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What Drag Racing Reveals About Humanity: Meet Mark Menscer

Red racecar speeding away.
Mark Menscer
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Mark Menscer likes living between worlds. The “shock nerd” might spend the day chumming it up at a race track before heading home for a solitary night spent photographing the remains of a supernova. The Fayetteville native points to his unique upbringing for sparking his curiosity and wide-ranging interests.

Menscer was raised on a diet of NASCAR, blues guitar, horse showings and grunt work at the family trucking business. His father, a Vietnam veteran, drove him to strive for perfection in a variety of fields. As a teenager, Menscer professionally toured the Blues circuit, opening for acts like B.B. King and Patti Labelle.
 

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Credit Mark Menscer
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One of the astrophotographs Menscer took of the Milky Way contrasted with light pollution.

But the ego stroke and constant distractions reached a peak and Menscer dropped out of high school. He ended up working a string of jobs that led to running an exotic animal rescue business and eventually caring for a Siberian Tiger and other big cats. That unconditional love of animals persists today. He rears a herd of Hereford cattle at Post Rock Farms and assists his father’s pursuit of breeding and caring for racing horses in a more humane way. Meanwhile, he's helping other small farmers reach their local market through his non-profit Pasture to Pantry.

In the auto racing world, Menscer secured his fame with an innovative shock design he developed while dirt track racing. As the CEO of Menscer Motorsports, he gets flown all over the world to redesign the suspension in millionaires’ hobby cars. Amusingly enough, he admits to not being a good driver,and prefers dealing with cars at a stand-still. Despite his renown in the race car industry, Menscer is highly critical of the sport’s glut.

But he sees no end to humans wanting to push the limits of speed, so Menscer invests in causes that slow society down, namely farmer-driven food systems. Mark Menscer shares his story and philosophy with Host Frank Stasio.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On his grandfather’s history in racing:

They didn't really refer to themselves as NASCAR. They were just local good old boys dirt track racing. I mean the stories that they would tell about this beat-up, dilapidated Ford with no fenders, and they'd go to the junkyard and buy a snow tire and put it on the right rear corner so it would get more traction going around when they were bouncing through the mud out there. But he was racing at the time with the Earnhardts and the Pettys and Jared [Irvan] and people that went on to be very famous and well known in the sport. But at the time, you know it was just good old boys having a good time.
 

Sure enough, this guy has got a tiger.

On why he started an exotic animal rescue business:

This is no lie … I'm sitting in the shop one day and a guy shows up and orders all this hay and he says it's bedding for his tiger. You gotta be kidding me ... So, I get the order process, take the payment, load the truck and take it out there and deliver it. And sure enough, this guy has got a tiger. He's got a big cinderblock enclosure and a compound, and he's telling me about, you know, how he works with these animals and does photo shoots and movie stuff and TV commercials and all this sort of thing, and I'm absolutely fascinated. 

Fast forward another couple of months, the same guy shows up with a pair of baby lions, a brother and a sister. [He] walks in the door of the shop, plunks them down on the floor, disappears, comes back with a big jug of formula and says: I've got some business to attend to today. You're going to babysit these things.

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Credit Mark Menscer
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Though his work involves speed, Menscer advocates for slowing down the economy and turning towards local sustainability.

On innovating suspension design in drag racing:

We took dirt, late-model suspension ideas and made traction for drag racing … So the initial problem that we were trying to solve was how to make as much traction with this little tiny tire as possible.
 

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Credit Courtesy of Mark Menscer
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Courtesy of Mark Menscer
Menscer caring for a calf at Post Rock Farms

The symptom of that was we started flipping over backwards. We made so much traction, and now we could pick the front end of the car up. And that presented a whole new set of challenges — or opportunities for businessman, however you want to look at that.

So we started to develop a way to valve the front shocks and the front struts to create an issue of timing so that the back of the car started to rise before the front of the car started to rise. And then we could use the shock absorber — tuning the damper, tuning to time out the rate of rise between the rear and the front of the car, so that essentially the back of the car would drive over the front of the car instead of under the front, creating that wheelie situation.

Note: This program originally aired January 6, 2020

 

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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