Mason Mitchell may have quit full-time racing a decade ago, but the itch never left. He’s just, instead, found new ways to share his love of racing in Texas.
Mitchell is the race director at Houston Motorsports Park, a NASCAR-sanctioned 0.375-mile banked asphalt oval track in Houston, Texas. It’s the same track where he used to race in the early 2010s.
He stopped racing himself in 2011, when work, family, and life got too busy. But even though Mitchell wasn’t behind the wheel, he remained involved with uncles and cousins who were still racing. His family was also working to re-open HMP and Mobile International Speedway in Alabama.
Mitchell’s mom started the Gulf Coast Racing Series in Houston and Mobile, and he helped for a couple years before being asked to take on the role of race director at both tracks.
Now he has his hands on every little thing at the track on race days – from cleaning the track, concessions, and bathrooms, to calling the races, talking to drivers in the driver’s meeting to explain the rules, timing, and setting up wireless radios and cameras for livestreams of races.
“I know pretty much everything that goes into it and I just have my hand in every jar, I guess you could say,” Mitchell said. “It’s really just a jack of all trades.”
Mitchell was a fourth generation driver. His great-grandfather started as a factory driver for Indian Motorcycles in Daytona, Florida in the ’40s. Both of his grandfathers also raced, at one time even against each other.
It was watching his uncles race when he was younger that got Mitchell interested in trying it himself. He would go to the track and help on their cars, and he finally got the opportunity to try racing on dirt in a limited modified.
“I took to it. I wasn’t really good on dirt, and then I had a chance to race on asphalt and I just went from there,” he said. “It just seemed like it came natural to me. As many races as I watched growing up, watching the line and watching everybody’s runs. It’s one of those things where I just grew up around it and knew I wanted to do it.”
At the time he quit racing, Mitchell said he was travelling a lot for work, often out of the country, and he didn’t want to commit to the sport if he couldn’t give it his full attention.
“It’s just really hard to be competitive in racing if you’re not giving 100 percent to it,” he said. “And I’m not the kind of guy who’s just, I like doing it but at the same time I know I can be competitive. And if I’m going to race I’m going to be competitive and try to win. It’s just one of those things.”
The itch to get back into the car never left Mitchell, even after he quit racing full-time. He’s run a couple pro truck events for his father-in-law over the last couple years, and he never turns down a chance to get behind the wheel.
“Any day of the week if somebody asks me to come out and hot lap their car I’m 100 percent willing,” he said. “Any chance I can get back in the car I’m back in the car. Even making some hot laps or helping the drivers out at the track and giving my knowledge of what I’ve known in the past to young drivers or drivers in general… I always have the itch.”
Mitchell’s hope is that drivers at HMP and in Mobile can tell he sees racing from the perspective of a driver.
“At the end of the night I try to make it a point to go talk to a lot of the drivers and get their perspectives and see what we can do better and what we can build on,” he said. “That’s something I’m always looking at. Same with the fans. In order to keep fans in the stands you’ve got to have drivers that want to come out and race and you’ve got to have a field.
“I’m not the kind of director that’s all about business, making money here, making money there. I’m for the racer. Having a racing background and a family in racing, it’s easier, I think, for me to talk to the drivers and the drivers knowing I did that in the past and the respect we have for each other. I think that makes it work out as well as it does is just having all that knowledge about racing in general from the get-go.”
Every now and then Mitchell will go race again, but for now he said he’s really focusing on his directing job and “getting fans in the stands and just keeping racing alive in Houston and in Texas.”
For him, racing is about more than just being behind the wheel. It’s sharing the love of the sport with friends made at the track, and “just seeing an old school track and the history from way back when and just trying to bring it back to life,” he said.
“Racing has kind of died off in Texas for the most part as far as short tracks on asphalt,” he said. “We have a lot of dirt tracks but asphalt racing has really died off and it got the point there where we really didn’t have anything and it was up to us to either do it and make a series and keep racing going or it was just going to be one of those things where it was dead. So I definitely didn’t want to see that happen.
“It’s just the friendships and the rivalries. Everything that goes along with it. It’s in my blood. I like doing it. I feel comfortable doing it. Even when I’m stressed out and have 50 things going on at the racetrack in the same day, I’m in my inner circle, I guess you could say.”