RacingWest had the opportunity to do a one-on-one with Mike Mendenhall, driver of the #10 Chevrolet in the SRL Series...a little about Mike, a little about the SRL and a little about the state of racing.
Name: Mike Mendenhall
Owner: Rob Mendenhall
Sponsors: Alfred Matthews Pontiac, GMC, Cadillac, Buick (Modesto, Calif.)
Jeff Jess Motorsports, Totally Hayward Pool Products, Newton Communications, Crower Racing Products, Ron's Rear End's, Custom Printing, Howe Powersteering Wilwood disc brakes, Fel-Pro Gaskets and JS Plastering.
Hometown: Santee, Calif. (San Diego County)
RacingWest: First I would like to thank you for taking the time to
answer these questions. Now on to the good stuff…I understand you and
Dave Reed (NASCAR Southwest Tour Champion car owner) used to ride dirt bikes
together, so tell me is that how you got your start in racing ?
Mike Mendenhall: Yes, Dave Reed and I used to race BMX bikes in the 70's and he recognized me at Mesa in '95 at a SWT race while I was standing by Raudman's car (drooling). haha
RW: How long have you been racing and in which divisions or series have you
MM: I started racing BMX at age 11 until 16 or 17, and then went Drag Racing with my Dad at 17 or 18. We had a Super Gas car and my best time was a 9.48@ 142 or something.
In 1985-86 I started going in the pits at Cajon Speedway to help some of our engine customers.
In 1987 my brother Rob and I bought the championship street stock from Tom & Mike Carver and started racing stock cars. Won 4 trophy dashes my first year and actually met my wife there- she was a trophy queen.
Street Stocks until 1994 and Late Model Sportsman from 95-2003 at Cajon Speedway.
SWT in 2004 and SRL 2005 and 2006
RW: What was the most fun you ever had while racing?
MM: The 2006 SRL season.
With the sponsorship from Alfred Matthews and Jeff Jess, and the crew Jeff assembled for us- Tim Arnold, Bubba White and John Flanagan was a huge relief at the races to have that much help. We all had fun together and they worked their butts off for me even though I'm no day at the beach! We even had our own cook at the races (Mike Arnold) thanks to Jeff and Kim Jess. It was first class and with Ward Newton and my brother Rob, who has been racing with me for over 20 years and the one who has kept me going over the years when there were times I wanted to quit, I can honestly say that 2006 was the most enjoyable season I've ever had.
Winning a tour race wasn't bad either!
RW: What have been your greatest racing accomplishments and what has
been your best finish in the SRL?
MM: Winning 30-something races at Cajon including a few Sportsman open comp races, Las Vegas street stock open comp win in '94, qualifying for 2 of the Winter Heat races at Tucson. Qualifying (in the top 8) for 5 of 6 SWT races in my rookie year and leading laps in 2004.
Best finish in the SRL was a victory in 2006.
RW: You are all the way down in the San Diego area--what in the heck made
you decide to race that series over the NASCAR SW Tour?
MM: Well, Cajon closed; Tucson and Madera didn't want the SWT back due to price increases. That was 3 of the 6 races we ran in 2004.
In 2005 the SRL was at Madera, Stockton, Altamont, Mesa and Shasta. I had never been to Shasta or Altamont, and after speaking with Steve Fensler and liking what he had to say, we made the switch.
Plus, I enjoy the travel and getting there is half the fun!
RW: What is it you like the most about the SRL Series?
MM: Steve Fensler and the officials of the SRL. *I'm sure some Cajon officials just choked on their breakfast* lol
The friendships we now have in the NorCal area and the drivers can usually race 100 laps without hitting anything!
Steve was also the first race director to ever call to be sure we made it home safely after driving home after the races Sat. night.
RW: The SRL and Southwest Tour cars are basically the same, is their
anything racers looking to make the move from the Tour would be benefited by
knowing? What can they expect?
MM: All the fees: license, test and entry are half, we have transponders (no scorers needed), we don't park by points, practice sessions are split up, and the atmosphere is a little more laid back. We still qualify on stickers and have pre-qualifying and race tech just like SWT.
RW: Speaking of tracks, the rumor is the traditional SRL tracks of
Madera and Altamont will not be on this years SRL schedule? Opinions?
MM: I hope the rumor isn't true. Our sponsors are in those markets and the SRL has been going to those tracks since day one. I know Steve is working to expand the series and these tracks need to be a part of that plan. Even if it is only one race.
RW: Do you think the SRL regulars will be able to meet the travel demands?
MM: Well, they all have the trucks/ trailers and equipment needed to get there and we traveled 9000 miles in '06 to go racing, so I would like to see them do the same.
RW: Do you think there is room for both SRL and SW Tour drivers to
competitively compete with each other?
