Whether it’s coaching basketball or racing, Mintz loves to compete
Craig Mintz sees nothing unusual about his hobby.
Some people like to fish or hunt. Others go in for woodcrafting or recreational sports.
The 33-year-old Gibsonburg native and Fostoria High girls basketball coach also dabbles in 410 sprint car racing.
He likes going fast, diving into and sliding around corners, and barreling down straightaways. Among other things.
“It’s like a drug. I hate saying it, but it is addicting. The speed, the danger, but also the family aspect of it. I’ve made more friends racing than what I did in high school and college,” he said.
“It’s an extreme hobby. But if you take the extreme part out of it, it’s no different from bowling or golf or something that you’re passionate about,” Mintz said. “I just happen to be passionate about a sport that’s very dangerous””
He comes by it naturally.
His father was a motocross racer and Mintz recalls going to races when he was as young as 4 or 5. He quickly graduated from spectator to racer, taking the wheel in go-karts by age 6.
“You can say it’s been in the blood for awhile,” he said.
He moved up to sprint cars a few years later, starting out in the 305s when he was 15 before advancing to the 410s two years later.
The numbers associated with sprint cars — 305, 360 and 410 — denote the cubic inch size of the engine used in each class. The 305 is the entry level, the 360 is the mid-range and the 410 is the premier.
For the uninitiated, sprint cars are also the ones with the wings on top of them. Well, some of them.
Mintz said having wings varies by region — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Iowa have them, Indiana does not, and California offers both types.
The wings provide downforce for the cars so they can go faster than without them.
“We get the misconception that we’re just a bunch of hillbillies that race on dirt in the middle of a field,” Mintz said. “But when it comes down to it, there’s a lot of scientific stuff and a lot of breakdowns (of data).”
Mintz said his journey to the 410s is nothing new. He said most local drivers have regular jobs and race on the weekends, while a few others are more intense about it.
“They can be anywhere from an oil rig guy to guys that own die casting places to people that own John Deere places. It’s kind of one of those goofy things,” said Mintz, who works at the Bradner businesses of Real Geese Decoys and Design Graphics Group, along with coaching. “But the All Stars and World of Outlaws guys, those guys do it for a living. When they fill out their taxes, it says professional race car driver on it. That’s what they do.”
He said some drivers want to work up to that, or even progress to NASCAR.
Mintz said Christopher Bell went from local sprint car races to NASCAR, while Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne all raced at Attica Raceway Park and Fremont Speedway.
“I remember racing with Kasey when he was young. Tony still races (sprint cars). It’s kind of cool. It shows that our local area, those guys came here to race,” Mintz said.
“It’s pretty cool that they enjoy coming to our area to race because our facilities are top notch,” he said.
Mintz now mainly races 15 to 20 times a season at nearby Attica and Fremont, with some trips to other Ohio tracks, as well as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
In the past, he said he took part in as many 60 races in a season, but has curtailed that now that he has a wife and three children along with coaching basketball.
Even then, he said it takes a lot of planning and understanding from all involved for him to be able to balance family, work, racing and coaching.
“You’ve got to have a great wife. I’ve always said ‘behind every good man is a great wife.’ My wife (Ashley) is very understanding, of being able to balance the kids and take them here and there,” he said. “She knows I’m very passionate about everything I do; I don’t do anything that I’m not passionate about or I’m not going to do everything 100 percent.
“It is difficult, there are times I can’t do everything, so that’s why I’ve kind of eased back on my racing a little bit,” he said.
Mintz added his assistant coaches and race team crew members also lend a hand, while he tries to schedule things out far enough in advance to avoid conflicts, such as summer workouts and camps for the basketball team.
But that doesn’t always mean there aren’t challenges.
Just the weekly schedule for the race crew can be daunting.
Monday is wash day from the weekend’s racing.
Tuesday through Thursday night, the crew puts roughly 20 hours of maintenance work into the car.
Friday, they leave the shop around 3:30 p.m. to get to Attica, where the gates open at 5 p.m.
Then comes qualifying and feature racing, with the crew leaving around 11 or 11:30 p.m. They’ll try to stop at a car wash along the way, getting home around 1 or 2 a.m.
Saturday is pretty much a repeat of Friday, only they’ll head to Fremont. They tend to return home a bit earlier since Fremont is closer than Attica for them.
Sunday is a mandatory day off since the crew have families and regular jobs, Mintz said.
“We have a pact on our race team that we do not work on Sundays,” he said. “They don’t get paid to work on my race car or work with us, so I force them to spend a little time at home.”
One of the few changes from that schedule is if the team takes part in Ohio Sprint Speedweek.
The “week” is actually nine straight days of racing, held at various tracks across the state.
This year’s event ran June 14-22 with races at Attica, Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Muskingum County Speedway in Zanesville, Wayne County Speedway in Orrville (two separate race dates), Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Atomic Speedway in Chillicothe, Mansfield Motorspeedway in Mansfield, and Limaland Motorsports Park in Lima.
Mintz said the days of the week are “owned” by the race tracks for Ohio Sprint Speedweek — each track has a specific night when only it hosts racing during the event.
“Every night is a new track. We crisscross (the state),” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for the average fan because you’ll be in eastern Ohio one night and you’ll drive to southern Ohio, then you’ll drive up to northwestern Ohio and then the next night you’ll drive back to eastern Ohio to a different race track.
“It’s a grueling week. You’re going on lack of sleep each night and three to four hours of travel,” he said. “Most of the time you’re working on race cars in a Walmart parking lot on the pavement in the sun.”
No matter where you race, it can get pricey. Mintz said he figures it costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per race.
“Some nights it’s less and sometimes you destroy a race car and it’s much more,” he said.
But it can also be rewarding.
Mintz is the three-time track champ at Fremont (2010, 2012, 2018), two-time track champ at Attica (2012, 2013), and three-time FAST — Fremont/Attica Sprint Title — series champ (2009, 2013, 2018) on races split between the tracks in Attica and Fremont.
And all that helps with the offseason work of recruiting sponsors. He usually handles that from late November through early December, trying to meet with current and prospective sponsors before they finalize their budgets for the upcoming year.
“If you can show success, it definitely helps. But more of it is just your relationships with people and being able to show them that their dollar is going to go further than what it would be, say, on a billboard,” Mintz said.
“Especially if they enjoy racing, you can show them what it buys you. You can show them how it helps you,” he said. “You’re talking a couple thousand people a weekend you’re going to be in front of. That is a different demographic than what a billboard is going to get.”
Mintz said racing, like basketball, is a team sport, where success comes from working together.
“I’ve been blessed with a good group of guys to help me and a good group of guys that before have helped me have the success I’ve had, but I know the amount of work that it takes to do it,” he said. “You can translate that to basketball, to success, but success doesn’t come without work.”
That latter part is a message he says he tries to pass along to his basketball players.
“Sometimes the kids understand (my love for racing), but some of them don’t know what a race car is,” he said. “But the ones that do always ask the question ‘why?’ And it’s always hard to get out of once you’re in it because you enjoy it so much.
“I’m a huge competitor, whether it’s Monopoly or basketball or racing or anything like that,” Mintz said. “I love to compete.”