Mitchel Moles’ first full season of USAC NOS Energy Drink Midget National Championship competition saw its fair share of brilliance with a handful of victories, fast qualifying times and a lasting impression that made him one of the most impressive individuals behind the wheel this season.
As a result, the Raisin City, Calif. native was named the 2022 Bod Stroud USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year, an award honoring Stroud, the longtime supervisor for the USAC Midget division.
By doing so, Moles became the first driver to be honored as the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year while driving a car owned by a past series Rookie of the Year (Chad Boat in 2008).
Moles was one of three first-time USAC National Midget winners who emerged during the 2022 season with victories coming at Nebraska’s Jefferson County Speedway, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and Illinois’ Wayne County Speedway, all coming aboard the CB Industries/PristineAuction.com – K & C Drywall – NOS Energy Drink/Spike/Speedway Toyota.
Furthermore, Moles’ sixth place finish in the final series points was buoyed by eight top-five finishes and 109 laps led, and he was the only Rookie to start all 32 events. In fact, he’s the first Rookie since Lonnie Caruthers in 1977 to start as many series races in his first year.
Moles endured a facet of the Rookie experience that is all too common for many first-year series competitors. For him, the majority of the tracks he visited during the 2022 trail marked his first time ever seeing many of the venues. Not only did Moles have to adapt to the car, the team and the rigors of a full season run, he also had to jump in with both feet in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
“At pretty much every racetrack I went to this year, it was my first time there,” Moles revealed. “To win during my first time at a few of them, I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Moles made particular mention of his spectacular victory in September at Eldora. It’s a place daunting to many and, for most who’ve come to master the half-mile dirt oval, it took some time to get comfortable. Moles, however, seemingly took to it like a duck to water.
“That’s a place I’ve wanted to win at really bad,” Moles said of Eldora. “(Car owner) Chad (Boat)’s stuff is exceptionally good at Eldora, and I just felt like the track suited my driving style.”
Nonetheless, Eldora also epitomized the struggles that are part and parcel of the Rookie initiation – knowing where the limit is without pushing over the razor’s edge. Moles found out the hard way by flipping heavily in turns three and four at Eldora while running in the fifth position just 24 hours after his big win.
While his pace was quickly on par with the series’ best right from outset, learning how to abstain from trouble is a piece of the puzzle Moles has had to figure out and bounce back from at different points in the year, which taught him some big takeaways as he heads on down the road and vies for a championship in the future.
“I flipped a few times, and you just can’t have DNFs in this deal if you want to win a championship,” Moles iterated. “I think you realize when you run a full season of midgets, you don’t want to be (crashing) every night. It’s grueling and you’ve got to be able to finish every race. There are a lot of things that opened my eyes, but now that I’ve done it, I know you’ve got to finish these races and you have to run up front.”
The key aspect is patience and Moles had to learn and grow from each experience, whether it was triumphantly rewarding or devastatingly depressing. Either way, Moles gives 110 percent every night, but acknowledges there is a time and place for everything in this sport.
“You don’t want to settle in, but, for example, if I’m running fifth, sometimes it’s not worth it to try and get fourth if you think you’re going to crash,” Moles explained. “Sometimes it’s just not meant to be and sometimes you’re just not going to win. You can try as hard as you want, but you just can’t wreck as much. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Moles isn’t keen on settling too much, however. Now with a year under his belt, he’s prepared to become the next Rookie of the Year to parlay his initial reward into a USAC National Midget championship just as Danny Caruthers, Russ Gamester, Jeff Gordon, Bobby East, Darren Hagen, Bryan Clauson, Rico Abreu, Christopher Bell, Spencer Bayston, Logan Seavey and Buddy Kofoid have all done before him.