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15-year-old Brendan Mullen has an early start in racing sprint cars at RCS

Brendan Mullen sits on the front of his sprint car Friday night at River Cities Speedway after taking fourth in his heat race. Mullen finished 10th in the feature. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald 1 / 2
Grand Forks racer Brendan Mullen races against Tom Egeland (left) and Brayden Pengilly (right) in Friday's NOSA sprint heat race at River Cities Speedway. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald 2 / 2

In April, Brendan Mullen turned 15 --  the age when a lot of teen-agers get their driver’s license.

Even though he’s well aware of the speed limit, “I already got a speeding ticket,” said Mullen. “I guess that has to happen once.”

More appropriately, he’s also been on the gas at River Cities Speedway -- where speed is accepted and encouraged.

Mullen raced in a 410 sprint at RCS on Friday night for the first time this season, racing side-by-side against drivers twice and three times his age and also on a quarter-mile track known for its speed and high-banked corners.

Teens have raced a number of times before at RCS, known as The Bullring. But it’s rare when a 15-year-old climbs into a 900-horsepower sprint car and competes against the likes of Wade Nygaard and Mark Dobmeier -- drivers with more than 20 years of experience and who are two of the winningest drivers in the Upper Midwest.

Mullen has raced a 360 sprint a handful of times this season. But he was in the big car Friday night and finished a respectable 10th in a field of 18 cars. At one point, he was in seventh place.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Mullen. “I wish I could have stayed up front a little longer.”

Mullen grew up around race cars. His grandfather, Bob Mullen, introduced him to racing. At age 8, Brendan was racing go-karts. Later, he was racing a lightning sprint, which he has at times this season.

Then came the 360 sprint earlier this season and now the 410.

He’s already had to handle a few tough nights this season -- flipping twice in the 360.

Is there any apprehension climbing into a sprint car for the 15-year-old?

“Fear is part of the fun,” he said. But he does admit his mom, Heather, and grandmother, Joan, get nervous when he races.

His teammate is Nygaard, the Grand Forks driver who racked up another feature win Friday night at RCS.

Nygaard is in his 28th season of racing a sprint. He’s able to judge talent and said he sees something special in his much younger teammate.

“Brendan is going to be awesome,” said Nygaard. “He’s 15 and he’s not afraid to gas it. He has all of us helping him. He listens really well; he’s a well-mannered, respectful young man, unlike a lot of kids these days.

“And he’s really smart. I’ll bet you, within two years, he’ll be winning races. Maybe even this year.”

The 15-year-old, however, has more than racing on his schedule.

The sophomore-to-be also plays hockey at Red River and will miss two or three nights of racing in the next few weeks as he’s headed to a USA Hockey development camp in New York.

His passion between the sports is split.

“I don’t think I could pick between the two,” he said. “Luckily, they’re in different seasons.”

Roughly half the 2018 race season is in the books. For Mullen, he wants to keep progressing against drivers that have raced thousands of laps during their careers.

“We’re getting better every week,” said Mullen, who was scheduled to race a NOSA show in Greenbush, Minn., on Saturday night. “We’re hoping for more speed.”

Wayne Nelson
Nelson is the sports editor of the Herald
(701) 780-1268
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