BENTON -- The 2002 racing season is just around the corner. While drivers like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are gearing up for Sunday's Daytona 500 on the NASCAR circuit, Benton's Joey Mack is preparing for a different racing series.
This year the 24-year-old Dirt Late Model racer will be on the Mid-America Racing Series, traveling to 33 events in eight different states with hopes of winning the M.A.R.S. Rookie of the Year trophy.
"We're shooting for Rookie of the Year," said Mack. "We would like to win a M.A.R.S. points race, but we're really shooting for Rookie of the Year. It's good publicity, and it helps you pick up sponsors. That's what we need at this stage."
Mack's first non-points race will take place March 9 at Harrisburg, Ark. The first points race will be April 12 at Batesville, Ark., and the season will run through Sept. 28.
"Very few people get the opportunity we have to race this series," said crew chief and Joey's brother Andy Mack. "It is a high-class series. The M.A.R.S series is growing very fast, and we're one of the few local teams that is growing very fast with it."
Mack ran 18 of the 31 races on the M.A.R.S. series last season, finishing 19th in the overall points standings. "We knew we were going to run for Rookie of the Year (this season), so we had to stay under a certain number of races," explained Mack. "We wanted to get in as much practice as we could without going over the limit."
The 19th place finish last season was not indicative of the type of year Mack had. When he did race, he almost always finished in the top 15.
"I had a couple of Top-5 finishes and most of them were Top-10s," he explained. "We were tickled to death with how we performed (on the series). Most of the guys we race against do it for a living. Of course we all have normal jobs here, so that's an accomplishment for us."
Now Mack is hoping all that practice on the series will pay off. This year, the team has switched to a Ford Mustang for the primary car. The old Chevrolet Monte Carlo will be the backup car.
"The Ford has a very drivable motor," said Andy. "Our car last year was good, but it wasn't as drivable as this new car is going to be. We're going to be tough to hang with for Rookie of the Year. I feel we're in the best position we can be for this."
Andy, 22, has been his brother's crew chief since the team started racing back in '96.
Other crew members include their father David Mack, Howie and Dietrich Bollinger, Jeff Vetter, David and Brian Gilpin, Joey's wife Carrie and his sister Suzi.
Mack started racing full-time back in 1997. In the Street Stock Class, he recorded six feature wins and finished fourth in points at Benton's International Race Park.
In '98, he won the points championship at Malden Speedway and had five feature wins.
Mack went on to claim 24 feature wins in '99, winning the Limited Sportsman points championships at both Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway and Paducah International Raceway.
In the 2000 season, he stepped up to the Limited Late Model division and had 11 feature wins, finishing second in points at Malden Speedway.
Last year Mack won three Late Model races at Harrisburg. He has been featured in the AFCO Racing Products catalog for the last two years.
High's Gift Shop in Commerce is the team's major sponsor.
Associate sponsors include Utility Trailers of Sikeston, Bollinger Automotive, Brock Milam Masonry, Gilpin Farms, Kuntz & Company Racing Engines and Boomland.
Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can contact Mack Racing at (573) 545-9797.
"Finding a sponsor is a big deal to our budget," said Mack.
"The more money we have, the better parts we have. And more spare parts make things go a lot smoother."