PHOTO: Jessey Mueller captured his first career NASCAR Modified victory at the age of 16 at Devil’s Bowl. Mueller, now 17, looks to do much more in 2012. (Christine Kipphut photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson

OLMSTEDVILLE, N.Y. — Think back to the time when you were seventeen-years-old. Many memories were made during that time. Movies with friends, chasing that crush, attending parties, and working a night and weekend job might be some of the activities that come to mind. And Jessey Mueller is not unlike any other seventeen year old in that aspect.

“I try to fit that in somewhere,” jokes Mueller.

But Mueller is a race winning NASCAR Modified driver, and has his sights set on winning top tiered Modified division championships. Not many seventeen-year-old kids can say that.

As a rookie last year, Mueller made Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, N.Y., and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vt., his home. Mueller had success, recording one win, ten top five finishes, and 15 top ten finishes in 18 starts between both tracks, while finishing second in the season point standings in the NASCAR Modified division at Devil’s Bowl. Mueller also attended the season finale at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and won the Sportsman Modified division feature.

A new season will bring new challenges to Mueller, however, as he will make Devil’s Bowl Speedway one of his homes in 2012, racing his 602 crate engine Sportsman Modified in Devil’s Bowl’s unique 602 versus 358 NASCAR Modified division. Mueller will also make the jump to the DIRTcar 358-Modified division at Airborne Speedway, both which will be relatively new to him. That newness, however, doesn’t waive the young driver’s confidence.

“We expect to win right away [at Airborne],” a confident Mueller said. “I feel we have a pretty good setup and should be able to compete right away against [front running drivers] Patrick [Dupree] and George [Foley]. I’ve been around Pat and his Moody racing team and feel our program is comparable to theirs. I feel we’re going to be able to make it happen. And if we’re not competitive, we’ll do what we have to do to be competitive.”

Mueller finished runner-up in the season standings at Devil’s Bowl to veteran racer Ron Proctor. Over the course of the 2011 season, Proctor offered advice to Mueller. That advice, Mueller feels, made him a better racer.

“On the track, I was a competitor of Ron’s, but off the track, we were friends and we always talked about how I could improve,” said Mueller. “I’m not a professional driver, so I’ll take advice from everyone; I’ll listen and learn. Not many people will listen. Maybe some of the things I’m told don’t work or isn’t right, but I’ll still listen and get something out of it.”

The ultimate goal for Mueller would be to win the respected division championships at both Airborne and Devil’s Bowl. Mueller, however, wants to win one just a bit more than the other.

“I want to go to Charlotte,” Mueller said, referring to the trip to Charlotte, N.C., for the NASCAR Awards Banquet. “The Devil’s Bowl championship is the big one to us.”

Mueller will race his ‘602’ Chevrolet crate engine Modified against the famed 358-engine Modifieds. Mueller tested the concept for new track owner Mike Bruno in October, and walked away from the test feeling confident, albeit having less horsepower than the 358 engine.

“We feel we’ll have an advantage [with the 602],” Mueller said. “During the test, we were really close time wise, just a tenth or two tenths of a second off. They’ve slowed down the 358’s a bit more [in the 2012 rules]. I don’t think we’ll have that big of an advantage, but I feel we’ll have an advantage. And we’re spending less money. We can take that money and spend it in other places in the car. I’m hoping that’s where we’ll be able to beat them.”

The 2012 season for Mueller will begin on Sunday, April 29 at Airborne Speedway for the season opening Econo Lodge 50. The Devil’s Bowl Speedway season will begin on Sunday, May 6.