This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 28, 2005.

Teen racer promotes safety on streets

By Ed Odeven

Ever since he was old enough to recite multiplication tables, Andrew Lewis has possessed a passion for auto racing.

He began competing in go-kart races at age 7 and finished with 25 victories in the IKF (International Karting Federation) Region 4 Series over several seasons. As a 14-year-old, he captured the INEX Legends Cars Semi Pro National Championship in October 2001.

Nowadays, the 18-year-old Lewis is one of NASCAR’s up-and-coming racers, competing in the Grand National Division West Series. He arrived at Phoenix International Raceway Friday to begin preparations for Sunday’s United Rentals 100, one of the races in this year’s season-opening Copper World Classic at PIR.

Racing is a fun job for the high school senior from Corona, Calif., and it gives him the opportunity to remain in the spotlight when his foot’s off the pedal and his car’s in the garage.

Earlier this month, Lewis was named the national teen spokesperson for Teen Arrive Alive, a company based in Bradenton, Fla., which promotes safe driving among teens.

So why did Lewis decide to take this position?

“(I) read about them in the newspaper and got familiar with their program,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “I liked the idea. I read a stat that kind of got me interested: 6,000 teens are dying every year from car accidents. It caught my attention.

“I felt that being in the position I’m in, being in racing and getting a lot of media attention from that, I thought it’d be good to team up with a company like that to be able to get their cause out there as well.”

According to a press release, Teen Arrive Alive’s ultimate mission is to “save lives. TAA provides parents with products that can help monitor their teen’s driving habits in an effort to save lives through encouragement of responsible driving techniques.”

These products include a decal program, which is similar to the “How’s My Driving?” decals that appear on thousands of commercial vehicles across the country. These decals give alert individuals a toll-free number to call to report a teen’s erratic or unsafe driving habits. Parents, whose kids have these decals on their vehicles, will then be notified if their kid has been reported.

Teen Arrive Alive, which operates the Web site, also has GPS technology to enable parents to visit the online site and see where their teen is while driving, where they are going and how fast they are going.

Lewis, who is used to zooming around paved ovals at speeds exceeding 100 mph, fully endorses the need to promote better driving habits among teens.

“I think (being a race-car driver) definitely gives me a little credibility with my peers to be talking about that,” said Lewis, the second-youngest driver in the NASCAR Grand National Division West Series — his buddy Spencer Clark of Las Vegas turns 18 today. “Being a (race-car driver) helps me to … see how fast things can happen. It happens just like that on the street as well.”

He elaborated on this point in a Teen Arrive Alive press release, putting it this way:

“Driving too fast is one of the main reasons for many of the car crashes that are killing teenagers. I hope to get my peers to understand that speed has its place, in a controlled environment on a racetrack with lots of safety equipment, and in cars designed to protect drivers in the case of a crash.

“Speeding on public roads can get a person killed, plain and simple. It happens every day.”

Lewis has taped an infomercial for Teen Arrive Alive and plans to raise awareness for the company by conducting interviews around the country in conjunction with his racing schedule. He also plans to give talks at schools wherever he goes, including his own high school.

After this weekend’s race, Lewis will return to Corona, where he’ll head back to high school for 11Ú2 months until the racing season begins in earnest. Then, he’ll juggle racing and school duties until graduation. (His goal is to quickly climb the racing ladder, making his way up to the NASCAR Busch Series and then on to the Nextel Cup, where the best of the best race). As a rookie last year, he was 10th among 52 racers in the Auto Club Late Model Series at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, Calif.

In the meantime, Lewis has a busy weekend

Today, Lewis will rev up his No. 18 Teen Arrive Alive Chevy Monte Carlo and get acclimated with the PIR track.

Sunday morning, he’ll return to the track and try to earn one of the 32 spots for the United Rentals 100 — there are 34 entrants for the 3 p.m. race.

The Lewis family, part of his nine-man crew, will be there, too.

“My dad will be scoring for me to keep track of where I’m at,” he said. “He’ll be on the radio, but not doing too much talking.”

After all, that might be a distraction, and safety first is the best policy.