Mike Mittler: Discovering NASCAR Talent Since 1995

By Brody Jones

When one hears the names Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Justin Allgaier, the late Tony Roper, and the late Kenny Irwin Jr., it’s a varitable who’s who among NASCAR. Now what do these drivers have in common? Mike Mittler. Now, some fans are likely scratching their heads as to who in the world is Mike Mittler? The truth is he launched all of these driver’s NASCAR careers and sadly, he gets little to no credit for it. “I don’t know if I can remember how I originally got into racing, but as long as I can remember I have always liked racing.” said Mittler. “I fooled around with go-carts when I was younger and one thing led to another.” Another little known fact about Mittler’s team is that they have been the only team in the series that has always been a part of the series since 1995. Mittler reflected on how the series has changed from then to now. “Over the years, I’ve seen the series get a lot more professional and the competition get tougher. Originally it was a West Coast-based series with a lot of regional owners such as myself. Now you see a much higher Cup presence and things are much more professional now.”

Mittler’s team has become something of a development-haven for young, rising talent. Names such as Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier, Jamie McMurray, Kenny Irwin Jr., and Tony Roper have all cut their teeth driving for Mittler. “Success breeds success.” stated Mittler. “After that first initial squall of success, it gets people to notice you and say ‘Well, boy, there must be something to that!’ So really what happens is that a lot of times, guys will seek us out and say ‘Hey, I’m the next Jamie, the next Carl’ or whoever. Sometimes we feel there’s a connection and sometimes we don’t. We’ve connected with a few people where it doesn’t work, but we’ve been fortunate to have several people come through who have connected with us.”

Unfortunately for the Mittlers, not all of their time in NASCAR has been glorious. Back in 2000 at Texas, their driver Tony Roper, while running in the top 10, was killed in a tragic head-on crash at 180 mph. “No words can describe (losing Tony).” recounted Mittler. “It was an absolutely tragic blow. We really seriously considered quitting racing after that, and Dean Roper, Tony’s father, said ‘If you want to continue racing, then that’s what we want you to do. That’s where your fans are. That’s what made us friends.’ and only with his blessing did I start back up.”

Shortly after the Mittler Brothers got back into racing, Jamie McMurray was behind the wheel of their trucks. “Jamie was a really young guy, high-energy.” recalled Mittler. “He was a super-good kid and a lot of fun. A lot of fun to be around and he always wanted things to be really well-done. He was a perfectionist in everything that he did and it was a lot of fun to see him mature as a driver and to see what he did afterwards to see how much more professional he became.” Not long after that, Carl Edwards joined the team, but his story on how he joined the team was a little bit unorthodox. “The original story is I met Carl at I.R.P. He stuck his hand out, like he was to hundreds of people, and said to me ‘Hi, I’m Carl Edwards’ I kind of looked at him and said ‘Yeah?’ and he said ‘I want to drive your truck!’ and one thing led to another.” reflected Mittler. “He was actually supposed to ride home with us from Indy. Well, one week later, he shows up at the front door of our shop and he said ‘Remember me? I’m Carl Edwards.’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ He then said ‘I’m here to drive your truck.’ and after many phone calls and visits later, he started driving our truck, and the rest is history.”

A few years back, the latest feather in the cap of the Mittler Brothers was acquiring a young Justin Allgaier. “We had a few learning curves with Justin.” said Mittler. “We had a few good runs with him and a few that weren’t so good also. We kind of helped shape Justin early on and got him out of the mind-set of the race being won in the first five laps. He was used to running those midget dirt races and it took him time to understand that these are long races, and to finish first, first you must finish. I think once he understood that, it went pretty well.” Upon reflection, it’s still mind-blowing for the Mittlers to think about all the careers they jump-started. “Probably never in a million years did I ever believe I would be a part of that.” said Mittler. “Now I always thought they were good drivers, or I never would have been associated with them. But never in a million years would I sit here and think that my team played a part in launching all those guys.”

Over recent years, the Mittlers have scaled back to a part-time schedule. “We would love to run the full schedule, but right now, it’s all about the funding.” stated Mittler. “A lot of times in business, the more volume you have, the lower the business costs. In racing, that’s the opposite. It’s the more volume, the higher the costs. You need more inventory, more parts, more equipment and that’s what drives the budget higher. I said to myself, when I first got into racing ‘I will not bankrupt myself or my business to do it’. And I’ve come damned close a few times, but I refuse to (bankrupt myself). I’ve seen a lot of owners come and go, I’m not saying they bankrupted themselves, but they exercised prudence and said ‘Hey, I’m not going to keep doing this’ We do what makes sense for our business and our personal lives and if we can ramp our team up, we’d love to race full-time.”

Mittler also talked about the secret to his team’s success. “Persistence. Lots and lots of persistence.” Mittler said. “The secret to longevity is enjoyment, my enjoyment, and everyone else’s enjoyment. Just when you think it might be over, a little more money comes in to provide a boost to our team. Nick (Hoffman) is a bright young guy, we’re pumped up and excited about him. He’s got a lot of talent and if we could just track some sponsorship with him, it would go a long way with Nick. I’ve also had great personnel over the years, especially guys like Bill Politsch and so many others helping us out.”

Over the years, Mittler has been one of the few truck owners to stay loyal to Ford, but the going’s been tough. “It’s tough, it’s tough.” acknowledged Mittler “The only reason we’re still with Ford is we still have a lot of their inventory, so we’re still using that. But fortunately, we’re well-connected to a lot of other teams thanks to our longevity in the sport, and we share resources with a lot of teams even though they’re different brands, it helps us get things done.” Whenever the day comes when the Mittlers have to give up racing, they feel like they’ve already carved their legacy. “I’ve established myself as a guy who loves to race with humility, and we always try to put our best foot forward for the sport, and drivers and left it in a better position than we found it.”