunter.

“I got out of my normal routine and lost track of a few other items, so the first round, some things weren’t functioning the way they should be. We had a contaminated CO2 problem for a while but had finally got that fixed, but by that time it had damaged so parts,” Summers explained of what went down. As the swap itself had taken all night to complete, he didn’t have time to test it out before the start of the race – and so, it was over before it even began. “I told my wife, Jerilynn, that I was out of the championships and she started calculating points and knew I still had a chance. She’s amazing. She’s so supportive and is such an integral part of the team and does so much to keep me going.”

By the time the season finale race in Indianapolis rolled around, though, Summers was set and ready to go, and a new electric shift valve meant he would have no more CO2 issues with his five-speed Liberty transmission. “A big thanks to Jeff Jasiek of Jasiek Racing – if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it to the race,” added Summers.

The 16th Annual SDPC Raceshop NMCA World Street Finals at Lucas Oil Raceway saw him click off a 3.883 at 211.53 mph hit to wind up qualified third and set the top speed for Xtreme Pro Mod qualifying. Summers easily cruised through each, taking win after win, until his final 3.806 at 210.93 mph blast in the finals against Mark Luton pushed him through to both the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle as well as the top of the championships points list.

“To win the championship was great. It was a little doom and gloom getting to that point, and I was hoping to have more of a dominating season, but it ended up well,” said Summers, who was both surprised and thrilled to have made such a strong comeback. He credits his success to the excellent track prep at NMCA events, as well as the tremendous support he receives from his wife, Jerilynn, son, Colin, daughter, Italy, relatives-turned-crew, Billy and Terry Terry, and his sponsors.

“My biggest problem this year was that I didn’t test. At all. I’m so busy with customer cars and work that, short of showing up early for Bradenton, the only laps I’ve put on the car were in competition,” laughed Summers, whose do-or-die strategy unexpectedly worked in his favor. “That really speaks to the quality of this program and the guys helping out.” Fortunately, the new lock-up Coan torque converter that he added at the beginning of the year got him through the entire season without any issues or needed maintenance.

The Garrett GTX Gen 2 turbochargers that Summers runs were instrumental in making enough power to push him to the front, but the support he received from the company itself was second to none. “Tim Coltey at Garrett, he’s strapped with a schedule and budgets and constraints to do his job and somehow he always makes sure that whatever I need is at the track or my house, whether it’s t-shirts or turbos,” Summers said appreciatively.

Similarly, Eric Gash at Haltech has been a huge source of support for Summers and team. “I don’t have a lot of issues with the system, we basically just stand back and let it shine, but Eric is always there to help and Haltech has invested a lot of time and effort into my program,” he continued of how well the Haltech Elite 2500 engine management system performs.

Summers tunes the Haltech system himself, but relies on PTP Racing’s Patrick Barnhill for guidance and expertise. The two bounce ideas off each other and discuss options and strategy regularly. “I would hate to try and race without Patrick, he’s a great guy for information and is always there to help out. My pit seems like his home base and I get asked fifty times a day if he’s here – everyone needs him!”

For 2018, Summers fully intends to be back in VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod and to be able to spend more time testing. Plus, he’ll be bringing three customer cars along with him to also run in the class.

Ainsley Jacobs
P.TEN Marketing's Ainsley Jacobs is a freelance motorsports marketing professional with extensive experience in marketing and communications, website development, social media management, photography, journalism, and more.