In the motorsports world these days, at least at the short track level, it seems that a distinct line is drawn between dirt and asphalt. The phrases “asphalt’s for gettin’ there” and “dirt’s for farming” are bandied back and forth between the two sides like verbal grenades. Drivers like Jeff Purvis, who has wins in the most prestigious races on both dirt and asphalt, the World 100 and Snowball Derby, respectively, are now few and far between.
However, Random Lake, Wisconsin’s Brad “J.J.” Mueller is proof that there are a few racers out there still just as capable in each discipline. He doesn’t even have a favorite surface.
“When both cars are running great I love them equally,” he quips.
The two cars Mueller, 45, is referring to are his Dirt Late Model that he races weekly at the Plymouth Dirt Track at the Sheboygan Country Fairgrounds, and his pavement Super Late Model that he runs each Sunday on the high banks at famed Slinger Speedway – home of the historic Slinger Nationals.
“The reason I run Dirt Late Models on Saturday night is because [the track] is close to home and I’ve always had a heart for dirt racing,” he explains. “Growing up so close to Plymouth that’s what I’ve always loved to do.
“I started my asphalt racing back in the mid-90s and if you race at Slinger Speedway once you’ll get bitten – it’s one of the greatest racetracks you’ll ever drive around.”
Mueller’s career began on the dirt at Plymouth in 1987, where he raced Super Stocks and Limited Late Models until 1993. He then bought all of Robbie Reiser’s pavement equipment after Reiser decided to head south, where he ultimately won a Sprint Cup championship as crew chief for Matt Kenseth before becoming general manager at Roush Fenway Racing. Reiser’s father drove for Mueller’s dad for many years in Wisconsin, so the two kids grew up together and remain integral parts of the close-knit Wisconsin racing community.
Mueller focused primarily on his asphalt operation for a decade or so, competing at Slinger – where he won three Late Model titles from 2003–2005 – along with making spot starts in what were then the NASCAR Busch and Camping World Truck Series, as well as with ARCA and the old ASA National Tour. He then built himself another dirt car and ran both dirt and asphalt part-time for a few years in the second half of the 2000s. In 2010 he decided to take the dirt side more seriously and put together a Mastersbilt chassis. For the past five seasons he and his nine-person team at Brad Mueller Racing Enterprises have competed at both Plymouth and Slinger, as well as a number of other area tracks, and won the Plymouth Dirt Track championship in 2011 and 2013.
“I’m proud of every one of our championships we’ve won between Plymouth and Slinger,” Mueller says. “There’s a couple of races I’d like to be able to conquer yet; I’d like to be able to win the Slinger Nationals, which we’ve finished second in many times, and I’d like to probably win another dirt championship this year.”
Mueller owns Mueller Sales and Service which sells cars, trucks, race car trailers, utility trailers and boats among other equipment. He is also raising a family that includes three young kids, which in addition to his racing endeavors makes him a very busy man.
“I’ve got three kids under the age of 13 so I kind of like to stay a little closer to home with the [racing] program,” he says. “As they get a little bit older I might start to travel again. We had dabbled [with touring] and it just got to be too much with our own business and trying to keep stuff going. So we said, ‘you know what, we’ll just scale it back for a little while and just enjoy ourselves.’’’
One of the series that Mueller would like to run if given the opportunity is the Corn Belt Clash, a Midwest sanction for Dirt Late Models in which Mueller has made occasional starts.
He also has many friends at Quarter Master – the driveline company that has long been intertwined with the rich legacy of racing in the Upper Midwest.
“In 20+ years I’ve had all that [Quarter Master] stuff and I have had absolutely zero failures with anything,” he says. “Being in Lake Zurich, Illinois, they’re not too far from us and I like supporting companies that are close by and obviously in the United States.
“Any time I need something I give [general manager] Jeff [Neal] a call and he gets me on the hookup right away.”
Although Quarter Master builds parts for both dirt and pavement, it’s up to the racer to know what to do with them. And the racing can be very different between the two track styles. Amazingly, Mueller seems to have mastered them both—no easy task in today’s world of specialization.
“There are definitely different personalities between asphalt drivers and dirt drivers,” he says. “There’s a little more patience on the asphalt end of it because you have a spotter, which you don’t have on the dirt. That makes it a little more difficult. You have to drive a little bit more by what I call the Braille method. There’s a little more contact on the dirt end of it than versus the asphalt.”
He isn’t fazed by the differences in any racing discipline; in fact he embraces them, as exemplified by a recent trip to Fairley, Iowa, to run a four-cylinder Enduro for a possible $10,000 payday.
“I race just about anything,” Mueller says. “I’ll do anything once.”