By Richie Murray – USAC Media
SPEEDWAY, IN-Mitchel Moles took the USAC world by storm a year ago with five feature wins across the AMSOIL National Sprint Car and NOS Energy Drink National Midget divisions.
Now the 23-year-old Raisin City, Calif. native tackles the challenge of the big cars in 2023, teaming with Wisconsin-based car owner Hans Lein and crew chief Greg Nelson to compete on all the dirt races throughout the USAC Silver Crown season.
“It’s definitely going to be an experience, I’d say,” Moles exclaimed. “I can’t thank Hans and Greg enough for bringing me on board.”
Most of the venues, the type of car, the length of the race and the team will all be new tests for Moles, the 2022 USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year. However, he’s game for the challenge right off the bat. He nearly won his first career USAC National Sprint Car start last year and aims to come out swinging in similar fashion straight out of the gate when he steps foot for the first time in a champ car.
“It’s definitely going to be a change of pace since I’ve never run any dirt mile tracks in my life,” Moles pinpointed. “I’m thankful for those guys and Joe at DRC Chassis for helping put some feelers out for me that maybe some of these young guys like me can do it. The Silver Crown world has a lot of great veteran drivers, but I want to show that some of us newer guys to the division can do it too.”
Nelson, the team’s crew chief, a past Badger Midget driving champion in 1983 and a Silver Crown veteran driver himself, recently met Moles and his father for the first time during January’s Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla. In addition to Nelson and Moles’ mutual bond of the outdoors (hunting, fishing, etc.), Nelson had witnessed Moles’ abilities firsthand and knew full-well the will and desire he had to succeed. Soon, Nelson knew Moles was the man do the job and a deal was struck to make Silver Crown racing part of his plans for 2023.
Also noted by Nelson was the fact that the style of the car and the pace of the race in modern day Silver Crown competition is conducive to a young driver like Moles, and the jump from a sprint car to a Silver Crown car is much more relatable than it maybe once was in years past.
“I think he has the ‘it factor,’” Nelson said of Moles. “That’s definitely a big part of it. The other part is that it kind of seems like the cars are matching the style of the driver now instead of a ‘you have to run this, and this is how you run the race’ type of deal. It’s more of a sprint now. These days, they’re basically 100-lap sprint car races. That’s what’s going on and it more fits these guys’ style now.”
Lein and Nelson’s No. 97 has been a stalwart on the USAC Silver Crown dirt trail over the past six seasons between 2017-2022 with drivers such as USAC National champions Tyler Courtney, Dave Darland, Chris Windom, and most recently, Buddy Kofoid. With Courtney, the Lein team captured both the 2017 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora and the 2019 Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Moles has run less than a handful of long distance races in his career, all of which have come in a midget during 100-lappers at California’s Placerville Speedway and South Dakota’s Huset’s Speedway, both of which included fuel stops at the halfway mark. Moles knows the Silver Crown cars are a bit of a different animal in that regard, but big fuel tanks and long distance races are quests he’s eager to take on as he scanned his way through the checklist for the 2023 season.
“I feel like I should be pretty comfortable on the dirt half-miles,” Moles stated. “But Belleville is going to be a change of pace for most everyone. A few of the guys have run there and it will be cool to say I’ve raced at Belleville with so much history at that place. I would say the Springfield and Du Quoin miles will be biggest challenge for me overall. It’s something that’s going to take a little bit of thought on the strategy. I’m definitely going to talk to some of the guys who’ve done it for a while and just try to pick their brains on it. We’ll do our homework; we’re only running dirt for now, so we’ve got to try to win since the championship is out of the window.”