Mike Maresca finished second to Matt Sheppard at Utica-Rome Speedway during a weekly show in April of 2017. That probably sounds fairly mundane. There's a fair amount of weekly Big Block Modified shows in the north east, bordering on too many perhaps. So it should be no surprise to see some names you might not always see at the top of the weekly press releases from time to time. Now consider this. It was one of the first times he's ever raced there. Now consider this. In his career to this point, he's raced in just over sixty times in a North East Modified in Big Block and Small Block competition. If you've comprehended the last few sentences and have a good understanding of how difficult it is to finish second to Matt Sheppard at Utica-Rome, with the likes of Alan Johnson, Pat Ward and Tim Fuller finishing behind you. then you are probably finding yourself asking two things. Who is Mike Maresca? And how have I missed him up to this point?
|Pat Miller Photo|
The Pierrepont, NY native who attends Clarkson University and is currently studying finance, didn't come up through the ranks in any kind of normal way. In the beginning, he found two wheels much more fascinating than four.
"When I was young. I didn't come up through Go-Karts," Maresca said. "When I was growing up my dad raced dirt bikes and all his friends raced them as well. So I'd been riding them since I was two and started racing them when I was nine. We got pretty successful at it and we traveled a lot and my grandfather figure raced a lot, raced Stock Cars and raced Modifieds in the New England area back in the 70's. He had always pushed my dad 'Hey, get him in to a race car and let's go racing', and through some of the connections we'd made with Dirt Bikes we'd met a guy that knew a lot about stock cars. That got me down to South Boston, Virginia and I started racing some legends cars Evans Mills Speedway (NY) so I learned a lot between the two tracks and Peyton Sellers teaching me the tricks of the trade. Peyton helped me out a lot down there and we raced up here on the off weekends."
Maresca's career path then took a turn towards more traditional places in a Modified sense, he found some help getting started near his home, situated just a hop, skip and a jump from the Quebec/Eastern Ontario border. It's an area that features more Small Block Modifed racing than Big Block, and has been home to some legendary drivers over the years. One of those drivers was Hogansburg, NY native Carey Terrance who has pulled off his fair share of wins, some against the best competition in North East Modified racing.
"I was racing down south and the travel was extensive so there were local dirt tracks around like Mohawk Speedway (NY), and Cornwall and Brockville in Canada and the logistics were a little easier for us to go dirt racing. In 2014, Carey Terrance really helped get me going, he was a family friend and he showed us the ropes and got us going, racing Sportsman at Mowhawk Speedway and Cornwall Speedway and the DIRT Series for the Sportsman as well. We had some success and wins and came home fourth in series points. We were able to start racing a 358 Modified at Syracuse and made the race."
|Jeremiah Fish Photo|
Racing for a career, even part of a career hadn't really occurred to Maresca after his rookie Sportsman Modified campaign and early success. It was most likely during a 2016 season which saw him race and get experience in 358 and Big Block competition, and also in an entirely different type of car altogether. Maresca had to partake in an internship that took him to the Western, PA/Eastern, OH area. While he was there, he figured he might as well see if he could get some racing in now and then to help pass the time, and perhaps it was then that he began to realize that he had unique talent that might just transcend dirt or asphalt and open wheels or closed. A driving talent no matter what he was in, or where he was. He picked up top five finishes at Sharon and Lernerville Speedways, two places that he'd never seen before, against veteran drivers that have been racing there for 15 years or longer. It was then, that the eyebrows began to raise for many fans in the area.
"I kind of moved away for an internship and didn't race much in 2015, and in 2016 I moved away again for another internship in Ohio and we decided to try and race. So I kept my car at Rob Kristyak's house and we raced Lernerville and Sharon and we were kind of on our own. Carey would still help me a lot but I had to learn quite a bit more of it on my own through some trial and error but we ran pretty good out there."
Maresca even befriended former World of Outlaw Late Model Rookie of the Year, Russ King during his internship and caught the bug for racing Crate Late Models.
|Pat Miller Photo|
"When I lived at the Kristyak's, Russ King was about a half a minute down the road and we got to talking to him and he got us going in the Late Models. We don't know much about them, but we're learning. They're pretty complex pieces. We had some good runs in them. We own a track record now in one. That's Russ and my dad right there. They're the ones that put that deal together. I like racing a Late Model, it's a lot different. It's a different driving style, it's a different feel, But I really enjoy doing it."
