Ashton Lewis Now Wears Only One Hat
Lewis has been impressive in four CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 starts, recording consecutive top-10 finishes in the two most recent races and never finishing outside the top-20 despite serving as engineer, general manager and driver for an under-funded family-owned operation.
With no major sponsor, Lewis and his family faced a major decision late last year. They decided to close their family team and the 33-year-old native of Chesapeake, Va., was named to drive the No. 25 Marines Ford for Team Rensi.
Brother, Charlie, went along as crew chief and has since been promoted to team manager. "Lewis Motorsports was special to Charlie and I, and it was very special to us as a family," Lewis explained. "It was tough losing it, a tough decision. But I think for my future and Charlie's and a lot of the guys on the team, it was what we needed to do.
"The way racing is now, you have to perform and you have to be able to put a program together for a sponsor that is just as successful off the track as it is on the track. That's something we were never able to master. I tell everybody that I'm a very good racer and can race with anybody, but from the sponsorship program part of it, that's where we were very weak."
Lewis has spent the early races this season adjusting to his new role at Team Rensi. "It's been very different," he said. "At Lewis Motorsports, I was responsible for and involved in the personnel aspect of it, the day-to-day running of the team. If there was a problem, everyone would come to me or Charlie first. It really took my focus away from making the cars faster and being able to focus on driving. Being at Team Rensi has allowed me to focus on driving."
With a degree in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion University, Lewis is still interested in the technical aspects of the Busch Series.
"I still get to be with the car, and I still go to the wind tunnel with them," he said. "I don't have a whole lot of input, but I like to go and see what direction we're going with the car. Way down the line, I still want to be involved in racing when I retire from driving.
"This gives me the opportunity to drive for an organization that's not so big they tell you to go away and show up only at race time. They like having me around-I think-and it's good to be involved that way. I can have access to the Ford engineers too."
Lewis began his racing career while studying at Virginia Tech University, driving Formula Fords in the Skip Barber road-racing series.
"That was distracting from my engineering studies, so I made the decision to switch to late models at Langley Speedway," he said. "I ran those the whole time I was at Old Dominion."
From there, it was on to the Busch Series with his family team. He, his father and brother started the team in September 1999 and debuted at Daytona in 2000.
In the time he spent as driver, engineer and general manager of Lewis Motorsports, the goal was to win a Busch Series race. He came close, finishing second twice.
"If I had one more lap at the fall Darlington race, I'd have won that race," Lewis said. "We had two second-place finishes and 10 top-10s through the years. Legitimately, we could have won five races."
Despite not testing during the winter, Lewis and the Marines team stood sixth in points following the first seven races.
"Our goal going into the first seven races was to get ourselves in a good position, inside the top-10," said Lewis. "Charlie is still my crew chief, but we have Ford cars we've never worked with and chassis we've never worked with. We wanted to use the first seven races as kind of an extended test session. Now we need to be in the top-five in points over this next span of races, and we certainly expect to win races."
Tickets for the May 28 CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 start at just $17 and can be obtained online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-455-FANS.