Mike Mittler, longtime Truck Series owner of the No. 63 entry, passed away Friday after a long battle with cancer. Mittler, who fielded more than 300 Truck Series entries dating back to the series’ inaugural season in 1995, was 67.
There are few owners in the Truck Series garage that had the longevity of Mittler, a continual presence in a racing series that has for years been battling a shortage of entries (despite having cut the field from 36 to 32 in recent seasons, only 30 trucks started tonight’s Digital Ally 250 at the Kansas Speedway). That presence alone is commendable enough.
But even more notable in the case of Mittler is just how many drivers he gave a chance that led to a big-time career in major league stock car racing. An ARCA Racing Series champion in Justin Allgaier. A Southern 500 champion in Regan Smith. An Xfinity Series champion in Carl Edwards. A Cup Series champion in Brad Keselowski. Even a Daytona 500 champion in Jamie McMurray, who wasted no time paying tribute to his former owner:
Lost a dear friend today. Mike Mittler gave me my first big break in NASCAR. He loved racing as much or more than anyone I have ever been around. I will always cherish the time I spent racing for Mike and his wife Bev. pic.twitter.com/0wpmJ74wKI
— Jamie McMurray (@jamiemcmurray) May 11, 2019
There will undoubtedly be volumes of tributes to come. More than 60 drivers got a chance to go big league NASCAR racing behind the wheel of Mittler’s equipment. And it wasn’t just in big league NASCAR that Mittler made his mark, as he left in indelible mark on dirt racing all over the midwestern United States:
I thought it was the coolest thing for a NASCAR team owner to do that. He’ll be missed. https://t.co/P8sPOAV27u
— Dan Hodgdon (@Dan_Hodgdon) May 11, 2019
My colleague Michael Massie at Frontstretch wrote a tremendous feature last fall on Mittler’s myriad accomplishments and race entries as an owner. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here: read it.
In 23 years of racing, Mittler never got to visit victory lane in the Truck Series, coming oh so close in the Dirt Derby at Eldora with Bobby Pierce finishing runner-up to Joe Gibbs Racing ace Christopher Bell. That an owner who for decades has been the literal definition of the NASCAR underdog came oh so close, but never crossed the line first, is maybe poetic.
Just as it is poetic that his passing came on race day for the Truck Series in Kansas City, too soon for a tribute graphic to be run on the Trucks or features to be aired. Such acts will obviously be coming when the Truck Series heads to Charlotte next Friday, and they will all be greatly deserved.
Instead, the Truck Series raced on Friday night, just as it has since 1995.
I have no doubt Mittler would have wanted it that way.