For 24 years, Mark Jenison raced in hopes of one day winning just one championship.
This year, he won two.
Jenison won track titles in the Pro Stock and Late Model divisions at Seekonk Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned oval track in Seekonk, Massachusetts. He finished the season with one win and nine top fives in 14 Late Model races, and two Pro Stock victories.
Jenison spent much of his career racing around the Northeast and finished several seasons in the top three in points at more than one track.
This year, Seekonk announced it would be changing its championships away from points races in favor of a playoff system similar to the one used in the NASCAR Cup Series. The change prompted Jenison to focus his racing efforts solely on the Massachusetts track.
On one hand, it was a tough change because Jeinson loves to race. However, the shift in concentration was instrumental in his success.
“I was like, ‘If I could just get over that hump,’” Jenison said. “My team, we’re in a small garage in my backyard building with small funds. Usually you have to have big sponsors, big funds, that way you can get to that championship. This year it just seemed to work out perfect for us.”
Throughout his career, Jenison has dealt with struggles on the track, but he’s always gotten better and stronger as the season goes on. This season was no different. He was in a couple accidents early in the year in his Pro Stock, but he still managed to rank third in points as the playoffs began. He was fourth in the Late Model points at the start of the playoffs.
Jenison had conserved tires throughout the season to have six in the final races, which also helped.
“We went out on that last race, and we just dominated,” he said. “The last two races we dominated them pretty good.
“It was very, very refreshing to have something actually pan out and go the way you want it. You don’t usually get that.”
The final Late Model race wasn’t without its own dramatics. Jenison was the fastest car in practice earlier in the day, a fact that wasn’t lost on his competitors.
“Me and Chase Belcher, before we even went out for the race, I was walking through the pits… we started talking, and he says to me, ‘Are you going to take it easy on me today? You’re putting down the fast laps,’” Jenison said. “I said, ‘Chase, it ain’t about the fast laps, it’s the last laps. We’re going to have a hell of a fight when we get there.’ And he just laughed. We both laughed and walked away.
“Me being Nostradamus, I had to go and say that because that’s exactly what happened.”
On the final lap, Jenison was riding the outside when Belcher pushed him up the track even further going into Turns 1-2. Jenison rode the wall as hard as he could going out of the final turns and down the last straightway when Belcher again pushed into him.
“I said, ‘Here it comes,’” Jennison said.
“I tried to get down more to get away from the wall a little bit, because I knew I was going have to scrape the wall coming out. I got it down a little a bit, and as I got it down the car started pushing… I couldn’t turn the wheel. All I could hear was his engine roaring, and as I soon as I heard it, I went up over the wall.”
Jenison crossed the finish line with his car’s wheels on the outside wall. He finished second, just a few hundredths of a second behind Belcher.
“When I finally stopped in Turn 1 the engine was still running. I had to shut the engine off. I knew what happened, but in your mind in the car you’re like, ‘What’s going on now?’” he said. “I see all the smoke coming off and I’m like, ‘Oh geez. I don’t even know if I’m on fire or not.’
“I’m trying to get out of the harnesses and stuff, and my belt is stuck on the seat. Then I heard the first responders up there yelling my name saying, ‘You all right?’ So I was like, ‘At least I’m not on fire, because if he’s up there yelling to me… He’s not going to jump on the flames.’ … So I calmed down and started getting my belts off easier and climbed out.
“Chase was there and he was like, ‘Oh man, I’m so sorry.’ He was trying to be compassionate, trying to make sure I was alright.”
Belcher was disqualified for the move, giving Jenison the win, and the eventual Late Model title.
“I’ve had some pretty good dooseys before. Not exactly like that one at the start finish line. That one was for the books,” he said.
“We both had the opportunity to win that championship, and that was what was the coolest about the whole thing. It obviously wasn’t cool to lose your car, but it was cool that there’s so much love out there for the sport that you’re putting your life on the line for it. Just knowing that people still have the love for the sport like that was the coolest.”
It’s the thrill of races like that one at Seekonk that has kept Jenison in the sport for so long. He began his career drag racing before his brother convinced him to give circle tracks a try.
“I liked drag racing, but to me it was too short and not enough thrills to it,” he said. “I like the longevity and the thrill of controlling something that’s out of control.
“Drag racing, I felt like if you could just hold the wheel straight and put it to the floor you could do it. I used to run 12.2 seconds in a quarter mile, and it’s 12 seconds then you pull up and you park it and it would take you almost an hour to get back out again. It wasn’t as much of an adrenaline rush with racing and circle tracks. You could spend that 20 minutes, half hour, hour sometimes racing and actually being in that tight pack of cars and racing hard with people and trying to prove yourself. It’s a lot different, but more exciting to me.”
Jenison said he still hasn’t figured out how he was able to pull off two championships after racing for decades and never winning one. He’s looking forward to more racing in 2023 and trying to race for even more.
“I’m 53 years old. My best racing has been coming in my later years,” he said. “It’s funny, because they push these young kids to run these cars at young ages, and they do well, but it just goes to show you can still be an older person and still run these cars and win races.
“Twenty-four years it took me to get these two championships, and I was trying to get one. Like, before I retire I’d like to get one. And then that night everything just came down.”