Nitro Jam's 'Nitro King' holding rank with top team King's operation heading west for Salt Lake City and Edmonton events GALVESTON, Texas (June 10, 2010) -- While multicar teams are certainly not uncommon in the sport of drag racing, they aren't...
Nitro Jam's 'Nitro King' holding rank with top team King's operation heading west for Salt Lake City and Edmonton events
GALVESTON, Texas (June 10, 2010) -- While multicar teams are certainly not uncommon in the sport of drag racing, they aren't exactly the norm.
Drag racing, unlike other top tier motorsports, thrives on the backs of single car teams and small, often time's family-owned operations competing alongside massive teams with two, three and sometimes four cars making up their camp.
And then of course there is Mitch King.
King doesn't exactly fit into either category with a small, lower budgeted team despite the fact that his shop is adorned with an incredible six working nitro machines. While King is certainly not the first name that comes to mind when discussing the top team owners in the sport today, with his recent track record perhaps one day that will all change.
"What can I say, it is an addiction. It is worse than drugs and women. Drugs don't have anything on nitro," King said with a smile. "This is what I love to do and I enjoy every minute of it. Even when we lose money on the deal, it is still great just to be out there running. I wouldn't change any of it for the world."
King is a fan of all forms of racing, but nitro has always been his one true obsession. Calling it his "biggest addiction in life," over the past decade King has compiled quite an assortment of nitro-powered machines. From three Top Fuel Dragsters -- an incredible feat considering this size and money limitations of his operation -- to a Nitro Funny Car, a Nostalgia Funny Car and a Fuel Altered, King runs the gamut when it comes to nitro racing.
He even filled in for a fellow nitro racer at the recent Spring Nitro Jam at Rockingham Dragway, driving in the new Pro Fuel class for racer Guy Kelly who hurt his foot hours before the race.
"Guy got hurt and asked that I fill in. I have driven a little bit of everything, but that was the first fuel car I ever drove without a blower. It was pretty cool, my first run was a 5.52 in a car I had never sat in before, so I would have to say it was an exciting weekend," King said. "What can I say? I can't pass up anything that goes fast."
So with a collection of this magnitude, which vehicle does King love the most?
"I really like the Fuel Altered and the Funny Car the most. The highlight of my career so far was winning the national event up in Budds Creek back in 2007," King said. "I really miss running that thing and I hope we can break it out again real soon. It is definitely more exciting when you are sitting behind that motor."
While King certainly loves running any nitro machine put in front of him, over the past few seasons King has shifted his role from the driver's seat to that of team manager. During the past two years King has guided rookies Spencer Massey and Del Cox Jr. to the 2008 and 2009 IHRA Top Fuel World Championships and an incredible nine wins over the past 20 races. But even though his role has changed, it hasn't diminished his drive to, well, drive.
"It is a dream come true for a racer to win a championship and I think I have had just as much fun winning with these boys then if I would have been driving myself," King said. "It has been a really good experience, but I still love hitting that throttle any chance I get. There is nothing that compares to being behind the wheel of something that powerful."
Today King tries to hit the track as much as possible with any of his six cars, but his main focus is that of team owner for his two Top Fuel machines driven by championship prot0x00e9g0x00e9es Cox and Massey.
"Those boys probably shed some light on our ability as a team and teachers to be able to provide them with winning cars and win a championship with two rookies," King said. "They were both drivers already; we were just able to bring that out in them."
"Probably the biggest key to our success is all these great guys helping out. Paul (Smith) and I have worked together on and off since '99 when I first got my license in Funny Car. I am trying to learn everything I can from Paul. He is a good teacher and he has proven over the years that if anyone can win on a shoestring budget, it is him."
Still, despite watching over his two young drivers, King isn't ever very far from the driver's seat. Over the past few seasons King has driven his third car alongside Massey and Cox during their championship seasons, even getting to a final round at the Rocky Mountain Nationals in 2009.
And it is that drive to compete that actually led him to being an owner of multiple Top Fuel machines -- although his plans certainly haven't turned out as imagined.
"At the end of 2006 I decided to get a new car instead of fixing the old Hadman so I bought the Prudhomme car. That same year Spencer was wanting to get his license along with Pat Dakin so I simply had to get a new car because the Hadman was a little too old and worn out to be putting these young guys in and that is when I picked up the car that Dixon had driven," King said. "I intended on driving that car myself and also using it to get Spencer and Pat their license, but at the beginning of '08 we had worked out a deal and we put Spencer in the car for a race or two to see where it went."
And where it went was straight to the '08 World Championship. Massey drove the car throughout 2008, winning four times and claiming the championship before eventually landing a deal with Prudhomme on the NHRA tour for the '09 season. Without a driver, King went back to his original plan to pilot the new car on the IHRA tour in 2009.
Then along came Del Cox Jr.
Cox and Massey were longtime friends, even driving together on the Junior Dragster circuit as kids, and that friendship eventually landed Cox the chance of a lifetime.
"Spencer introduced me to Del and he had wanted to get his license so when Spencer cut his deal with Prudhomme we talked with Del and his grandpa and they were willing to basically repeat the deal," King said. "As long as we kept him out front they would stay in the car."
Halfway through Cox's championship season King again decided to look into a new car for himself and finally retire his older Hadman.
"I really wanted a fresh car to drive for myself because the one I bought a year earlier I hadn't even got to drive," King recalled. "That is when we built a fresher car, a twin to the car Del and Spencer drove that would fit me."
And no sooner than King put the car together the calls started coming in from drivers wanting to rent the brand new ride.
"I ended up renting it to Ron August the rest of the year and only drove that car once myself. So far I have purchased two new cars for myself and have driven them a combined total of one time while everyone else has been out there winning championships," King said. "That, in a nutshell, is how the multicar deal came about."
This year both Cox and Massey were again without a ride so once again King lent the two young drivers his two best machines while deciding to park the third car for the time being.
"Mentally it is tough not being out there, but I never actually knew I could have this much fun outside the seat that I have actually had. When Spencer came along and we had two cars, one to rent and the other to get my fun, it opened my eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities for the team," King said. "With these young drivers came the money that actually helped propel our team to the next level.
"We knew we had the ingredients all along, we just didn't have the money. Now look where we are."
With multiple cars and two championship drivers, King said he couldn't be having more fun chasing the Nitro Jam championship and racing anywhere he can during the gaps. In just a few weeks King and the team will pack up and make their longest trip of the season to Salt Lake City and Edmonton, Alberta during Nitro Jam's two week western swing.
And for a driver who owns and operates an ice cream parlor and candy shop in his spare time -- the famous La King's Confectionary in Galveston -- it is safe to say that life couldn't be any sweeter right now for King and his court.