For better or worse & weekends at the dirt track

February 1, 2018 | By More

Mitchell Mourot is a stock car dirt track racer. He grew up around racing. His dad, Tim, used to race and has loved the sport for as long as he can remember. He’ll tell you there’s not much that can give an adrenaline rush like being behind the wheel of his stock car.

While NASCAR racing is one of the nation’s most popular sports, dirt track racing gives auto racing fans around Arkansas the opportunity to experience the action of live racing. What many Arkansans may not realize is just how established the sport actually is in the state, even right here in the River Valley.

The first official auto race in the nation took place in Chicago in 1895, and by 1903 there were close to fifty automobiles scattered around Arkansas. The car owners’ curiosity and competitiveness got the best of them and brought them to question whose was the fastest. From there the interest in racing ignited. Built in 1949, Riverside International Speedway in West Memphis is the oldest dirt track in the state that is still in use, and by the 1970s there were several banked oval tracks around the state. Today Arkansas is home to over twenty dirt tracks. Mark Martin, the famous NASCAR driver and Batesville native, actually began his career in 1974 as a 15-year-old racing on Arkansas dirt tracks.

Just as other sports have different levels, auto racing has different classes and divisions of its own. The highest divisions in Arkansas are sprint cars and late models. However, the most common race cars in Arkansas are modified stock cars. These are custom built with open wheels, metal bodies, and various engines.

Mitchell started out racing dirt bikes and ATVs at the age of seven with the help of his dad. Over the next few years, he helped a friend work on his stock car and finally, at age fourteen, Mitchell got his own dirt car as a birthday gift. He raced that car for one year in Mini Stock until the track stopped running that class. So Mitchell and his dad decided to sell the car. It wasn’t until he was twenty that Mitchell decided to get back into racing and bought an old car completely in pieces. With the help of a couple buddies, he was able to get the car together, painted, and ready to go. His first night of competition was in the Hobby Stock (today known as Super Stock) class, and he ran 2nd place against more experienced racers. His dad was in the stands watching, and that race hooked them both on racing again. But times had changed since his dad had raced, and there was a lot to learn. Mitchell admits his first year in a tougher class was a rough one, but in just his second year of racing he won the 2014 Points Championship at Plumerville Super Speedway. The following year he lost the championship by one point after an unfortunate wreck during the last race.

This is when I came into the picture.

I met Mitchell at the end of the 2015 racing season. Goodness, I sure didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Mitchell warned me, his parents warned me, his buddies warned me: “Come racing season, you won’t see him unless you go to the shop with him.” They told me he’d spend hours and hours at the shop working on his car each night. I didn’t really understand until racing season rolled around that it takes so much time, hard work, and dedication to make sure a car is race ready. But the first time I saw him out there on the track in that 1X car, I knew I’d found another sport to learn and love.

In 2016 Mitchell won his first “big money” race — the $2,000 Super Stock Summer Sizzler held at Plumerville Super Speedway. That was a memorable race for him, but the 2017 racing season was probably one of the most fun for he and the rest of the 1X racing team. He was able to win Points Champion title again at Plumerville Super Speedway, and did so with crazy good stats. He won sixteen out of nineteen feature races.

Mitchell says he owes a lot of his success to the pit crew — his dad, and Ray and Eric Welch. “They’ve been there for me since the start, through the good and the bad, and have helped so much. Me and Eric share a bond. He knows my driving and how to read the car and make changes when needed. They all help me keep a fast hot rod for sure.” He will also never forget one of his former biggest fans, Debbie Welch, who was right there with the guys, day in and day out. Debbie passed away in the summer of 2016, but she will be remembered as the heart of the 1X team. “You could always find her behind the camera,” Mitchell said. “She recorded all of my races and was always taking pictures so we could document our memories.”

Mitchell has raced at tracks all over the state as well as a couple in Missouri. However, his favorite track and the track closest to his heart is definitely the one he started out on, the one that holds so many cherished memories, the one just down the road from our house—Plumerville Super Speedway.

This River Valley race track was built in 1991, and Plumerville Super Speedway typically races four classes each week: Factory, E-Mod, Super Stock, and Modified.

Mitchell’s dad, Tim, actually raced at Plumerville Super Speedway on its first night of racing “Things are much different now than they were back then,” Tim recalls. He remembers things like borrowing his dad’s ’69 Chevy truck to tow his race car and that, in those days, the track ran on street tires. “The track is still the same track and still in the same spot but has had a lot of improvements through the years.”

Tim also says it means a lot to him that his son loves racing because it gives them an opportunity to spend time together doing what they both love. “I know I am hard on him sometimes, but it’s just because I see Mitchell’s potential and want him to keep pushing forward.” He says he is very proud of how much Mitchell has grown as a driver since he first started racing.

Current track promotors, Harold and Rita Williams, also agree that Mitchell showed tremendous growth this year. “Mitch’s season has been astronomical in many aspects,” Rita shared. “One thing that is probably the most touching and rewarding for me has been to see how he and his dad’s relationship has evolved.” The Williams’ have been the track promotors for three years. They went on to say that memories like those will last forever, and that the family aspect of racing was one of the biggest factors that first drew them to promote the track. Harold had his own childhood memories of racing with his dad, and now his daughter is showing an interest in it as well. “I’ve thought of the race track as our sand box, meaning it will always be family based.”>>

Mitchell agrees with the Williams. “When you’re racing with the same people every week, being around the same people in the pit area, you form a special relationship with them,” said Mitchell. “They kind of become your race family. You help each other out when you can. It’s a neat thing.”

And so, while I knew of dirt track racing, I didn’t know anything about the sport until I met Mitchell. I didn’t know what I was missing out on and definitely didn’t realize how popular it is around Arkansas and specifically in the River Valley. I had no idea how competitive the sport is and how much more there is to it than what meets the eye. I never knew I’d be the type of girl who enjoyed spending her weekends at the dirt track, and wouldn’t mind going home covered in dirt at the end of the night. But here I am a racer’s wife, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Knowing the love Mitchell has for the sport has made me love it, too, and seeing him in victory lane with the checkered flag makes it all worthwhile.

The racing season in Arkansas typically runs from mid-March or April through September or October. Most tracks have races once a week, usually Friday or Saturday night.

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