NOTEBOOK: Willie Mullins leans on friends, competitors to go racing at Elko Speedway

NOTEBOOK: Willie Mullins leans on friends, competitors to go racing at Elko Speedway

Read Time:7 Minute, 30 Second

Sometimes it takes a village to get things done. Willie and Dinah Mullins know that better than most.

The husband and wife duo jointly own Mullins Racing, a part-time ARCA Menards Series team that competes in a handful of events each season.

However, they wouldn’t be able to make it to many of the races they compete in without the help of others. The majority of the Mullins Racing crew are volunteers, including friend and crew chief Robert Bruce.

That is just the tip of the iceberg, as without the help of two other team owners, Willie Mullins would not be able to compete in Saturday’s Menards 250 at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway (8:30 pm CT / 9:30 pm ET on MAVTV/ FloRacing).

ARCA at Elko: Entry list | Complete event schedule

One helping hand comes from Fast Track Racing owner Andy Hillenburg, who is transporting the car Mullins will drive across the United States to Elko Speedway. As part of that arrangement, Mullins’ car will carry the No. 12 that is typically campaigned by Hillenburg’s program.

This is not the first time Mullins and Hillenburg have teamed up. This will mark the fifth time Mullins has partnered with Hillenburg for an ARCA Menards Series event.

“For us, we couldn’t even do it (without Andy Hillenburg),” Mullins said. “Andy Hillenburg stepped up to help us out again.”

Help this weekend at Elko also comes from Mike Diaz, the promoter of North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park and the father of competitor Mason Diaz. The elder Diaz owns the chassis Mullins will race this Saturday night during the Menards 250.

“My car, we’re in the process of completely rebuilding it,” Mullins explained. “Mike is helping us out while Mason isn’t racing in ARCA by letting us use this car. We worked out a deal where Mike is letting me use it and then Mason gets to drive it later in the year.

“This is a hodgepodge of people helping me out so I can go racing in the ARCA Menards Series. It’s our drivetrain, our suspension. Mike was graceful enough to let us use this car while I completely rebuild my car.”

This will be the third race that Mullins has used this car in ARCA competition this season. He drove the same car to finishes of eighth at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway and fifth at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, in ARCA Menards Series East competition earlier this season.

The arrangement for Mullins to drive Diaz’s car came together during a chance meeting at Southern National Motorsports Park last November.

RELATED: Willie Mullins’ ARCA Menards Series career statistics

“We got talking, and he was frustrated. He was going to sell all of his ARCA equipment,” said Mullins, who explained that all Diaz had to work with at that point was the bare shell of a car. “I was like, ‘Mike, I’ve got enough parts off my short track because that is apart right now to put your car together. Let’s go race that.’”

Mullins eventually convinced Diaz not to sell his equipment, and instead they agreed to let Mullins manage the equipment with the goal of fielding the younger Diaz in at least one race during the 2022 season.

Originally the goal was for both Mullins and Mason Diaz to race at Elko this weekend, but the timing of things didn’t work out, and instead it’s just Mullins competing this weekend. The team is now targeting the Bush’s Beans 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 15 for Mason Diaz’s return to ARCA competition.

“The deal is we’re going to get Mason back in this car later in the year, hopefully at Bristol,” Mullins said. “It’s going to be our whole team, the full Mullins Racing deal at Bristol with Mason driving.”

Elko Speedway is a long way from Mullins Racing’s base in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a whopping 1,159 miles, in fact. So why would Mullins Racing compete at Elko Speedway each season?

It has everything to do with family.

Dinah Mullins’ family is located nearby, as are primary sponsors Crow Wing Recycling and CW Metals. For those reasons, it makes perfect sense for the team to compete at Elko, something they’ve been done three times before.

“It’s near and dear to me to do because we get to see all our close family back in Minnesota,” said Mullins. “We’re going to take a couple days off and hang out with some family.”

