Partnership between Mittler Brothers and Bobby Pierce was years in the making
Fans and photographers cluttered in tightly as Bobby Pierce prepared to emerge from the cockpit of the MB Motorsports #63 Chevy Silverado. On pit road, his crew celebrated wildly.
No, he had not won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) event at the famed Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, Ohio). However, in the eyes of his team and the motorsports world, he had accomplished so much more.
He had achieved the impossible.
In his debut in NASCAR competition, the Oakwood, Illinois, pilot had made history. Earlier in the evening, he gave MB Motorsports their first-ever, pole award. A few hours later, after a courageous battle for the lead with eventual winner Christopher Bell, he gave the under-funded team their best-ever NASCAR finish with a 2nd-place run.
While history was technically made on July 22, 2015, the groundwork for this monumental feat actually began 30 years earlier.
Mike Mittler has been a fabricator in some form or fashion for most of his life.
“I’ve always had a strong interest, when it comes to creating things,” the 64-year-old told OneDirt. “I like to visualize products and then make them a reality.”
Mike got his start working at a machine shop near his Missouri home. The proprietor of the company was an absentee owner and pretty well gave Mittler the run of the place. However, there was one area the company head didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mike.
“I wanted to hire my youngest brother, Paul, because I knew he would be a value to the company,” recalls Mittler. “However, the owner of the company was against it. I still hired Paul, which really made the owner mad at me.”
With a laugh he concludes by noting, “So it wasn’t much after that deal that Paul and I decided to venture on our own, and I guess you can say the rest is history.”
In 1980, the inaugural version of Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool was born. The company’s humble beginnings began in a rented, 2,500-square foot building in Missouri, where the duo first introduced their Hydraulic Tubing Notcher.
“While I never actually drove a race car, I was always fascinated by what made them tick,” said Mike Mittler. “Even more, I loved the idea of what it took to build them, and that’s really what spurred my drive to design machinery and tools.”
To gain exposure for their products, the Mittler Brothers knew they needed to hit tradeshows early and often. This is where fate would intervene for the Mittler family and the Pierce family.
“There wasn’t much happening in the winter months for the most part, but they started having this tradeshow and auction put on by Dave Dayton and Charlie Sentman around Thanksgiving each year in Indianapolis,” Mike recollects. “Pretty much everybody who was anybody in the area went to it, so we started setting up a booth at it. This is where, I first met Bob Pierce in 1985.”
Pierce was a Dirt Late Model ace from Danville, Illinois, who burned up tracks across the country. Like most racers of the time, he built most of his own stuff, so he was always looking for an edge.
“Building stuff was a big challenge back then,” notes Pierce. “It’s not like now, where you can just call up your local speed shop and have whatever you need within a day or so. Back then if we wanted it, most times we had to make it ourselves.”
A chance meeting with Mike Mittler at the tradeshow in Indianapolis opened Pierce’s eyes to the possibilities of what the future could hold.
“I’m walking down the aisle, and I come up on their booth and just see some really eye-catching tools, so I stopped and talked,” Pierce remembers. “Two things I noticed immediately. One was that Mike was a good talker, just like me. The second thing I picked up on was the fact that this guy really knew his stuff. We bounced a lot of ideas off each other, and from that moment I guess you could say we became friends.”
While Pierce had a passion for the dirt racing side of things, it was asphalt that always appealed to Mike Mittler.
“That might be one reason that Bob and I always hit it off,” Mike comments. “We both loved racing, but on different ends of the spectrum. That allowed us to give each other ideas, and in a way we kind of fed off each other in that way.”
Over the next few years, Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool continued to grow, while Bob Pierce Race Cars was preparing to become a reality.
“Around 1990, I started looking more at building complete cars, and that’s when I officially bought my first machine from Mittler Brothers,” said Pierce. “It was a wall-mounted air-notcher, and it was really a game changer for me because until that point, I was creating my notches with a flat grinder. Looking back, it’s amazing that I accomplished anything that way.
By 1996, Pierce went full bore into his company, Bob Pierce Race Cars, where he built Dirt Late Models and Dirt Modifieds, and Mittler Brothers was along for the ride.
With a laugh Mike notes, “Bob would call me pretty frequently and say, ‘I just bought this used Mittler Brothers machine or this Mittler Brothers tool.’ Bob always said that one or another he would find a way to stock his chassis shop with our machinery.”
While Bob and Mike enjoyed talking about new technology each year at the annual Thanksgiving tradeshow in Indianapolis, they would also joke frequently with one another. A running joke would include Bob’s son, Bobby, who was born in November 1996.
