Asphalt Phemon Jessey Mueller Now A Star On Dirt
Story By: Tom Burrows
Photos By: Dave Dalesandro/RacersGuide.com
MALTA, NY – Imagine you’re the owner of a thoroughbred race horse. The horse takes a liking to turf and is racking up some impressive wins at a young age.
But you know the big money and the prestige are in dirt track racing, so you switch surfaces. Everything you knew about turf racing is now out the window, and there’s a whole new learning curve.
But, slowly and surely, the horse adapts to dirt, and finally gets back into the winner’s circle, beating some of the best competitors in the sport.
That also sounds like a synopsis of Jessey Mueller’s racing career.
After carving out a very successful career as an asphalt modified driver, Mueller wanted to challenge the big boys, and switched to dirt in 2015. It took him four years before he finally got back into victory lane, at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on June 22 last year, and in 2019, the 24-year-old driver from Olmstedville, N.Y. may very well turn into one of the hottest drivers on dirt.
“We thought we were going to set the world on fire,” said Mueller when asked about his switch from asphalt to dirt. “We got a rude awakening. This (dirt) is a whole different deal.”
But in 2019, with three new DKM Cyclone chassis in his shop, it looks like the roller-coaster ride that Mueller has been on is headed back up.
His 2019 season is already under way, as he hauled to Florida to compete in the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia County Speedway. He qualified for all four features, finishing 17th, sixth, 13th and 12th.
“You always want to win, but knowing who I was going to be racing against down there, I was just hoping to finish in the top five,” Mueller said. “The car was fast all week and I had some decent runs, and it gave me a good head start on the season.”
Although Mueller’s early racing years were spent on a snowmobile, he always wanted to get behind the wheel of a modified. He was a frequent spectator at both Albany-Saratoga and Devil’s Bowl Speedway, and always dreamed of racing against legends like Brett Hearn and Ken Tremont Jr.
“I always wanted to race, but I never had an in with anyone who would help me out,” he said.
But he finally got that big break at the tail end of the 2010 season, when he competed in a race for dirt-style sportsman/modifieds on the asphalt at the Twin State Fall Challenge in October.
“In my first race, I finished second at Twin State Speedway in New Hampshire,” he said. “It’s been a roller-coaster from there.”
As a 16-year-old rookie, Mueller won his first asphalt modified feature at Devil’s Bowl on July 24, 2011, his first of 11 career wins at the Vermont track. He also had a lot of success at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, and also won races at Thunder Road in Vermont and Stafford Springs in Connecticut. His 2013 Northern Modified Challenge Series victory at Thunder Road came when he was driving with a broken bone in his arm because of a snowmobile accident during the previous winter
His most impressive win came in the C.J. Richards Memorial at Devil’s Bowl in 2014, He blew the motor in his car during qualifying, but the Mueller team purchased another motor at the track, and took about an hour and a half to switch engines. Mueller then went out and won the feature, sending the packed stands into a frenzy.
After an 11-win season, which included winning the Northern Modified Challenge Series title, in 2014, Mueller decided to make the switch to dirt.
The glory days were quickly over.
Racing at both Albany-Saratoga and Fonda Speedway, Mueller struggled to even finish in the top 10. In 2015, he finished in the top 10 just six times, with his best finishes a pair of fifths at Fonda.
But little by little, he got his confidence back. In 2016, he had his first runner-up finish at Albany-Saratoga, crossing the finish line behind Stewart Friesen. The next season, he was a consistent top-10 car at the historic Malta track, and ended the year with a third, a fourth, a fifth and a sixth – a sign of things to come
Then, on June 22 last year, all the sweat and hard work paid off, when Mueller finally took his first checkered flag at Albany-Saratoga. His two idols, Hearn and Tremont, finished behind him, in fourth and fifth. Later in the year, he also won a small block race in an edge-of-your-seat battle with Bobby Varin, and finished sixth in the final modified point standings.
He finished 2018 with five victories overall, and wants to at least double that number this season.
“I think we could have won more races last year,” he said. “I had a couple of seconds, and made some mistakes in a couple of other races I think I could have won.”
Jessey Mueller is also a throwback. He would have been right at home in the 1970s, when drivers also did the majority of the work on their cars.
“I’m in the garage every day,” said Mueller, who also works for his family’s towing business. “It’s just me, my dad and usually one other guy in the shop, but I do 90 percent of the work on the cars.
“When I started, I didn’t know a darn thing. I didn’t ever know how to change a tire, and I did a lot of things wrong. It took a lot of screwing up to get to where we are today. We learned things the hard way.”
He’ll do even more learning in 2019. Besides racing at Albany-Saratoga and Airborne, which switched back to dirt two years ago, Mueller wants to spend some Sundays at Utica-Rome Speedway (“if I can find the time.”) and he hopes to run three-quarters, if not all, of the Super DIRT big block series.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, but my family is 100 percent behind me,”” said Mueller. “We have a lot of fun racing.”
And fans at Albany-Saratoga Speedway and throughout the Northeast are going to have a lot of fun watching the country boy with the heavy right foot as he continues to make his mark as a dirt track star.