With the internship over, Maresca began to turn his schedule up a notch and started hitting Super DIRTcar Series tour shows with more regularity. While at the same time, also expanding his knowledge and experience of different tracks that he would have to master to make a serious go at it on the tour for seasons to come.
"I moved back home halfway through the summer and decided to follow the DIRT Series and raced Fulton and other Big Block races locally just to try and get better. It wasn't a great season, we had a lot of changes with moving around so much so there was a lack of consistency but overall it was a good learning season and I got to go to a lot of new tracks. I kind of built a platform to work off of for this coming year."
It was a learning year, and if it's one thing Maresca has proven, it's that he's a quick learner. And he's also proved that he's meticulous and detailed about what he's doing, and yet still loves to have fun doing it.
"Lernerville is a favorite. It's really nice to go there on Friday nights, you get a good race track and it's big, fun and fast. I really enjoy every track I go to, I'm a pretty optimistic guy and can pull something to like out of each track I go to. I like the smaller ones too, I kind of grew up racing on them. Cornwall and Brockville are a ton of fun and Mowhawk is a lot of fun because it's really close to my house. We went down to Accord this year for the Gobbler. I could fit that place in my garage, it's very small but very fun. Just the challenge of going to a new track is fun."
|Pat Miller Photo|
The next bit of evidence that pointed to big things on the horizon for Maresca was his performance at the annual Super DIRT Week, which had a new home in 2016 at Oswego Speedway. With little long race experience to go on, and at a track that nobody knew what to expect from at least from as surface standpoint, Maresca left a good many open mouthed in awe, coming home with an eighth place finish on a track that was perhaps suited for Motocross moreso than Modifieds with an assortment of holes, and bumps and in everyone's heads, images of cars flying into the air left and right. Perhaps Maresca's early experience on Dirt Bikes was helpful. But then again, perhaps Maresca's calm, calculating approach guided his decisions.
"We just went at it like it was any other race. I think we could have finished better actually, we just made a lot of mistakes and I made mistakes, but at the end of it I just found a line that was halfway smooth and made it work and we were fast at the end. There were 14 cars that finished and we finished 8th so we beat some really good cars which was kind of a notch on our belt because we beat some guys that we hadn't beat before and they were still racing. It made me realize how good my crew is and how good these Teo cars are, they held together. We worked hard that week and I think it showed that 'hey, we're here, we can do it', and gave us something to build off of. And then in the Small Block race that night, the track wasn't as bad and we were running in the top five and I bobbled with some lappers but ended up getting back up to fifth and there were a lot of good cars that were running really hard. They Big Block deal earlier may have looked like it was a fluke because so many cars didn't finish but we went out and backed it up with the Small Block race and that gave me and my team a whole lot of confidence. It showed that we were starting to gel."
The overall results from 2016 might not indicate a huge amount of success for Maresca, but to many, the flashes of brilliance and the quickness with he went from competent to contender on any given night point to big things on the horizon. Maresca will run for Super DIRTcar Series in 2017, and Las Vegas is taking any action on that kind of thing, he might make the best wager you've ever placed money on.
"We're going to race in our backyard on Friday nights this year at Mowhawk in a 358 and then we'll be at Fulton on Saturdays with the Big Block and the Late Model and Sunday's were going to leave open to get ready for the series races, and if we're ready to race, we might go up to Cornwall in the 358 as well. Our goal is to go there and run as best we can. Some nights aren't going to be your night but hopefully we can unload fast, get our time trialing down, get through the heats well enough to get to the redraw. When you get in the redraw, you get to race with better guys and be a better racer yourself. I'm not thinking it's going to be an instant success, we still have a long way to go, but hopefully we make steady improvements every week and we get some podiums and good finishes. I'd like to be in the top 10 in points at the end of the year, that's where I'd really like to be. It's a tough group of guys so it's tough to do."
No matter where he finishes in the final standings though, there's no place that he'd rather be than at the track.
"The track is home, there's no place I'd rather be. Some nights it beats you up, but some nights you get the best feelings of your whole life there and you get the best stories and make the best friends and that's what it's all about."
So welcome to the SDS mix Mike Maresca, a young and enthusiastic driver who can drive anything, and can learn it at a pace that is almost too quick to think about. Chances are, you'll be hearing about him sooner rather than later.