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Another of Mittler’s Boys Wins Big

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 15 2010
Missouri driver Jamie McMurray hits the finish line to win Sunday's Daytona 500.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Missouri driver and product of Mike Mittler's star factory, Jamie McMurray hits the finish line to win Sunday's Daytona 500. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When Mike Mittler awoke this morning and picked up his phone, there was a text message waiting. It was sent at 4:38 a.m. Central Time. It was from Jamie McMurray. Mittler said that, as much as anything that has been spoken or written about McMurray, says it all about the kind of person McMurray really is.

“It was a very nice, personal message,” Mittler said. “I’d fired him off a text as soon as he won the Daytona 500. He replied at 5:30 in the morning Eastern time. He’d probably been up all night when he sent it.”

He said McMurray, and Carl Edwards and the other drivers Mittler has helped over the years, have remained close and approachable even as their careers have carried them to Sprint Cup stardom and the distractions that come with that territory.

“That’s the real deal,” Mittler said of his relationship with McMurray, who exchanged other texts with him during Speedweeks.

McMurray, like Edwards, got his big NASCAR break when Mittler let him drive his truck in the Camping World Truck Series.

Mittler said he first came to know Jamie McMurray through McMurray’s father Jim, whom he’d known from racing trade shows.

“He’d always update me on how his kid was doing and show me photos from their racing,” Mittler said.

Although he offered to put the youngster in a truck earlier, he waited because Jim McMurray figured his son wasn’t ready for what could be his one shot at the big time.

But as McMurray advanced to Late Models on the Missouri short tracks, Mittler began to see for himself how good the youngster was.

“He was beating up on Larry Phillips on a regular basis,” Mittler said. And anyone who could hold their own against the legendary Phillips was worth taking a chance on. So Mittler put McMurray in his truck, starting out with a 1999 race at a track they were both familiar with – I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo.

Although his 24th-place finish didn’t create much of a stir at first, it was in Mittler’s trucks that McMurray proved to the NASCAR world that he was ready to advance to better funded teams.

“Mike Mittler really gave me my first big break,” McMurray said Sunday night during his winner’s interview at Daytona. “I owe a lot to him.”

But Mittler said that no one owes anyone when it comes to his relationship with McMurray and with Edwards.

“I’ve never had any children,” Mittler said. “The guys that work for me and the young drivers I’ve had are like my children. You want them to move up and have success. I can’t afford to give them an opportunity to win the Daytona 500 or nine Cup races in a season [as Edwards did in 2008]. I have to accept that my role is like being a parent to them. If these guys can go on and be better, that’s part of my legacy.”

“What I did is just a small part, but I’m proud to have done it.”

For his part, McMurray said leaving Mittler’s team to move up in racing was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do.

But that didn’t affect the personal relationships with Mittlers, something the Mittlers seems to value more than the racing connections.

Mike Mittler said McMurray was especially close to him and his wife Bev when he was driving their truck, even eating meals at their house on a regular basis.

In an interview last year, McMurray revealed just how close he was to the Mittlers.

“He was my friend more than my owner, he and his wife Bev,” McMurray said. “When I worked there, I lived in his parents’ cabin. I drove his [personal] truck part of the time…..

“Mike is one of the most caring men I’ve met. And his wife reminds me of, and even looks a lot like, my mother. I’ve always looked at her as another mom. She’s a super, super sweet lady.”

Mittler said that when McMurray crossed under the finish line to win the 500, his wife was as emotional back in Missouri as McMurray was in Victory Lane at Daytona.

“She was in tears over that,” he said.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 15 2010
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