In 1995, the inaugural season of the Camping World Truck Series, then known as the NASCAR SuperTruck Series, 59 teams competed in at least one race — that is not 59 trucks, but rather 59 teams fielded trucks.
Now, 23 years later, there are only two left from that original season: NEMCO Motorsports and MB Motorsports. NEMCO, owned by Joe Nemechek, ran from 1995 until 1999 but closed its truck program until 2013 when it returned. But MB, owned by Mike Mittler, has competed in the Truck Series every season of its existence.
Now, it appears that streak will end. Mittler’s No. 63 Chevrolet raced at Martinsville Speedway last Saturday (Oct. 27) for what could have been the final race for the team. Driver Kyle Donahue kept the truck clean, stayed on the lead lap and finished 22nd — a fitting end to the little team who could.
Mittler is in a fight against cancer, so much so that he was too sick to even attend the race at Martinsville. The broadcaster, FS1, dedicated a segment to Mittler’s battle around lap 63 of the Martinsville race.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) October 27, 2018
“Hopefully, he gets noticed a little bit as he starts to retire and people start respecting him a little bit more,” Donahue said. “He’s done so many great things for the sport. Not only the [No.] 63, but he considers anyone who races here a part of his family and he really takes them under his wings. He’s a great guy, and I’m happy as can be to represent this number in what could be the last race.”
Mittler’s team has never won a race and never had a driver compete for the championship. The closest thing he ever had to a full-time driver was Justin Jennings in 2014-15. Yet Mittler is best known as an owner who has given numerous drivers their first opportunity in a NASCAR national touring series.
“I don’t even know the list, it’s over 60 different drivers that he’s had in his trucks,” Donahue told Frontstretch.
According to FS1, Mittler gave 49 drivers their start with him, from Tony Roper in the team’s first race to Chris Windom last year. Notables to run their first national touring series race with Mittler include Kenny Irwin Jr, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, Justin Allgaier and the most notable of all, Carl Edwards.
Edwards, a fellow Missouri native, drove just seven races for MB Motorsports in 2002, and he scored the team’s first ever top 10 finish at Kansas Speedway. His performance in the No. 63 was enough to catch the eye of Jack Roush and the rest is history.
Similar stories ring true for the other drivers who used a few races at MB Motorsports as a platform to work their way up.
“When I came through, it was an avenue to get an opportunity and to go out and race and to just learn,” Regan Smith told Frontstretch. “I did my first Truck race with him. I’d never been in anything other than [the X-1R] Pro Cup [Series] at that point and probably looked like I hadn’t even been in that the first race that I ran.
“[Mittler] was really good about teaching and helping you understand, ‘Okay, this is what you need to do. This is what you need to look for. Those guys, they work their butts off and they love racing. He’s had such a history with so many drivers and it was cool to be a part of it.”
Smith said that if it is the end for MB Motorsports, that, “I think that’s disappointing because I think it’s a place where guys can go to cut their teeth and to get opportunities.”
Current NASCAR XFINITY Series regular Garrett Smithley is another driver who made his first start for MB Motorsports.
“[Mittler] gave me my first opportunity in NASCAR. One of the nicest and most well-respected guys in the garage,” Smithley told Frontstretch. “[I was] fortunate to race five races with him. I learned a lot, and [I’m] praying hard for him and his family.”
While he didn’t make his first start for MB Motorsports, Brad Keselowski also used the team as a stepping stone. Keselowski had a hard time finding rides after his dad’s Truck team shut down in 2006, but was able to get in the No. 63 for two races.
“It doesn’t get talked about much here because [Mittler’s] such a humble guy,” Donahue said. “He doesn’t ask for mentions, but he’s meant more to this sport than really anyone who’s sat in here today. He’s been in it since really the Truck Series was just a concept. He’s helped been the backbone of this Truck Series and been a part of it longer than any other truck team.”
The biggest highlights of Mittler’s career as an owner came at Eldora Speedway. In 2015, Mittler hired dirt track ace Bobby Pierce to drive the No. 63. In Pierce’s first career Truck Series start, he won the pole at Eldora — the first pole ever for the organization. Pierce then went on to win his heat race, lead 39 laps and finish second after a fierce battle with Christopher Bell for the lead. It was Mittler’s first ever top five, and the team appeared more ecstatic after the race than Bell’s.
Pierce drove the No. 63 in the next two Eldora races. In 2016, he again won his heat race and dominated the main feature — leading 102 of the 150 laps — before crashing out. He followed it up in 2017 by winning the Last Chance Qualifier and drove through the field to finish sixth.
Pierce ran five races for MB Motorsports at other tracks but didn’t match the Eldora success at any of the others. In all, Pierce was the driver for 141 of the team’s 154 laps led over the last 24 seasons and scored two of the team’s three top 10s.
Earlier this year came the pinnacle of Mittler’s career when the Missouri native was inducted into the Ozarks Area Racers Hall of Fame in the same class as his former driver Edwards and Ken Schrader.
But after 300 races and over 30,000 laps, it may finally be the end for Mittler’s team. Donahue said if the team does return, it would be for Eldora next year.