Series News Release - USAC Media
Toledo, Ohio (August 2, 2023) - No one disputes that Kody Swanson is the prohibitive favorite to take the win during this Saturday’s Hemelgarn Racing/Super Fitness Rollie Beale Classic Fueled By Marco’s Pizza at Ohio’s Toledo Speedway on August 5.
Swanson is always tough on the hardtop, and here, the seven-time champion has been nearly unbeatable. Kody is riding a two-race winning streak heading into Glass City, and if one were to consider possible threats to his supremacy, few would look beyond his perennial rival Bobby Santos III.
Yet, Gene Kazmark’s team, anchored by Illinois driver Mario Clouser, is hitting its stride. Heading into the sixth round of the 2023 USAC Silver Crown season, Clouser occupies the fifth position in the standings, placing him above championship hopefuls Justin Grant and C.J. Leary. Mario feels his team is on the rise and sees no reason why he can’t pull off the upset in Toledo.
Clouser’s previous experience makes him a perfect fit for the Silver Crown series, and then there is the all-important mindset he carries into the fray. When asked if he can beat his main rivals, Mario’s response is quick and to the point, “Yes,” he says, “I’m a race car driver, so I think I am better than those guys. Give me a good car and I will outdrive them.”
This isn’t a matter of being recklessly brash or cocky, instead, this is the attitude Clouser feels a winner must have. When thinking about the drivers he must beat to get to victory lane, he says, “I don’t know any racecar driver who says oh, those guys are just better than me. I always feel I can contend with those guys.”
While some of his closest rivals can focus their total attention on racing, Clouser must squeeze time to race around a busy work schedule. His father owns an auto repair business in Auburn, Illinois, and right now, Mario says, “they are covered up.”
Yet, it was his father who got him into the racing game, although Clouser admits with a laugh, “I don’t think my dad envisioned us doing anything beyond quarter midgets, but once you get bitten by the racing bug, it is hard to quit.”
His father had stumbled on the old Sangamon Quarter Midget Racing Association track in nearby Springfield, and it piqued his curiosity. While Mario can’t remember his first trips to the track, he does know that he showed immediate interest. From there, he found a quarter midget under the tree at Christmas, and by the time he was five, he was giving it a whirl.
“We weren’t in it with both feet at first,” Clouser says, “but by the time I turned nine or ten, we got more serious.”
They took trips to Lincoln, Illinois, and sometimes ventured to Terre Haute. When they felt the competition was lagging, they focused more on the Indiana and Ohio region and spent more time racing on pavement.
Moving up the ladder, Mario began racing a Ford Focus Midget and was the 2007 USAC-UMARA champion. By 2011, he was a regular on the USAC National Midget scene, and in 2012, competed on the pavement for Rotondo-Weirich Motorsports.
Then a funny thing happened. He realized he was burned out. He ran the 2013 Chili Bowl and never turned a wheel the rest of the season. His rationale was sound. “I felt like I had spent a fortune and wasn’t running well,” he says, “so I was pretty much tired of it.”
In 2014, two important events altered his racing future. First, he had a chance to race a pavement midget for Bill Guess at Grundy County Speedway. Also significant was the time he spent with driver Chad Boespflug, who was driving a sprint car for legendary owner Paul Hazen. It opened his eyes.
“I knew local sprint car racing was big,” he says, “but it also seemed more laid back and affordable. I realized if I got back into racing again, it made sense to go dirt sprint car racing.”
Once back in the saddle, he caught on quickly, and in 2021, he captured the POWRi WAR Sprint Car League title. At that point, the series raced extensively in Illinois, which reduced his travel costs significantly.
As satisfying as it was to win a championship, in his heart, he knew he wanted more. He turned his attention to the Silver Crown series. It was here that he drew upon his relationship with Bill Guess.
“I had bothered Bill about running his car,” he admits, “but it wasn’t 100% his call. When an opportunity opened, it helped that I had a good relationship with Bill and his dad, Bob. I think Bob really leaned on Gene Kazmark to give me an opportunity. Fortunately, I have been able to run decently and keep Gene happy. Hopefully I can stay in the car.”
Mario knew he would be comfortable on the pavement and feels that his dirt program is progressing nicely behind the wheel of the Response Management Services – Remin Kart-A-Bag/Ed Pink Toyota-powered No. 92.
“In the last few years, I have gotten pretty comfortable on the dirt as well,” he says. “For a long time, even when I ran the dirt midget, I didn’t feel like I had a grasp on it. We would run well here and there, but I constantly doubted myself on how I was doing. Now I have had a lot more seat time and I feel better, and I really liked the combined deal. I think that it is the true way to win a championship. For a guy to be considered good, you have to be able to run both dirt and pavement.”
There have been some disappointments this year. A tire problem in the season opener at Belleville, Kan. and engine woes at Port Royal, Pa. thwarted promising starts. On the flip side, he finished just outside the podium at Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway and was pleased with his run at Indiana’s Winchester Speedway given his inexperience at the imposing track. Best of all, he knows the needle is pointed in the right direction.
“You take guys like Kody Swanson and Bobby Santos, and they have been racing Silver Crown cars for years,” he says, “and their teams have a lot of experience. We aren’t a new team, but Billy (Guess) and I have only worked together for a few years, and I think he is learning too as he takes a much bigger role with the team as a crew chief.”
Sure, he would love to race for a living, but short of that, he has found a real home.
“I am having a blast running Silver Crown stuff,” he says, “I love it. The nights seem less stressful, and the events are super fun. It is a longer race, and you don’t have to drive like a maniac. I say that, but it seems like it is always chaos at the drop of the green flag. Nobody is really holding back anymore, that has changed.”
Several years ago, Clouser had an epiphany. He realized that being out of shape may have cost him a chance to win. He was adamant that would never happen again. Now he would love races to go green to checkered and be as demanding as possible because he feels dialed in mentally and physically.
Does he believe he can win at Toledo? Yes, he does. He also knows where his quest for victory must start.
“I know I have to qualify well,” he says, “because it is super hard to pass there even if you are faster. You aren’t going to go from 15th to fifth, and when you get to the front, you just aren't going to roll past those guys.”
In his dream scenario, the entire field will be searching for a way to get around him.
SATURDAY’S RACE DETAILS:
The event will feature the USAC Silver Crown National Championship plus Late Model Sportsman and Factory Stocks. Vintage Race Cars will also be on display.
The USAC pit gate opens/rig parking begins at 2pm Eastern on race day Saturday. The track ticket office opens, and spectator gates open at 4:30pm. USAC Silver Crown practice runs from 4:30-5:15pm. USAC Silver Crown Honest Abe Roofing Qualifying begins at 5:45pm. Parade laps for the vintage cars are slated for 6:35pm. USAC Silver Crown cars and drivers will be called to front stretch at 6:50pm.
Getting closer to showtime, there will be a Beale family introduction, a brief racer reunion, the national anthems starting at 6:50 followed by driver introductions and the Rollie Beale Classic main event just a bit after 7pm.
Tickets are $25, kids 6-12 are $5, while ages 5 and under are free. Add $1 per ticket for online ticket purchases at http://www.toledospeedway.com/. Online ticket sales end at 9pm Eastern on Friday, August 4.