The sudden passing of Mike Streicher at just 62 years of age was a bitter pill to swallow, and a fresh reminder of just how fragile life is.
I had just read a funny social media post offered by Mike, and the next day I received an email from a friend that caused me to do a double-take.
Yes, the news was true, and my thoughts first turned to his lovely mother Pauline, who I spent some time with in Tulsa in January, and his current students at the University of Northwestern Ohio.
In the world of midget racing, Streicher was a true giant. He earned his status in the sport honestly. In the days where the garages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were made of wood, the mechanics who slaved over race cars during the month of May also became larger-than-life figures.
Arizonian Clint Brawner was already a legend, and his status was sealed when he helped Mario Andretti find victory lane in 1969.
One of the men who had helped Brawner from time to time was a transplanted Ohioan name Jim Streicher. When Jim wasn’t worried about making Brawner’s cars go fast, he was actively involved in quarter-midget racing.
It was here that Mike began his driving career, and when the family returned to the Toledo area he never missed a beat.
It was in Ohio that Jim and Pauline began to establish a business, and it made it more difficult for the pair to focus on quarter-midget racing. Here was the rub: anything short of perfection drove Jim crazy.
Recognizing the situation, Mike Streicher selflessly decided that the best course of action was to step out of the cockpit and pick up the wrenches.
He turned his attention to his brother’s car, and the duo clicked. In 1977, Pat Streicher was the national quarter-midget champion.
This outcome pointed to two important facts about Mike Streicher: One, he was as talented in the garage as he was behind the wheel. Second, he was always willing to put others before himself.
By 1979, the Streicher family decided to go midget racing and they had a car for Jerry Nuckles at the Ft. Wayne indoor races. Mike’s attention to detail and meticulous preparation helped the car get faster and faster. It was something that hardly went unnoticed.
When he finally got a chance to get behind the wheel again himself, he was not a wet-behind-the-ears kid.
When he ran a series of midget races in Florida, it was clear that he had not lost his touch as a driver. However, the family was presented with a golden opportunity. In 1980, Rich Vogler captured the USAC sprint and midget championship, but he needed a new midget ride for the following season. He approached the family.
Once again Mike put his ego to the side. Rich would have strong years in 1981 and ‘82, but really put it all together in 1983. In that glorious campaign, Rich would win the driver’s title, while the Streichers won the entrants crown.
This led to a long relationship with Rich that included everything from sprint cars to Super Vees. Both men were mechanically savvy, and became of one mind. Rich was attracted to Streicher’s intellect, and Mike admired his driver’s intensity. Still, Mike harbored a desire to race.
He was an active participant in 1986 and ‘87, and made his way to the top 10 in USAC midget points. In 1988 he broke through with his first USAC win at Kokomo Speedway.
Drawing from his mechanical acumen, Mike began working with Bob East on the first Beast midgets, and he also toiled with Earl and Joe Gaerte to develop a potent engine for a midget.
In 1989 he climbed to the fourth position in USAC points, and he really served notice when he was the 92nd driver to qualify for the Turkey Night Grand Prix and put his car on the pole.
In 1990, Mike began the year by winning the Thunder in the Dome race indoors at the Hoosier Dome and used wins at Lawrenceburg, Ind., and Florence, Ky., to finish third in points behind Jeff Gordon and Russ Gamester, once again earn the entrant’s championship for Streicher Racing.
Streicher entered the 1991 season determined to win the title. And he went into battle with a car he designed and built himself. In honor of Clint Brawner, he called it a Hawk Chassis.
He admired Clint’s ability to get the most out of the least, and he knew that his hero also admired what this family operation was doing. After all, he kept a picture of Mike’s car in his hospital bed as he battled cancer near the end of his life.
The basic story is that Mike was able to parlay a win at Richmond, Kentucky to take the driver’s and owner’s title. Yet, the rest of the story involves the battle with Stevie Reeves that went down in dramatic fashion.
First Streicher, defying convention, decided to build a brand new car before heading west. It turns out that the points battle went right down to the final race of the year at El Centro. Mike set fast time, while Reeves crashed in practice.
Then, following a heat race, Reeves, in a second car, erupted in flames. And then, going from bad to worse, in the feature Stevie collected the wall.
Reeves, always classy, was among the first to shake hands with the new champion.
Over the course of his racing career, Streicher also claimed wins with the National Alliance of Midget Auto Racing (NAMAR), Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA), the Northeast Midget Ass’n (NEMA), the American Race Drivers Club (ARDC), as well as back-to-back United Midget Racing Ass’n (UMRA) three-quarter midget feature wins indoors in Salem, Va., in November of 1985.
Consider this: Mike Streicher was the national champion in a car he designed, built, wrenched and drove. That would even impress Clint Brawner. It certainly did those of us who watched it all unfold.
For close to 14 years, Mike was a professor at the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) College of Applied Technologies High Performance. In his role, he instructed in welding, fabrication and suspension. Most important of all, he would tell all how much he loved working with the kids.
Thankfully, he was able to savor the moment when he was inducted into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in January, 2019. The poignant words shared by so many spoke to the impact this man had on those around him.
In particular, he will live on through the young people he instructed. Not surprisingly, he was still working hard and giving of himself to others to his last day.
That was Mike Streicher. That’s what made him a champion in every sense of the word.