Mack revved up for another season

Monday, April 5, 2004

Auto racing has been a part of Joey Mack's life since before he could operate a motor vehicle.

"Before I could drive, me and my brothers would ride our bicycles four or five miles on Saturday night to watch the races," said Mack, a lifelong Benton resident who grew up within cycling distance of Auto Tire and Parts NAPA RacePark. "I've been working on cars ever since I could drive, and that led to racing."

Mack, 26, is closing in on his ninth year of competitive auto racing. He thinks he's about to have his best year.

The dirt-track driver already has been pretty good. He won street stock and limited sportsman track championships at Malden Speedway, Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway and Paducah International Raceway in his first three years. Since joining the super dirt late model class on the Mid-America Racing Series in the middle of 2001, he has five top-finishes and sixteen top-10 showings. He was the MARS rookie of the year in 2002, when he finished eighth in the points race. He finished 11th in the points standings last year, though he had more top finishes.

"We did better last year than ever, but we just had too many wrecks and DNFs," said Mack, referring to races his car did not finish. "I feel like we'll do better this year, better than eighth place. I know we're better than that; it's just a matter of proving it.

"I didn't know how to race seven years ago compared to what I know now," he added. "I enjoy racing with guys who do it for a living. In this series, if I finish in the top five, I feel like I've won."

Mack begins his pursuit of top finishes Friday when the series kicks off its 2004 season at Memphis Motorsports Park in Millington, Tenn. The next night, the circuit hits Little Rock, Ark. He will spend his summer weekends at tracks throughout the Midwest after spending his weeknights at the garage fine-tuning his cars -- three different sheet metal bodies he can throw over the motor.

He also works full-time, and he and his wife, Carrie, are expecting their first child in August.

"My wife loves the racing, but she doesn't care for me being gone all the time," Mack said. "Friday to Sunday, we spend all weekend together."

Mack's family and some friends pack up each weekend for the road trips to tracks on the MARS series. "It's a family atmosphere," Mack said.

The circuit, based in Batesville, Ark., presided over by Mooney Starr and sponsored by O'Reilly Auto Parts, usually schedules two or three races per weekend. While Southwest Missouri hosts a few races, a June 20 visit to Granite City, Ill., is the closest stop on the schedule. The schedule calls for four weekend trips to Oklahoma.

"We'll run at one place and drive maybe two or three hours to get some distance from that fan base and run at another track," Mack said. "Two purses for the same expenses. It makes it real possible for people to have money in the sport."

Not that Mack is getting rich on his passion.

"We pay the entry fee and the race car usually covers the expenses," Mack said. "There are a lot of ups and downs.

"I love dirt racing. I love the thrill being competitive."

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