Racing phenom Mingus a multi-sport standout

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Making your racing debut at Daytona International Speedway isn’t the way a normal high school student spends the weekend.

Mason Mingus hasn’t had much normalcy in his life since age 4, when the racing bug unwittingly bit. It certainly wasn’t a routine weekend last October when the Franklin Road Academy senior showed his talent on the race track and football field all in the same day, thanks to a dogged determination to do both.

That Friday afternoon, he qualified to start the All-American 400 race at Nashville’s historic Fairgrounds Speedway. Darting from there, he arrived just moments before kickoff to help FRA win a key game with standout play at fullback and linebacker.

The following night, Mingus finished a respectable 14th in the all-star race featuring top drivers from various national racing series, including Cup veteran drivers Kyle Busch and Sterling Marlin.

It was all in a weekend of work for the aspiring young driver, who has risen through the ranks to be considered a leading contender for Rookie of the Year on the ARCA circuit. A chunk of the season comes while he diligently completes school work in time for high school graduation in May.

“It’s tough,” Mingus, 18, said of balancing driving, academics and athletics, which includes being one of the state’s top wrestlers in the winter and a member of the track team this spring.

“But those are the things I am willing to sacrifice to make this happen. School-wise, my teachers usually work with me pretty well. They allow me to miss as long as I get my work turned in when I get back.”

That’s what Mingus is doing this week after spending last week at Daytona International Speedway, where he finished seventh Saturday in ARCA’s 50th running of the Lucas Oil 200 in his super-speedway racing debut. He was not allowed to race on a super-speedway until turning 18.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mingus said of racing at Daytona for the first time. “It’s pretty much any racecar driver’s dream. Obviously, the ultimate dream is the Daytona 500.

“But it was awesome. Even just coming through the tunnel onto the racetrack was breathtaking. There aren’t many people who get to do that.”

Mingus more than held his own in the No. 32 car. Despite some early front-end damage, Mingus brought the car from the back of the field to finish seventh for the second-best effort by a rookie. John Wes Townley won the race driving for Venturini Motorsports.

The Daytona effort only cemented the notion that Mingus, who will drive the full ARCA schedule for Win-Tron Racing this season, is considered a promising up-and-comer in the sport.

“Part of our job as a driver development team is to develop young talent who we feel has the talent to go to the next level,” said Win-Tron racing co-owner Nate Thiesse, who along with co-owner Kevin Cywinski recently moved team operations from Lakeville, Minn., to the hot bed of stock car racing in Mooresville, NC.

Crew chief for the Mingus ride is veteran Mark Rette, a former ARCA Crew Chief of the Year and champion.

“Through a network of veteran scouts, Mason came to our list of talented young drivers,” Thiesse said. “He has shown great promise.”

Part of what attracted Win-Tron Racing is Mingus’ discipline as an athlete, especially wrestling, where he was ranked third in the state for his division this season. Because of racing, he didn’t compete for the individual state title, but he did help FRA win a state team championship.

“One of the things I look for in a driver is the ability to show mental toughness and focus,” Thiesse said. “Mason’s wrestling background gives him a mental advantage some other kids maybe don’t have. He is very focused and goes into each race very prepared.”

Mason hooked up with his future team in late 2011 when Win-Tron asked Mingus to be a backup driver at an ARCA race at Salem Speedway in Indiana. From there, Mingus got 14 ARCA starts for Win-Tron Racing last year to go along with a full schedule in the CRA (Champion Racing Association) super late model regional circuit.

Success has followed Mingus every step of the way, even back to the day when he first stepped behind the wheel of a moving object. His father, Donnie, bought him a Go-Kart for Christmas at age 4. It was a two-seater so dad could ride alongside until Mingus got that driving thing down.

“Mason took one lap around our yard, one lap around our neighbor’s yard, then whipped around some trees,” Donnie Mingus remembers of his first ride with his son. “He kind of scared me to death. He pulled up to our driveway and said, ‘OK, you can get out now.’

“I said,’ You got this?’ He said, ‘I got it.’ I said, ‘OK.’ He’s been driving on his own ever since.”

And how.

From quarter midgets to mini-cups to Baby Grands to super late models, Mingus has won races and competed for championships, culminating with winning the Miniature Motorsports Racing Association national championship in the Baby Grand division in 2008.

“I fell in love with racing when I was a little kid,” said Mingus, whose next ARCA race is the Mobile 200 on March 9 at Mobile International Speedway in Alabama. “I just always wanted to do it ever since then.

“I have a dream of being in the Cup series, and I am trying to pursue it right now best that I can.”

It’s a family affair concerning Mason’s racing aspirations for father Donnie, mother Vicky, brother Matt, 26, and sister Mallory, 22. Much of the initial funding for his racing exploits is coming through the family business — Team Construction, a successful gas and utilities contracting company in Nashville.

But Donnie Mingus, who has also relied on business associates and vendors for sponsorships funding thus far, is aggressively seeking funding to help supplement the commitment made to Win-Tron Racing to run the entire 21-race ARCA circuit this season.

“My job is marketing and trying to find sponsorships, which we desperately need,” he said. “But we have committed to run this whole year. And we will. Mason has proven to me that he is worthy of it just by the fact that he has done what he had to do individually and personally to get me excited about moving forward.”

Part of that is schooling, which is non-negotiable for Mason. He made all A’s and B’s on the most-recent report card.

“Mason has really shown a maturity level this year, especially when he hasn’t in the past, because he wants it so much,” Donnie said. “All I can do as a father is try to get in him in the right place.”

As for the mother, well, let’s just say Vicky Mingus negotiates a variety of emotions.

“I am proud of him because Mason works very, very hard,” she said. “It makes me nervous, very nervous, especially racing at Daytona for the first time at those speeds. But if you could see the love and passion he has for that sport, I can’t help but support him.”

Donnie Mingus thought driving at daunting Daytona might change Mason’s mind about pursuing racing at the highest level, but it did anything but.

“I thought Daytona would scare the daylights out of him,” Donnie said, “and he would say, ‘OK, dad, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ All it did was have him coming out of it saying, ‘When are we going to Talladega?’

“My thoughts of him being scared of it didn’t work. It drove his passion more.”

Other ARCA drivers touted for Rookie of the Year honors are Ricky Ehrgott and Justin Boston, who finished third and 31st, respectively, last Saturday.  For Mingus, he’s talking more, like winning the ARCA points championship this season and, hopefully, running a few NASCAR Truck races later in the year.

“We have pretty lofty goals for this year,” Mason said. “Obviously, we want some wins. But ultimately, we want to win a championship this year in ARCA. That proves to everybody that we cannot only win a couple races here or there, but we can be consistent and run week to week with some of the top guys in racing.”