Wimmer the Latest Racing Prodigy for Mike Mittler, MB Motorsports Former prodigies have success: Kenny Irwin, 1998 NASCAR Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year. Jamie McMurray, 2003 Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year. Carl Edwards, 2003 NASCAR Craftsman...
Wimmer the Latest Racing Prodigy for Mike Mittler, MB Motorsports
Former prodigies have success:
Kenny Irwin, 1998 NASCAR Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year.
Jamie McMurray, 2003 Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year.
Carl Edwards, 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) Rookie of the Year and 2004 NCTS Daytona champion.
These drivers and countless others received their start in NASCAR courtesy of Mike Mittler and MB Motorsports. Mittler's ability to find the stars of tomorrow is becoming legendary among stockcar racing's top series and his latest find is no different. With a well-known name and a resume built on the short tracks of the American Speed Association (ASA), Chris Wimmer is looking to lay the foundation of his NASCAR career at the MB Motorsports' headquarters in Foristell, Mo.
As with many NASCAR drivers, family played a key role in getting Wimmer started, specifically his brother, Scott, a Nextel Cup rookie of the year candidate and the 2004 Daytona 500 Rookie of the Year, and his uncle, Larry Detjens, a racing legend in the Wimmers' native Wisconsin.
"Scott started racing when he was 14 and I helped him," said Wimmer. "My late uncle Larry raced up until 1981 when he was killed.which is how my family got into (racing), with my dad owning the team.
"At first, I just did some stuff with my brother and it kind of went on from there. I started racing myself when I was 17 as a senior in high school, driving Pure Stock, which is the lowest class," he continued.
Chris ran a few races that year and in the following year, ran the full season in Pure Stock and dabbled a little bit in other classes, running about five races in Late Model. The next year, he ran the full Late Model season. Wimmer had planned to run the local circuit for a while longer, but his brother's ability behind the wheel changed Chris's future plans.
"My brother started racing ASA in 2000 and was lucky enough to win his first race out. Then he won his second race out, so he got nabbed up pretty quick by Bill Davis and finished out that year in ASA," said Wimmer. "My plan wasn't to run ASA that soon, I kind of got into it sooner than I thought I would. But with my brother leaving, we had all the equipment and cars, so I ran some ASA races in 2001."
ASA, founded in 1968, has produced many of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, including Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Alan Kulwicki, and Darrell Waltrip, as well as the top stars of today's Nextel Cup, such as Johnny Sauter, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, and 2003 Cup champion, Matt Kenseth. Wimmer said his experience on the ASA circuit will pay dividends in the Craftsman Truck Series, which runs many races on short tracks similar to those of the ASA.
"ASA is such a good series," he said. "It's so competitive because basically, everybody's got the same stuff. One of the things I've learned most from ASA that applies to me now is the tirewear with the radial tires. When I tested with the truck in Lakeland, Fla., last month, I found the tirewear is very similar to my ASA car, so I'm glad I have that experience to help get me started in the Truck Series."
When speaking to Wimmer about the roots of his desire to race, his uncle Larry is mentioned often. "I can't remember a lot about him, because he died when I was so young, but he influenced my family a ton," said Wimmer. "He was a really good downhill skier, which he got my family into that also and me and Scott both skied competitively throughout high school. He was just a very big influence on my whole family and my brother especially seemed to follow his example as he grew up and started racing stock cars."
After Detjens' death, a memorial race was run in his name every year, but despite the family ties, none of the late racer's family were able to take home the trophy. That changed in 2001 at the 20th running of the event.
"My brother had been trying to win it for several years previous to my win," said Wimmer. "I guess I was just lucky enough to win it. Yeah, it was a huge race. Last year was the first year I didn't run it because I was so busy, moving all my stuff down to North Carolina, but I have attended every year and I plan to attend this year and so does Scott."
Wimmer is the latest NASCAR driver to come from the talent-rich state of Wisconsin. Over the years, the Badger State has produced such racing legends as Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle, the Sauter family, reigning NCTS champion Travis Kvapil, and the aforementioned Kulwicki and Kenseth. When asked about his homestate's ability to produce winning drivers, Wimmer said he was unsure how Wisconsin became the new hotbed of auto racing.
"I'm not really sure," said Wimmer. "We've got a ton of different tracks up there and you can race four nights a week if you want to. I know when Scott raced, he would run sometimes during the week just to get more seat- time. It just seems like there are a lot of good cars up there. Usually, when those guys move down south, they tend to run pretty good.I'm not sure what it is."
Wimmer went on to say the influence his fellow Wisconsinites has had on him has been substantial. "It's been huge," he said. "I can remember going to the racetrack, being real little, and watching some of those guys. In the last couple of years, I've had the chance to race with Dick Trickle and some of the older guys and it was really, really neat. You get a little nervous around them, but it's so fun to race these guys considering all the experience they have. They've just influenced me so much."
Despite Wimmer's success in ASA (10 top 11's and a pole position in 57 starts), at the end of the 2003 season, he found himself disillusioned and ready to move on. Enter Mike Mittler.
"At the end of last season, I was getting fed up with the way things were going.It was just me in the shop working on everything and we didn't have the money to run a really successful team," said Wimmer. "I started talking to my dad and my brother, trying to get some ideas about where we should go. Scott had mentioned calling Mike up, saying that MB Motorsports had a lot of good people and that I should give them a call."
