Not every driver fulfills the dream

Published August 5, 2006

GREENFIELD, Ind. - Mark Dismore emerges from an aisle of neatly binned parts, one hand brimming with racing belts, the other with plastic tie cords. A caller on hold is looking for Power Plus motor oil for his shifter cart. A man in a cut-off T-shirt has pulled into Comet Kart Sales alongside rural Route 40 looking for some sundry part he broke Saturday night careening around a local bullring.

"You going to pave that other part of the track so I can bring up my TQ Midget?" he asks Dismore.

"Heck no," Dismore responds. "The price of asphalt is crazy right now."

It's another busy if not mundane day at the shop Dismore's family has run in some fashion for decades, where he and his father built the car in which he ran the 1992 Indianapolis 500. It's the home to lots of memories since Emerson "Diz" Dismore died in 2003 of prostate cancer.

No one would know Mark Dismore, 49, had raced in open wheel's highest divisions for parts of three decades, not unless they had grown up around these parts and were steeped in the lore of Indiana boys who grow up dreaming of racing at "the Speedway."

Not unless they looked behind the door to his office, where the Texas-shaped stone trophy from his only win - in the Indy Racing League race in Fort Worth in 1999 - serves as a doorstop.

Sometimes it's hard for Dismore to look at the trophy. Too many reminders of what could have been. If only he'd been born about a decade later . . .

"I think I'd still be working (in racing)," he said, moving a box of pistons across the counter.

Working in NASCAR, maybe, earning a good living like Tony Stewart. He was another Indiana kid in whom Dismore and his father saw some talent back in the 1980s and helped in a carting pursuit that led to a career in racing, an IRL and two Nextel Cup championships. And a precious victory last summer at "the Speedway" in the Brickyard 400.

Dismore's eyes fix on the thought, and then, just like he did when his racing career ended in a shoddy IRL ride with Sam Schmidt in 2002, he moved on. He is, ultimately, happy he said. And it was never about the money.

But he can't help but wonder what would have happened had he forsaken his dreams of open wheel and IMS - NASCAR did not race there until 1994 - and attempted to switch to NASCAR like Stewart.

"Maybe at that point in time I should have gotten in a car and driven to North Carolina," he said.

But Dismore didn't, and the sport passed him by. He became another guy who maybe could have done it, but never got the chance to earn the riches as drivers his age, such as Sterling Marlin or Ricky Rudd, who still race in Nextel Cup.

And he's not alone, said Stewart, who got his first Midget car ride because of Dismore.

"I don't feel like we're in an elite group of people," Stewart said of Nextel Cup drivers. "I think there's thousands of drivers across the country that have the talent, there's always only going to be 43 guys that make the race on Sunday.

"It's getting harder and harder each year to get those opportunities."

Dismore and his family stretched itself thin trying to get him back in the game after a crash at IMS before the 1991 Indy 500 left him with multiple fractures, including a broken neck. He said his father came up with $100,000 to clinch the deal with Sam Schmidt Racing, to get him into the 1992 Indy 500.

"We got with a team that had never been there, which is stupid twice. We never had a wreck or nothing, but we barely missed the show," Dismore said.

"We worked on it back in the shop at this place. We did the whole deal out of here and almost made it."

As a former rookie of the year and 1990 champion in CART's developmental series, he earned a test and then a ride in Dan Gurney's sports car team, and co-drove the winning entry at the 1993 24 Hours of Daytona.

Dismore, the all-time wins leader of Champ Car's developmental series, never was able to latch back on full-time and by the mid-'90s was becoming an old man.

"I wasn't a kid, and the whole 'Doogie Howser' syndrome started," he said. "Everybody wanted a kid, and I wasn't a kid. I don't think I got into an IndyCar until I was 33 or 34, so it's not like I exactly got an early start on this whole deal. I was busy working in the family business here and we weren't rich, never were rich."

Bouncing between teams, he eventually ran 62 CART/IRL races.

Dismore's last real shot at winning at Indianapolis came in 2001 when Kelley Racing gave him a car in which he started fourth and led 29 laps. He led when he pitted on Lap 90, but finished 16th when his car stalled under caution on Lap 93. Though he would try again in 2002 in a poor Sam Schmidt entry, his dreams were, in essence, dashed.

"It was going to happen," he said of a 2001 Indy 500 win. "That's the part that really bums me out, because I wanted to stick a big old knife through the heart of that joint because it busted my butt. And my dad was still alive at that point ... God, it would have been awesome."

It didn't happen for Steve Kinser either.

The burly Indianan became a legend racing in the Midwestern dirt circuit, and, at 52, stands as the most successful sprint car driver ever, a 20-time World of Outlaws champion and a winner of more than 500 races.

Kinser actually attempted to jump to stock car racing in 1995, but struggled to find the feel on asphalt - averaging a 35th-place finish in five starts - and returned to the dirt.

"I feel, for guys like one of my biggest heroes, Steve Kinser," said four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Indiana.

"When he came into this series, he came straight into Cup, and I wish he could have gone through the Busch Grand National Series. Because when you're that big of a name and you get that opportunity, it's so hard for you to step back and go through those steps again because you've already made it to the top and you feel like you've got to stay there."

Pointing out favorite pictures of cars under a shelf crammed with trophies, Dismore laughs as he spies his only picture of Stewart, at 15, skinny, with a gnarly mullet-like do. Still friends with his protg and other racers, he can see what the dream looks like, but doesn't live it.

"I don't want to second-guess what I did," he half-smiled. "It would make me a miserable person if I did, I guess. It'd be just a lot easier to say that's what I did and live with it."

And keep moving on.

"This place is a lot scarier than a loose race car," he laughed, gesturing to the counter.

"You can go broke here. Worse thing that can happen in a race car is you get killed."