WILSON - During a lengthy hiatus from offroad racing, Mark Kleiman, of Wilson, never forgot his supporters. He's thankful they stuck by him all this time.
"Nine years have gone by and I've learned to take advantage of opportunities, not people," Kleiman said. "I want to thank all the fans for supporting me over the years to get back in it. I'm glad to be back."
Kleiman who formerly raced in the TRAXXIS TORC Sportsman Stock Class (now known as the Super Stock Class) nearly a decade ago, recently made his triumphant return on April 12-13 at Dodge City Raceway in Kansas.
Local TORC?Series driver Mark Kleiman, of Wilson, races in his #42 Ford Ranger at Dodge City Raceway in Kansas on April 13. Kleiman took fourth place in the PRO-Light series race.
Kleiman is now a professional driver in the PRO-Light Class and it didn't take long for him to make a splash. He took fourth place in only his second race.
"I had the podium spot for a little while, I just let my guard down," he said. "Learning the truck is new, it's much different from the truck I had before."
Kleiman said the high finish was improbable considering the circumstances. He had no opportunity to test the truck due to the weather conditions of the Upper Peninsula. The only time he got with the truck before the race was a couple of trips up and down the road in front of his house before the truck was loaded up for the 18-hour trip to the TORC season opener in Kansas.
"I had absolutely no practice before I got there. The tires had already been worn but Cody (son and crew chief) stepped up and did some tricks on the tires and made it come to life," he said. "I saved the tires as much as I could for the second half of that race. There's some things you have to get used to, with the mandatory caution flag, radios I've never used before, different helmets, but it's a good truck. It feels like it will be competitive. Hopefully it will stay together.
"Finishing fourth was a higher goal than I had set for myself. I was hoping to finish mid-pack. Out of 14 trucks, I was hoping to come in seventh. Now I'm in a three-way tie for fifth place (in the standings). That is testimony in itself what kind of competition this class will be."
Kleiman was a three-time champion in his class before taking a nine-year break from the sport. Through it all, he always had the goal of becoming a professional driver.
"It was a lack of funding mostly," Kleiman said of the hiatus. "I had a good record when I raced before, but I could never land that sponsorship. Taking time off was a step back to see what we could do differently. Unfortunately I had some health issues in the meantime, which pushed things back further.
"We approached things a little differently. The sponsors you see on the truck aren't necessarily people that contributed funding, but equipment we purchased. It's loyalty. Standing behind the product they produced. It's a thank you to what they've done."
Kleiman has a tight knit crew made up of volunteers that also help with his business at Kleiman Forest Products.
"My son Cody is the crew chief and he's doing a fantastic job. My brother Brian drives a truck for me, hauling, and my brother Larry is the primary harvester operator. He does a fantastic job and does a great job on the truck," said Kleiman. "It's a team. We want to be an example to others that it takes teamwork. The message is to thank all the companies and people we've worked with. I also want to give special thanks to all the drivers I competed with over the weekend. They seem to be aggressive yet courteous. There were no yellow flags due to rough driving."
After being away from the sport for nine years, Kleiman is grateful to be back but acknowledged that this season will mainly be devoted to learning the ropes.
"This season is basically a training season, a learning season. I think we're on the right track. I just want to sharpen my skills and dial the truck in and learn the tracks. I want to represent my people on the truck in good fashion and hopefully create some numbers that we can possibly do something with in the future," he said.
"This season will make for good competitive racing. If you're having a good weekend, you could be the one on the podium. There's lots of young drivers and it's going to be a lot of fun."
For more information on Mark Kleiman racing, see his facebook page at Mark Kleiman Off-Road Racing.