MM: Absolutely. There are some who believed the SWT guys were superior to the SRL and I don't see it. I would put our Top 10 guys against theirs anywhere, anytime...OK, except maybe P.I.R. lol
RW: Where do you see the SRL fitting into the overall picture of racing,
what importance does it play?
MM: I think NASCAR cancelled the wrong series, but all those SWT cars combined with the SRL teams, created a strong field of drivers and teams that will put on a good show everywhere we go. These cars are a lot of fun to drive and they might be one of the last style of cars that has few restrictions. Not to mention the sound of 24 SRL cars taking the green!! I don't think a race track can entertain the fans with spec or crate engines in all the cars.
RW: For the SW Tour drivers that do not plan to compete anymore, do
you know where most of them are unloading their equipment?
MM: I don't know of anyone who has been able to sell one.
RW: What about drivers that would like to go back to the local level--is
this easy to do? Can they take their cars to the local track and race?
MM: I don't know of anyone who wants to go back to Saturday night racing. A tour car doesn't fit the rules of SLM and the change-over is not something I would consider. Plus, I have a restored '66 Nova I never drive, so I can always add the Tour car to my museum!
RW: Which leads to the question of why the drivers might go back down
to the local level to race?
MM: I don't look at it as going "back down" to the local level, but it's just a different style of racing, the traveling, the cars and all the different tracks. There is something about going to a track you have never been to, and getting an hour of practice to figure it out. I mean we went all the way to Colorado National and I had never even seen the place before. There was no Friday night practice, but I did walk the track. Same thing at Stockton my first time. Saturday you have tech and one hour of practice to get your sh*t together, or you get to drive 1100 miles home thinking about it.
Saturday night racing doesn't have 10% of that pressure.
RW: What do you think will happen to the local shows if the touring
late model stock cars are no longer given a place on the schedule?
MM: I'm not sure. I have zero interest in building a spec or crate class car.
RW: If you could pick a track to put on the SRL schedule, which one
would it be?
MM: All of them within a 1000 mile radius. Colorado, Tucson, Vegas, Irwindale, Orange Show Speedway, New Mesa, Madera, Altamont, Roseville, Shasta, Roseburg, Eureka, Rocky Mountains Raceway at Salt Lake. Talk about a schedule! Just like the old days...
RW: Which driver in the SRL would you pick as the most passionate racer
MM: Hard to answer that one. Most of our guys have been at this a long time and I think they all have passion and desire
RW: Do you think that drifting and other specialty exhibitions/races
will replace grassroots stock car racing?
MM: I don't think so. I mean, you can’t run drifting and train racing or all the other specialty show events for 18 weeks without fans losing interest. I would schedule them all once a month together as a freak show night or have one of them each week mixed in with the stock cars. Variety is what I would schedule.
RW: What happened to most of the Cajon Speedway racers? Where are most
of them now?
MM: I believe more than half of them quit. Some of these guys were towing a Pinto with a Ranger p/u and a single axle trailer with no springs the short distance to the track without getting on the freeway. Some had shops close enough to drive them to the track. The majority went to the local dirt track at Barona Speedway. Some others went to OSS, and David Beat and Stephen Peace are running hard at Irwindale.
It's a shame because Cajon was demolished in a few months and now sits as a 70 acre, fenced off parking lot. It's completely flat and the latest I hear is the county doesn't have the funds to expand the airport. That track could have operated for 3, 4 or 5 more years along with the MX track that my kids were riding on. What was the hurry to destroy it?
RW: California has 3 new tracks either in the permit process or under
construction, is there any rumors down your way about any new tracks being built?
MM: Well, the CORR series built a temporary off road course down here and I didn't see any news or lawsuits attempting to stop it. They have run there two years now and I have heard The Baldwin Family has plans to build a permanent track at some point, but I don't believe those plans include a short track.
I miss hearing the cars and motorcycle (noise) from my house and there were nights if the wind was blowing right, I could hear the announcer and even tell what kind of car was on the track by the sound! The drag strip at Carlsbad was closed and less than one year later, Cajon was gone. The closest tracks to us here are Irwindale and OSS, 115 miles away. Mesa was 240 and we even went to a test at Madera for the day at 387 miles one way.
RW: Last question, with so much focus on tracks, which promoter would
you have picked (based on the promoters you were able to observe, personally
or on TV) for promoter of 2006?
MM: George Wade at Shasta. The first time we went there, they had a barbeque for the SRL teams after the Friday night test...free of charge! In 18 years, I had never seen that before. I even told him that and he looked at me and said "thank YOU for coming!" While we were sitting in our hotel room watching T.V. we also saw a commercial for our race. He even managed to put a good crowd in the stands.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I would love to do it again…and
next time focus more on Mike! Have a very successful 2007 racing season.