“Bob knew that we had started one of the first NASCAR Truck teams with MB Motorsports in 1995, when that series was created,” said Mittler. “From the time that Bobby was a toddler, he would bring him by the booth in Indianapolis and say, ‘One day I know you’re going to have my boy drive your truck.’ I would always laugh and respond, ‘Absolutely.’”
For Mike Mittler, the opportunity to start MB Motorsports was a dream come true.
He notes, “When they announced that NASCAR was introducing this new series that featured trucks, I got pretty excited. Again, I had never had a desire to drive, but I loved working on race cars to make them faster. The costs affiliated with this deal was something that we could reasonably afford, so MB Motorsports was born.”
While MB Motorsports didn’t have the major funding many of the other teams had, it did have the knowledge of Mike and Paul Mittler to propel it. They found ways to do more with less. Twenty-one years later, they are the sole-surviving original team in the series. Their program has given several notable drivers their NASCAR start. Racers like Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, and Kenny Irwin all saw their careers launched with MB Motorsports. In late 2014, MB Motorsports became more acquainted with their next rising star.
“We were at PRI in Indianapolis in December 2014, and Bob (Pierce) stops by our booth and says, ‘We’ve got to get something together for Eldora for next year with my son, Bobby,’” remembers Mittler. “Now, keep in mind that in my mind, Bobby is still this tiny kid.”
“I said, ‘I’m not sure if he’s ready yet Bob’, and next thing I know Bobby walks into the booth, and I barely recognized him. He had grown into a strong, young man.”
The Pierce family and MB Motorsports worked through the details over the next few months. Before long, it was made official Bobby would make his NASCAR racing debut at Eldora Speedway in July 2015.
“This was all a dream come true to learn that I was finally getting my first chance at a NASCAR ride,” Bobby recollects. “I had listened to my dad and Mike joke for years about me driving their truck, and for it to become a reality was totally surreal. I was both excited and a nervous wreck all rolled together because I wanted to do well.”
As the year wore on and the date of the race approached, Bobby may have battled butterflies, but Mike Mittler had no worries.
“We went and tested with Bobby, and his composure in the truck was evident from the start. Furthermore, you could just see in his eyes that desire to compete and to always find a way to be better. I knew he would do well at Eldora, but I would be lying if I said that I knew just how well.”
On July 22, 2015, Bobby Pierce embarked on his maiden voyage into NASCAR competition. His initiation came at a track he knew quite well. Albeit in limited starts, Bobby had enjoyed considerable success at the 1/2-mile dirt confines of Tony Stewart’s Eldora Speedway. His accolades at the facility included battling at the front of the pack in Dirt Late Model’s most-prestigious race, the World 100.
Pierce drew the second spot for qualifying, and while some thought the track might be a little slow initially, the then 18-year-old proved them all wrong. He circled the oval with a best speed of 86.889 mph, which was more than 2 mph faster than the runner-up in qualifying. With this feat, Bobby Pierce made history as the first driver in the history of MB Motorsports to win the pole.
“Honestly I was so pumped after setting fast time that I would’ve probably been happy to just call it a night right there,” laughed Pierce, now 19.
He was far from done though. He won his qualifying race to officially earn the pole position for the finale. He led 39 of the 154 laps and despite body damage on the rear of his truck, he challenged race winner Christopher Bell all the way to the checkered flag. With a runner-up performance, Pierce claimed the best NCTWS finish for MB Motorsports in its 20-year history.
“It was definitely like a dream,” remembers Pierce. “As the race goes on, you just keep thinking there’s no way I’m going to make it in the Top 5 until the checkered flag because these are NASCAR guys, and their experience is eventually going to get me. But it never did. We held our own, and it was an incredible moment that really didn’t hit me until a few days later, while I was relaxing at home.”
Mike Mittler’s memories of the moment are quite special.
“I remember looking over at Bob (Pierce) with tears in my eyes, and he’s got tears in his eyes. On this day, it was definitely an underdog story, and it’s what racing is all about.”
So much history was made on this day by Bobby Pierce and Mittler Brothers, but again this path to history was set in motion a dozen years before the younger Pierce was even born. It began with a random conversation at a random tradeshow in Indiana between two men with a passion for making things go fast.
Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool has now been in business for longer than 35 years. The company has grown to include more than 1,000 different variations of machines, tools, and parts. From major fabrication shops, who employee dozens of employees, to weekend warriors who work in their garage, the company provides all of the tools needed to keep cars going fast.
For Mike Mittler, his recipe for success is simple, yet straight-forward.
“Running a business is just like racing. You have to take the good with the bad and always forge ahead. Most importantly, never forget that the secret to success is great people.”