Mason Mitchell may be a youngster, but he drives like a veteran and proved that by winning the 2014 ARCA Racing Series championship in only his second season. Though the team only won one race all year, Mason Mitchell Motorsports–a team that didn’t even exist a year ago–showed speed all season and was able to win the championship against other talented drivers such as Grant Enfinger, Tom Hessert III, and Frank Kimmel. On Friday night at Kansas Speedway for the season finale, all Mitchell had to do was start the race and he would officially clinch the 2014 championship. In doing so–finishing fifth in the ARCA 98.9–Mitchell became only the third Iowa champion in ARCA history and the first owner/driver championship since Tim Steele accomplished this feat in 1993. Mitchell sat down for a one-one-one interview with our own Summer Bedgood to discuss his season and his plans for the future.
Summer Bedgood, Fronstretch.com: Talk about your race on Friday night. I know you guys had that issue on pit road, under the hood. What happened there?
Mason Mitchell: Well we ran a really good Thermal Technology Services Ford Fusion and we started the race off a little bit loose. The car started coming to me pretty good and started running the leaders back down a little bit and then, I don’t know, about lap 20 or so, the throttle, which is the gas pedal, on the car started sticking to the floor so you’ve got to let off a little bit to slow down in the corners and it wouldn’t come back to me. It was a little scary at times but I had to work with it and try to get it repaired there and we were still pretty fast. When we had that first caution, we came down pit road and they pitted me with Roush Yates and my pit crews guys raised the hood and we took a couple trips down pit road to fix it but we got it fixed most the way. It was unfortunate because we lost a lot of track position which hurts a little bit because track position is so valuable here and I think that’s what hurt us to try to get the win. We had a car capable of winning; we just weren’t in position at the end of the race. It was a good one to end the season with and all the more power to my guys to get this championship.
Bedgood: Do you think you could have pushed the issue a bit more but you decided not to because of your position or were you unable to get to the front because of the lost track position from the throttle?
Mitchell: Well we started third there on the final restart on the inside, and that’s just the un-preferred line to be on the restarts. You’re just so fast and how aero-sensitive the cars are with all the high speeds and when you have a car on the outside you just get so loose on the bottom and you lose a lot of time there. We were kind of stuck there on the bottom and we weren’t going anywhere and Spencer (Gallagher) had a really fast car but I think we could have contended for him if we’d had a better position on the restart.
Bedgood: How were you able to stay out of all the carnage, considering how many times the race got stopped for big wrecks?
Mitchell: My spotter Justin McClintic and I work really well together and he’s been with me since I think 2012 when I was finishing my late model career and since we’ve worked together we’ve never wrecked a racecar. So it’s been a pretty good time with him and we just seem to be pretty good at getting through wrecks and, knock on wood, but we haven’t been in one yet. We’re going to try and keep that stat going.
Bedgood: It’s all the spotter? It’s not you at all?
Mitchell: I’ll give him a little credit because he’s doing it (laughing). I think I’m pretty good reacting to the wrecks and trying to find the best way through. When you see a wreck, you’ve just got to plan for where you’re gonna go. Usually the banking is going to come downhill, so you’ve got to go to the top and stuff like that.. You’ve just go to think way ahead even though you only have two seconds.
Bedgood: I know you knew the outcome ahead of time, but when you crossed the start/finish line, did it hit you all at once? You were obviously very excited.
Mitchell: Yeah it did a little bit. At first I was a little bummed over our finish because I thought we could have done way better but then it took me about 10 minutes later I realized how cool it was to be the champion and all the hard work so I did one heck of a burnout and just celebrated my career, and then the Gatorade bath, which I thought I got frostbite because of how cold it was. It was a fun time, though.
Bedgood: How many people did you have in victory lane with you, other than your team?
Mitchell: I don’t even remember the total amount, but I know all we had here had to be in the 50s or 60s of friends and family that came from all over the state of Iowa to come support me and then all of them came down to victory lane to wash us take photos and be with us in some of the photos.
Bedgood: Talk about the humble beginnings of your team and the path you took to get where you are.
Mitchell: Yeah I was in this spot last year. I finished second here. I was with Empire Racing and those guys provided a good opportunity for me. It was just a good stop for me and for me to get my career back on the map. In the early season, we struggled in 2013 and my dad and I sat down and we were kind of discussing our options and seeing what we wanted to do and I felt like starting my own team was the best option for us because I wanted to go out there and compete for wins and try to win a championship. Being with so many teams and being through a lot of adversity, and knowing what to do and learning as a driver a lot, I felt like as long as we put the right pieces of the puzzle together and everything we could make it happen. A lot of people didn’t think we could and didn’t believe in our racecars but all you need is hard work and determination and anything is possible. We started off in mid-November or something and barely made it to the Daytona test, started working really hard, and had a good start at Daytona that’s where I think it all started. We never really ran bad anywhere and we had speed everywhere we went.
