Column By: NICK GRAZIANO / DIRTCAR – ELIZABETHTOWN, NY – With a Super DIRT Week guaranteed starting spot in his back pocket, Mike Mahaney was able to prepare for Racing’s Biggest Party earlier than he ever had before this year. The result: a career-best third-place finish in the Billy Whittaker Cars 200.
He’s looking to take the same approach for another career-year in 2024, already planning and preparing for a full-time run with the Super DIRTcar Series – about six months earlier than he was able to for the 2023 season.
In Mahaney’s full-time return to the Series this year with Huttig Racing, he put together his best year yet with a career-high fourth-place finish in points, a win at Autodrome Drummond and his Super DIRT Week podium. However, he didn’t know he was going to run the full tour until a couple months into the season.
Now, with plans already set, they have a notebook to study, time to build and the bandwidth to prepare.
“I think it changes it a lot compared to last year,” Mahaney said about how his mentality will improve from this year to next. “We’re going into it kind of having a little bit of a map of what to do at each track and what equipment to have ready. And I have a better idea of how to drive the tracks. And just, I mean, down to how many miles we’re going to put on the hauler, how many hours we’re going to put on the generator. The different things that need to get serviced so often.
“We’re thinking more ahead of when to do those things and when to have breaks to get those jobs done throughout the schedule. When we’re racing, we don’t have so much time to be prepared for it so we better be prepared ahead of time.”
Next year will mark the first time Mahaney’s run the full tour for two consecutive years as he sits two starts away from 150 races with the Series. In his years away from the tour, Mahaney has been racing weekly at his local tracks. That led to a few learning curves when returning to tracks he hadn’t been to in a while this year.
“Some of the track surfaces have changed that we don’t go to when we’re not running the tour,” Mahaney said. “Just have a better notebook than we’ve had before… I think that threw us a couple of curveballs throughout the year. I also have to give ourselves credit for adapting pretty well.”
Their adaptability was on prime display during the Series’ summer Canadian swing when Mahaney surprised many, including himself, by parking his #35 Big Block Modified in Victory Lane at Autodrome Drummond, after going from sixth to the lead and holding off Canadian veteran David Hebert.
But the reverse of that was surprise disappoint at his home track, Albany-Saratoga Speedway, where he finished 17th and 25th in the two races, after having won two of the last three Series races at the track.
“We wanted to keep our streak there,” Mahaney said. “We won the last couple there and wanted to do it again, but we weren’t able to. I think those are the biggest surprises. The rest, we took what we got. We definitely did the best we could. We show up hoping to win, but when you have this kind of competition level, you got to take what you can get.”
Knowing what they have ahead of them now, Mahaney said his goal is to at least “one up” everything.
“If we can finish top three in points and get more than one win, I think that would be huge for us,” he said. “Super DIRT Week, we finished in the top three, if we can get in the top two, that would be another big plus. We’re just trying to be prepared to win more often. But a lot of it is knowing what to do before you get there. Definitely don’t know it all but we know a lot more than we did a year ago.
“We’re definitely going to put our best foot forward of what we know. That will hopefully put us in a good position. There are a lot of variables that you can’t control. Things happen. Flat tires. Things break. People can wreck you or cause damage. You can’t control everything. We try to control what we can. Just do the best we can. Hopefully good results come from that. I really think if we have our stuff prepared really well, it gives everyone that extra energy to be able to perform and enjoy ourselves throughout the tour.”
The Super DIRTcar Series will kick off its 2024 season at Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 14-17 (a non-points event) to chase the Big Gator Championship.