Unbuckled: Getting to Know Mike Stearns


Hometown: Johnson, VT

Division: Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors

Car: J&S Sales & Service #3 Chevy Cobalt

2018 Season: 1 win and 2 podium finishes


What are your favorite hobbies outside of racing?

I used to like playing with gas-powered R/C cars. My old high school teacher had a bunch, and he’d bring them into class, and we’d go watch and play with them in the parking lot. So my brother and I got gas and electric ones that we’d go race around the parking lot. And his neighbor had a race track with a jump in it, so we’d go play over there on the weekends. I also grew up on a farm, so I like playing with the cows.

What was it like growing up on a farm?

It was my grandparent’s farm. I was born up here in Vermont, then we moved to Florida and went away, and then we came back. But it’s a lot of strenuous work. It’s not as easy as some people think. You have maintenance of the cows, and then all the field work. You also have a lot of chores: cleaning the barn, rebidding the cows, making sure they have feed and water on the inside. And you have all the hay work, which takes a lot of hours during the summertime to the crops ready for them.

What do you do for work?

I’m a military mechanic. I’m in the Vermont National Guard, and I turn wrenches for Uncle Sam Monday through Friday at a military maintenance shop in Hyde Park. We work on anything that’s a military unit that my shop supports – anything from 4-wheelers to big trucks and trailers.

We understand if there’s confidential things you can’t be specific about.

No, there’s nothing secretive about what I work on. We don’t work on tanks anymore, which do have top-secret things about them. Our big trucks have five axles, and then we have 4-axle trucks, big 3-axles, and then there’s our flat-nose trucks and a bunch of different variants of Humvees. Then each truck has its own trailer that it can tow. Then they all have generators, and there’s water trailers and other sorts of stuff. I’ve been in the guard for seven and a half years now.

Is your work what helped inspire the Stars & Stripes paint schemes on your cars?

It is. They’re definitely very noticeable on the track.

What are your racing plans for 2019?

I’d like to be there for every race, but my girlfriend and I are currently in the process of building a house. So my season will probably end up looking like what it did last year – maybe 5 or 6 races out of the season.

Do you have any goals for the races you’re able to make?

Finishing the race is the biggest one. (Laughs) Even if the car can be driven onto the trailer, that’s a plus. I would like to get a second place trophy, because then I would have at least one of each. In 2017, I came in at the end when they started the Road Warriors, and I got a third-place on Labor Day. Then this past year, I did six races, and I got a first and a third.

What was the highlight of the 2018 season for you?

Probably that first place trophy. That was the night when the Road Warriors did their doubleheader; I won the first 25-lap race. It was exciting. I used to race 13 years about at Thunder Road when it was the Junkyard Warriors. I went through five different cars, and they all went to the scrapyard because they all got smushed. My best finish when I raced before was a third place in a heat race with my 1990 Mazda 323 hatchback. And my best race finish was 10th when I had my ’86 Mercury Topaz GT. It’s definitely been better this time around.

How did you get started in racing?

My parents used to bring my brother and I to Thunder Road. We liked watching NASCAR, but when we moved back up here from Florida, my parents would bring us to the track so we could watch. I was 12 or so when we started going. And I was like, “You know what? I want to try that someday!” Then, I think it was right when I graduated high school, I was on my way to work or from work. I was on this little side road that I took where I went past the Thomas Hirchak Auction House in Hype Park – and they had that Mazda 323 hatchback with “$100” in the windshield. So I called them up and said, “Hey, I want that car”. So I got it for a hundred bucks. I had to start it with a screwdriver because someone had drilled out the ignition.

Can you tell me about your family?

Mom and Dad have always been big supporters of me in the racing scene and have tried to help out as much as they could – I can always use Dad’s truck and trailer. Mom’s a nurse, and Dad’s a construction contractor that does a bunch dirt work and such. My girlfriend Jess has also been a big supporter. She tries to help when and if she’s able to – sometimes I’ll have to tell her what to do.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to be?

It’d probably be our house that we’re building. At least, it will be our biggest accomplishment when it’s finally done. That way we can finally be out on our own – right now we’re living with Mom and Dad until we get the house built. We looked into buying, but we didn’t see anything that I wanted. Then I found a piece of land that was really reasonable – it just needed some work. And my time is free for me, so it saves me money. Then I’ll have a place for us, our family, and few dogs. We’re hoping to be able to make it livable by July.

Do you have anyone that you consider a role model or that you look up to?

My friend Marcel Whipple was almost like a second dad when I was growing up. But my brother and I as kids were close in age, so we always hung out a lot. And he’s the reason I joined the Guard and got my job. I was working two part-time jobs, both 40 hours a week between each job. And he was in the Guard already as a first sergeant, which is high up in the ranks. He already had the job I have now – he was doing that and working on military trucks. I said, “You know what? I want to work on military trucks.” So I signed up, did all the training – which was a lot more than what I was expecting. I passed, did maintenance school, and within six months of being home, I got the current job I have.

What’s the most memorable trip or vacation you ever went on?

Probably flying from Vermont to Arizona and then driving halfway across the country on the way back. My girlfriend at the time was out there. I drove to the Grand Canyon and saw that and the Arizona red rocks, and then I drove through the mountains in New Mexico and saw the hoop monument in St. Louis. Those were a few highlights.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

I’d want to be Superman. Then I could bounce bullets away in case I went overseas on deployment. Then I would be guaranteed to come back.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

It’s probably be laziness – really, people who aren’t even able to pick up or take care of their own stuff.

What are the top three items on your bucket list?

You know, I’ve never actually made a bucket list.

Maybe you can make one now.

(Laughs) Well, let’s try…I want to climb Mount Everest. Going to Germany would be another. And buying or building a log cabin.

Finish this sentence: on a Friday night, you’ll typically find me…

Right now, it’s been working on the house. It’s like an everyday thing – it’s taking up most of our time. We don’t go out and do much because of it. All the more reason to finish it sooner.

Who is your biggest fan at the track?

My girlfriend and my mom. Mom had one of our friends make me a battle flag, and she has the up in the stands with her as she’s cheering.

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your racing career?

It probably would be my friend Jason Woodard. He’s been there to let me pick his brain, and he’s given me a lot of helpful pointers throughout the past year and a half, from when I came back until now. It’s really helped me get up to speed.

If you could pass along one piece of advice or a life lesson to your younger self, what would it be?

You mean besides, “Don’t build a house. Buy.”? It makes things way easier. (Laughs) I’d tell myself two things: Hard work pays off, and expect the unexpected.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?

I’d like to have a finished house with a separate garage, with a family and little one – or two. I’d like to still be with my job, though maybe in a different position. And possibly have risen to my next rank in the military.

What would you do with your life if you never had to worry about money again?

I would buy land in the middle of nowhere with an amazing view. I’d build a really big and nice log cabin on it with a separate log garage and a pond – and a really long driveway. I’d probably also put up a metal electric gate so I could open it and close it when I wanted.