Bedgood: I would bet that you still feel that way—that you can do it better yourself.
Mitchell: Oh I wouldn’t do anything different. If it was last year again I would do the same thing in a heartbeat. I feel like, as an organization, and as a team owner role—I’ll put that hat on real quick—I feel like as Mason Mitchell Motorsports keeps on going in the future, I feel like we can just keep on getting better and getting stronger and be a real force to be reckoned with and I’m looking forward to what 2015 brings for my team and for myself too.
Bedgood: Have you guys thought about moving up to another series like Trucks or Nationwide?
Mitchell: I mean, personally, yes, but as a driver I want to be successful in that level first. I feel like, because it is a pretty big jump, I’m confident that we could make it happen and make it work. But just from a driver right now, I feel like, as long as I get with a top tier organization and I get my one chance that I feel like I’ve earned through the year, just to make it happen and be successful as a driver and if I bring my team up once I’ve already been successful, I feel like it will be easier to bring the team up. I want to see my team get to the top tier of NASCAR. I’m a big fan of how the Stewart-Haas model is. Tony is involved with his team, obviously, as an owner. So that’s pretty neat. I just love racing so much and love the sport and I’ve been thinking about it.
Bedgood: Talk about your career path and the steps you took to get to where you are now.
Mitchell: Yeah it started when I was about five years old with dirt bikes. My dad got me a little Yamaha PW50 and I remember going in front of the corporate headquarters of a bank or something and had tricycles on the bike and crusin’ around. It all started from there. We got to working really hard and I was a huge racecar and NASCAR fan. My idol since then and to this day has been Jeff Gordon and when I was about 10 years old I moved up into Minicup ranks which is a half-size stock car and was really successful there for a few years. Then we got our own late model and this is all working in a garage next to our house and it was just me, my dad, and a couple buddies from high school. I guess I was younger and maybe in middle school. We didn’t have a clue how to make a car go fast. We just worked really hard and worked our way up and never gave up. We got the opportunity in 2012 to race for Eddie Sharp Racing. I think that was a big key to my career because I had some really good runs and after that it seemed like I started to open eyes. Everything started to put itself in order and then we got to this point here. This is what I worked the last 15 years of my life for to get to this point and I believe this is just the beginning of a journey. I feel like I can be successful in the next step I take.
Bedgood: Have you been able to talk to or meet Jeff Gordon? Maybe get some driving tips?
Mitchell: Kinda! At Pocono this year, we were both in the media center for either practice or qualifying and I won the pole for the event that I was in and I followed him up from his interview. He stopped by and we had a quick few second conversation and that was about it. Hopefully someday I get the opportunity to race him. I know he’s definitely going to be around for a few more years, but I’m looking forward to that opportunity when that day comes. I’ve always looked up to him.
Bedgood: I know you don’t have any specific plans in place for 2015, but have you talked to any teams for next year?
Mitchell: No, not really. I’m open and available for any phone calls out there! I’m on the market, free agent status. I feel like all I really need is that one shot. I had that one shot this year and I think we definitely made it happen with getting the win and just having speed everywhere we went and having the opportunities to win and getting the job done with the championship. As a team owner and as a driver, that’s what you want is that success, especially bringing home equipment that’s clean. We had no damaged racecars this year which is always good for the financial side of things. I’m ready to make that next step. I’m walking through the Nationwide Series garage and trying to talk to as many people as I can to try to open those doors keep an open line of communication.
Bedgood: Did I see that some of the crew members from Brendan Gaughan’s Nationwide Series team were helping you on pit road last night?
Mitchell: Yeah, RCR has been helping with the development team the last five or six races with our pit crew, and then Saturday night the Nationwide team was helping us pit our car. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see them get really good and to their full potential on the pitstop because we had some issues. I think if we had come down for a more routine stop, we would have won the race off pit road.
Bedgood: Do you think that could be a potential pathway for you into one of the top three series?
Mitchell: It definitely doesn’t hurt! I appreciate their help through the last few races to get us really good pitstops. Ty Dillon was down in our pit stall talking to me and my guys. You never know. Anything can happen and any opportunity I feel like is a good opportunity.