However, without the help of Hillenburg, Diaz and the team’s volunteer crew, this trip to Minnesota to race and see family likely wouldn’t be possible.

“Without Mike, I probably wouldn’t have raced much this year at all,” Mullins said. “It’s important for me to thank Andy Hillenburg, Dick Doheney, my crew chief Robert Bruce and my spotter Kevin Belmont for coming along and being apart of this journey while we can do it.”

Greg Van Alst, driver of the #35 CB Fabricating Ford, during the Zinsser Smart Coat 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan on June 18, 2022. (Eric Bronson/ARCA Racing)
Greg Van Alst, driver of the No. 35 CB Fabricating Ford, during the Zinsser SmartCoat 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Michigan, on June 18, 2022. (Photo: Eric Bronson/ARCA Racing)

Greg Van Alst rides momentum into Elko Speedway

From a consistency standpoint, there are few drivers who have been running better in the last four events than Greg Van Alst.

Van Alst enters the Menards 250 riding a streak of four straight top-10 finishes in ARCA Menards Series competition. That includes finishes of seventh at Kansas Speedway, a season-best fifth at Charlotte Motor Speedway and back-to-back finishes of eighth at Iowa Speedway and Michigan’s Berlin Raceway.

Those finishes come after Van Alst started the season 22nd at Daytona International Speedway, 36th at Phoenix Raceway and 11th at Talladega Superspeedway.

Only one other driver has finished inside the top 10 in the last four races on the schedule. That driver is Nick Sanchez, who is in the midst of an intense battle with teammate Rajah Caruth for the ARCA Menards Series championship.

Historically speaking, short tracks are where Van Alst shines. His best ARCA finish came at another short track, Indiana’s Winchester Speedway, last season when he finished second to Ty Gibbs.

He has also enjoyed success on short tracks in Late Models, capturing the ARCA/CRA Super Series Super Late Model championship during the 2019 campaign. That championship earned Van Alst the opportunity to take part in the annual ARCA pre-race practice at Daytona International Speedway in 2020.

The rest, as you might say, is history.

Colton Collins making ARCA debut for CCM Racing

Colton Collins can typically be found working on race cars in the ARCA Menards Series garage, but Saturday he’ll be driving a race car, instead.

The 17-year-old driver from Mannford, Oklahoma, is set to make his ARCA Menards Series debut during the Menards 250 at Elko Speedway. He’ll be driving the No. 7 Chevrolet fielded by CCM Racing and car owner Eric Caudell.

Collins has been part of the CCM Racing team for the last few seasons after a chance meeting with Caudell at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit in Jennings, Oklahoma.

Since then, Collins has been a regular part of the CCM Racing crew, which led directly to the opportunity for Collins to make his ARCA Menards Series debut this weekend at Elko Speedway.

Collins started his driving career in Quarter Midgets and more recently competed in the Baby Grand and Super Truck classes at Missouri’s Bolivar Speedway.

“I’m very excited to be making my ARCA debut this weekend,” said Collins. “I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this for a long time and am hoping to make the best of it. Thank you to CCM Racing and team owner Eric Caudell for the opportunity and to Safari Joe’s H2O for coming on board, along with our other partners, RedTide Canopies and Coble Enterprises.”

NOTES:

  • Saturday’s event will be the first ARCA Menards Series race for defending ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Late Model Stock Car winner Landon Pembelton, who is joining Venturini Motorsports for three ARCA Menards Series races and one ARCA Menards Series West event this year. He is currently ranked in the top five of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series National standings.
  • The ARCA Menards Series will be joined by a trio of NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series divisions this Saturday at Elko Speedway. Features for the Late Model, Thunder Car and Power Stock divisions will all take place ahead of the Menards 250.
  • No driver has won more than one ARCA Menards Series event at Elko Speedway. Previous victors include Brennan Poole, Frank Kimmel, Grant Finallyger, Austin Theriault, Gus Dean, Chandler Smith and Corey Heim. None of them are entered in Saturday’s race.

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