Auto Racing: Mike White showing he’s got plenty left in the tank
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org July 4, 2013 8:44PM
Mike White shows off a trophy after a recent victory at Illiana Speedway. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 6, 2013 6:26AM
Nothing motivates a champion more than when people say he or she doesn’t have it anymore.
So it was a couple of winters back when Mike White got a phone call from nephew and pit crew member Mark Fredette, who had just attended a Christmas party and had an interesting tale to tell.
The nine-time Chicago-area late-model champion from Monee had been going through a bit of a victory dry spell, as he and longtime racing partner and setup ace Ray Wroblewski were trying to make a car that didn’t quite have all of the up to date bells and whistles to do what ... well, quite frankly, what it really didn’t have the capability of doing.
“The setups and the knowledge had kind of gotten away from us,” White said. “I didn’t have a problem with it, and neither did Ray. We would go out there and do the best we could and have a lot of fun.
“Was winning important? Yeah. But the time that it would take to catch up like we needed to, he didn’t have it and I didn’t have it.”
Fredette, however, threw down a gauntlet, of sorts.
“Mark had gone to the party and was talking to a bunch of guys and they were pretty much throwing me under the bus,” White said. “He said they were saying, ‘Why is he racing? He’s washed up. He should hang up the helmet.’ That kind of stuff.
“My nephew told me, ‘Uncle Mike, what’s the deal, man? You’re washed up? Too old?’ I said, ‘No I’m not, Mark. You know what we’re going through.’ He said, ‘You know, we’ve got to figure this kind of stuff out and we’re going to show them.’”
Two years later, at age 48, White is back among the front-runners at Illiana Speedway and looking every bit the dominator he was in 1988 at Raceway Park, in 1993, ’95 and ’96 at Grundy County Speedway and in 1997, ’98, ’99, 2006 and ’08 at Illiana.
White has two wins this season in the No. 14, coming back to back May 18 and 25. He was in a position to challenge for the top spot in a few other features before mechanical issues ended his night.
For the first time in a while, he has two cars to work with. In addition to Wroblewski’s fleet Lefthander, an old sponsor, Auburn Supply, is back to also help White campaign out of Tom Rose’s shop a brand new 00 Dale Shaw chassis.
“Ray’s car is the primary car to run at Illiana as it has been the past couple of years,” White said. “We spent a little over a year building the new car, which is really geared to go out and run longer races like CRA races.”
Short term, the black 14 will be at Illiana on Saturday, with the 00 in the on-deck circle ready to go in two weeks for the Twin-56 Musgrave Memorial event.
Fredette, who had a brief late-model driving career before concentrating on helping his uncle race, is proving to be one of the area’s most valuable pit crew members.
The motivation didn’t end with his post-Christmas party revelation.
“He took he initiative to study and learn and talk to the right people and get us on the right track, per se,” White said. “Nobody is just going to give you a setup and it’s magic, OK. But you’ve got to get going in that direction.
“Trust me, when anybody walking around the pits knows anything about cars has a conversation with him … he’s real, real sharp. He loves doing that part of it, and you need a guy like that. Everybody needs a guy who is willing to study (technology) and really understand it to make it apply to the race car.”
The results started to show at Illiana during the 2012 season, when White had a string of successful runs in the No. 14 car, one of which ended in a victory.
“We knew we were on the right path,” White said. “Over the winter Ray got some parts for the car that weren’t worn out from all the years of racing. And now the car has everything we need to make it without breaking it. But I definitely credit the motivation of my nephew Mark.”
White also has another motivator in his 15-year-old son Eric, who is a member of his pit crew, his right-hand man in the shop and is being groomed to have the opportunity to follow in his dad’s racing footsteps.
“He’s worked with me on these cars and at 15 he could actually build one himself,” White said. “That was important to me. I know there are a lot of kids out there (racing) who don’t know anything about a race car and expect everybody to do everything for them. He already knows how to do more than most people I know.
“The plan is to give him some laps this year, maybe in a Legends car, kind of follow like what Dave Weltmeyer did with his son (D.J.). You get him some laps, get him going. You don’t throw him to the wolves. You make sure he can go out and do a respectable job, and good things can happen.
“So the plan is definitely less for me, and if and when my son has the ability and we’re comfortable with that, we plan to move on with him.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” White said with a laugh. “But do you ever really retire?”