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Spotlight On—Brian Mitchell

By Greg Acosta

Photos by NMRA

In its nineteenth season, the NMRA has a few folks that have been there since the beginning, and even fewer who have remained in the same class for almost two decades. Brian Mitchell is one of those long-time competitors who started off with a legitimate street car, and has evolved his program into a multiple-championship operation. The champ retired after the 2015 season, but that proved to only be temporary, as the call of the drag strip was too much for Mitchell to resist. Now, he’s poised to make a hard run at another championship in his first season back, with a borrowed car, no less. We sat down with Mitchell and asked him about the past, present, and future.

What prompted you to take 2016 off?

In 2014, the motor disintegrated every time I tried to make a pass. I fought it all year. I rebuilt the motor after every race and every test session. I finally figured out the core issue in the off-season, and then in 2015, every single pass I had an issue. I mean without fail – not one clean pass in the entire season. I didn’t “take a break” in 2016, I was done. I sold everything and was out. I retired.

So what brought you back this season, then?

I missed it. You know how this is; it’s in your blood. I just couldn’t stay away.

How’d the arrangement come about to drive Adam Arndt’s car this season?

Adam was deployed to the Middle East with his military unit, so his car was going to be on hold. In 2016, I bought back my original car – Wizard 1. That car was in the chassis shop having an entirely new state of the art chassis put in, and wasn’t going to be ready in time for this season. However, my new motor was done and my new trans was ready thanks to Frank and Sean at Pro-Formance. Adam said, “Why don’t we put it in my car, and get some tune-ups for your engine taken care of.” So that’s what we did.

Is Adam’s car different to drive than what you’re used to?

Short answer, yes. It’s a handful. I liken it to a ’79 Malibu with no cage and no antiroll bar. That is to say, it’s a man’s car. [laughs]

This season you came out like gangbusters – especially considering you have a new motor combo in a borrowed car. Is there more left in it?

Oh yeah. On the very first full pass down the track, it went number one qualifier on that hit. It came out of the gate on fire. I’m letting Jason Lee do the tune-ups on it, since it’s a high-port motor and that’s what he and Patrick Barnhill are known for. We aren’t hurting it at all – we’re baby-stepping. Adam’s car, being a “man’s car” doesn’t go the 1.0-second sixty-foots that we really need to really be flying. There’s plenty of horsepower, it about getting it to the ground right now. It’s nice to be back. After two seasons in a row having my ass handed to me all year, it’s really nice.

Do you think your two seasons of struggles led to any lessons learned for you?

Well, yeah. A couple very expensive lessons – like you can’t let your fuel filter to dry out if you’re running C-16. Part of the reason I kept blowing stuff up was that I let my fuel filter dry out when I took the fuel tank out to add an intercooler. Since I had just replaced the filter, I never even considered it to be the culprit. Jim Craig from Weldon actually caught wind of my issues and called me, and told me what was going on. So I learned a whole lot about fuel consumption and how it can vary with load in different gears. It was about $60,000 in engine parts to learn that lesson. I’ve got some great people in my corner who always help me, like Adam [Arndt], Matt Wirt, and Bob at Jesel, and they helped get me through those two miserable seasons.

You mentioned that your car is now Wizard 1.5 – why’s that?

It’s my original car – Wizard I – but completely new. It’s not a new car, which would be Wizard III, but it’s also not Wizard I anymore, either. So, it’s Wizard 1.5. I tracked the car down, found the guys I sold it to ten years ago. I was sitting around, bored, while everyone else was racing. I said, “Screw it. Life’s too short.” And so I started tracking it down. I guess it was a whim. I overpaid to get it back, by a lot, but I got it. Then I cut the cage out of it and had Tim Lyons work his magic on it.

What all is being converted in Wizard 1.5?

I wanted to do state-of-the-art everything in the car. We cut the cage out, we cut everything out. It’s entirely new, a Tim Lyons special. It hurt to cut the existing stuff out – it had a 25.5 cage that was nice, and the body was in great shape. But Tim is doing a complete 25.3 chassis – it’s a badass deal, almost like a stock-suspension Pro Mod chassis. Kooks helped out with some awesome exhaust work, and then we’re running some super-nice Brake Man brakes on Adam’s car that will be on Wizard 1.5 as well.

Brian Mitchell (left) and Adam Arndt (right)

When do you expect Wizard 1.5 to make its first appearance? Will we see it this year?

It’ll be ready for Spring of 2018. I have a car for this season that is working well, so there’s no reason to rush anything. I’m going to take my time, so that it is sure to be state-of-the-art when it’s done. The plan is to have Wizard 1.5 in Florida ready to go, and Adam might drive it in some of the NMCA Xtreme Street stuff. Together, we can have a mean automobile.

Having been in Renegade since day one, how different is the class now?

We are Super Street Outlaw now. We aren’t “Renegade” anymore. 400-inch high-port motors with a solid roller cam and an intercooler running mid sevens. What class is that? That’s SSO. The class is totally different now. I drove my street car to the first NMRA race, and pulled it from the parking lot into Renegade because it fit the class rules. I actually bought Wizard I the next day, and had it at the next NMRA race that first season.

Are you a fan of the progression, or would you prefer the old rules?

Well, there’s Limited Street now, and I am absolutely interested in that. I mean, it’s a serpentine belt, non-intercooled class. What’s that sound like? Gates green belts and let ‘em eat. There’s a possibility that Adam’s car might end up in Limited Street with me driving, and have him drive mine in Renegade. We’ll see, who knows. There are a lot of options on the table.


Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi is the Director of Content & Marketing at ProMedia Publishing and Events with nearly 20 years of experience in motorsport writing and photography.