Veteran racer Mike Skinner has seen a great deal of success during his extended racing career. And at the same time the 61-year-old has also experienced his share of disappointment. Over the past 12 months the Bristol Motor Speedway has provided both good and bad for the native of Susanville, California.
In the 2018 version of the Short Track U.S. Nationals Skinner had a very fast Pro Late Model but a tangle with a slower car ruined his chance at victory. This past Saturday night on the high-banked half-mile a similar scenario looked like it might play out once again for the 1995 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion after his car had set fast time in qualifying.
Skinner did not start from the pole position because of an invert of the top-10 from time-trials prior to the 100-lap feature race. And when the Sterling Marlin Racing car of Kyle Ivey crashed leaving debris strewn across the track, Skinner’s car found pieces of that wreckage.
The No. 5 Toyota had its master cylinder and brake fluid reservoirs taken out by the debris. However, Skinner’s years of racing experience have taught him lessons that served his team led by his oldest son(Jamie) and his youngest son(Dustin) well.
“My whole career I overreacted to stuff and that was a fault,” Skinner admitted in his post-race media availability at BMS. “I went ‘You know what, I’m going to be 62-years-old in a few weeks and I’ve got to get over this shit. I can’t do this anymore.’ You’ve got to stay calm and you’ve got to keep your team calm. If they stay calm, we can conquer.”
The champion racer used that mindset to coach his team through their early race troubles in Bristol.
“My son said, ‘Hey, we’re wiped out again’,” Skinner recounted in the BMS Media Center. “Just come down pit road. And I said, ‘No, we ain’t neither. We’re going to fix it.’ He told me I wouldn’t have any brakes but I said I didn’t need any brakes.”
After their initial work on the car, Skinner returned to the track for green flag action. And again leaned on his own experience to get his car to the checkered flag.
“I ran in the back of the pack and came up a little ways there and we were lucky to catch another caution,” the 2005 NGOTS winner at Bristol continued. “In the meantime, my oldest son had went and got the parts to fix it. You don’t lose a lap on pit road here so we sat on pit road and fixed the car. We came from the back twice and I was really hard on the right front tire coming up through the field and passing so many cars. I ran as slow as you can go and stay in front. I slowed down once I got in the lead and took care of the right front and darned if she didn’t run well.”
Skinner races on a limited basis in selected short-track events such as the Short Track Nationals and also on road courses as part of the Vintage Race of Champions. And although he may not employ the same type of conditioning as many of today’s younger drivers, he still keeps himself in good enough shape to run races such as these.
The driver who made 286 career starts on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series remains active in racing apart from driving. He and wife Angie host a show called Skinner Round-Up that airs every Sunday in which there is not a NASCAR race on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“I don’t race full time anymore,” the winner of 28 Truck Series events pointed out. “This is a hobby now so I don’t spend a lot of time in the gym. I spend more time with a glass of wine in my hand. I knew I had to do this race and I conditioned for it. I did a lot of cardio stuff, I golfed and did a lot of steps- I walk 17-20,000 steps a day. I just got my cardio up to where I knew I wouldn’t fall out of the seat. It got a little hot out there but I think I could go another hundred or two. I used to run 500 laps around here so 100 is pretty easy.”
Racing keeps Skinner close to his family. The radio show with his wife and teaming with his sons are major benefits to his continued involvement in the sport. He explained that his car’s speed is directly related to the work of his son and crew. And that work has provided benefits in more than just the Bristol race.
“One of the reasons this thing is as fast as it is is that my youngest son Dustin eats and breathes this stuff,” he said. “He never stops working on it. He worked on a better cooling package for it because we knew it was going to be hot up here. Our team, I don’t know what’s got into us because I’m retired, but this is my six race that I’ve run and I’ve won five of them and I got second in the other one. I don’t know what the hell is going on to be honest with you but it sure is fun.”
“I may just quit,” he added with a laugh. “I might do a mic drop on this one and take the rest of the year off.”
In reality, Skinner would like to race even more. But as is so often the case in racing, financing is a major part of that possibility.
“You know, some people are trying to get us to go run some more short tracks,” the driver answered when asked how much longer he plans to keep going. “I tell them to help us find some sponsorship. It’s all about partners. We don’t need to make any money, we just need somebody to help us pay the bills. If we can do that, we’ll run a little longer. Everything this day and time is so sponsorship driven. If we get some support we’ll run as much as they want us to.”
But no matter how much racing he does, Skinner summed up his feelings on winning at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“If they gave me a bottle of pop for winning at Bristol I’d put it in my trophy case. Winning at Bristol is amazing. It’s pretty cool.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
Respond to this piece on Twitter –> @RichardAllenIDR
or on Facebook –> InsideCircleTrack/Facebook