Wimmer is the latest young driver to be brought to the ranks of NASCAR by Mittler, who said it is a combination of knowing the right people and plain old luck when it comes to finding talent.
"(As far as finding the drivers), you might say it's luck," Mittler said with a smile, "and we define luck as when preparation and opportunity meet. When those opportunities came to us, we were prepared to take advantage of them."
While Mittler and the rest of the crew of MB Motorsports is pleased have him onboard for the 2004 season, Wimmer was only able to take the wheel of the #63 Ford due to the departure of David Stover. Stover ran seven races for Mittler last season and the team had expected him to return for the '04 campaign.
"We were planning to run David for NCTS Rookie of the Year this season, but right before Christmas," said Mittler, "we received word from his family that David would no longer be driving for us or anyone else. Come to find out, he was suffering from a pretty serious back injury and was driving in a lot of pain.
"Since then," he continued, "David has been rehabbing and has expressed interest in driving with us again down the road. He's a great talent and we wish him the best and maybe someday, he'll be back behind the wheel of an MB Motorsports Ford. Right now, David is working on getting healthy and we're focusing on getting Chris the best possible equipment in order to be successful."
Mittler is looking forward to working with Wimmer this season and said he sees the same determination and drive held by other MB Motorsports alums, such as Edwards and McMurray.
"He's a great kid," he said. "He had a pretty good career in ASA and I think that experience will carry over to the trucks and help him to be successful with us."
It takes more than just driving ability to land a position as the pilot of an MB Motorsports Ford, continued Mittler. "Chris has a great work ethic and that's something we expect of all our employees, whether it's the driver, the pit crew, or our office staff.
"NASCAR is a great sport that provides a lot of rewards and glory, but it requires a lot more work than your average job, too," he said. "When Chris isn't driving, he's in the shop with our mechanics and fabricators, working on the truck. Working with the team everyday helps build a better bond and will create a more successful team."
Wimmer agreed with Mittler, saying it is becoming more important for a driver to bond with his supporting crew. "I think it's huge now," he said. "I think half of it's just working with the guys in the shop and building the relationship there. It's important to get to know everybody you're working with so you can communicate with them better at the racetrack. That way, you're not just showing up at the track and trying to build friendships there without having worked around them at the shop."
While a life on the NASCAR circuit is fast-paced and rarely boring, it also requires long hours of hard work and a lot of time spent away from family. In Wimmer's case, however, life as a NASCAR driver will allow him to spend more time with his brother as the Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck Series share a number of race dates over the season. The younger Wimmer said he is looking forward to spending time with Scott at the tracks.
"That's going to be excellent," he said, grinning. "I'm looking forward to the help he can give me because he's pretty knowledgeable and his guys are super and I know they'll help us out as much as they can."
Although the brothers are close, Wimmer admits it was hard to follow Scott into racing during Chris's first years in the sport. "It's a tough act to follow," he said. "He's helped me out a ton. My first year in ASA, everyone compared me to him and expected me to win right off the bat like he did, but it didn't happen like that. I think I made my own name. I know within the ASA series, they don't look at me just as 'Scott's Little Brother' anymore now, they see me as a different person."
Wimmer's first NCTS race takes place April 17th at the paperclip-shaped half-mile track at Martinsville, Va., where both the Truck and Cup series will be racing. While Wimmer is anxious to get behind the wheel of a NASCAR racetruck for the first time, he is thankful for the time off before Martinsville.
"I'm really looking forward to having my first NASCAR race be at a short track. Obviously, I've race primarily at short tracks and I think my brother will be able to help me a lot since he's tested there quite a bit," said Wimmer. "I'm really looking forward to it, but it's nice to have a bit of a break beforehand. Everything's been pretty hectic in the past month or so, with Scott getting married in Las Vegas and with me moving to the St. Louis area."
Despite being a newcomer to NASCAR, the Craftsman Truck Series, formed in 1995, has seen a high level of talent, especially in recent years. The current NCTS roster contains three past Truck Series champions, as well as a number of drivers who have won races at the Nextel Cup level. Wimmer said he understands what awaits him and he is looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "Anytime you can race against someone of that caliber, you always leave the race with more than what you came in with. I know that everyone I've talked to has said all the drivers in the Truck Series garage will help you out however they can and they are super to work with, so I'm looking forward to it."
Although the spotlight will be shining on him this season as the younger sibling of a successful NASCAR Busch Series and Nextel Cup driver, Wimmer is keeping his feet on the ground and setting realistic goals for himself and his team.
"First off, I just want to make the races," he said. "I've never been to a NCTS race, but I know they're very competitive, so my first goal is to just try to get into the race and get some experience. Once that happens, it's a matter of not tearing the truck up and try to finish the races."
Despite having one of the coolest jobs on the planet, Wimmer is surprisingly humble, admitting he still needs to work on his autograph skills and just wants to work in the shop with his team.
"I see myself as just a regular guy," he said. "I like to work in the shop as much as I can. I don't have many hobbies. I really haven't done a whole lot outside of racing. I've been trying to pick up golf, so whenever I get an off-day out of the shop, I'll probably head to the nearest course. It's a lot of fun. If I'm not in the shop, I'm probably at a racetrack somewhere just watching or crewing for someone."