Photo by Rodger Gorridge

Following an improbable Nostalgia Funny Car victory at the 2012 California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield, Calif., Mike Lewis, Henry Gutierrez and Paul Smith are launching a quest to defend their 2012 title starting with an Aug. 2 and 3 appearance at the annual Geezers Reunion at the The Grove at Maple Grove Raceway.

Lewis will be at the wheel of the Texas based “Brand X” 1971 Mustang owned by Gutierrez and tuned by Smith, a legendary car owner, driver and crew chief with 35 years of nitro experience at Maple Grove Raceway.

Lewis will be joined in the two-car “Texas Jungle” team by John “Bodie” Smith who will drive the “Jungle Jim” Vega, also owned by Gutierrez and tuned by Smith, Bodie’s father.

“We started our 2012 season at Maple Grove and had no idea we would end up in the Bakersfield winners circle,” said Lewis, who operated Maple Grove Raceway from 1971 to 1989 and remains a Board member today. “I wish fans could see the smile on my face every time Paul gives me the OK sign on the starting line. I know I’m about to take a very fast ride in a great race car.”

The “Brand X” and “Jungle Jim” teams will be among a field of a dozen or more Nostalgia Funny Cars at Maple Grove and only eight drivers will qualify Friday night for Saturday’s eliminations as part of the Auto-Plus Cavalcade of Funny Cars and the Mickey Thompson Tire Dragracingonline.com AA/FC Challenge

“I know I’ll be nervous making my first run in nine months with so much on the line but I trust Paul, Henry and the team they put together,” Lewis said. “We really got to know and trust each other in 2012 and I’m excited to go racing with the same team in 2013.”

Lewis predicts the Maple Grove record book will take a beating next weekend.

“I think the track records are somewhere in the 5.80s at just under 250 mph,” Lewis said, “but there will be a number of cars running in the 5.70s at 250 just to qualify. We ran 5.77 at Bakersfield and I’d love to do it again on my home track.”

Lewis currently serves as Senior Vice President of Don Schumacher Racing and expressed gratitude to Don Schumacher for the opportunity to skip the NHRA event in Seattle to compete at Maple Grove, breaking his streak of 246 straight NHRA races since joining DSR in 2002. Lewis and his wife Vicki will be among family at Maple Grove where Mike’s mom Evelyn and brother Kent remain active in the day-to-day operation of the track.

The “Texas Jungle” team is also scheduled for the World Series of Drag Racing, August 23 and 24 in Cordova, Ill., and the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over the Labor Day Weekend in preparation for the 2013 California Hot Rod Reunion, October 18-20 in Bakersfield.