ORANGE GROVE, Texas — As the new season kicks off in earnest around the state, some fresh new faces are making their presence known in Victory Lane. While some of the veterans have already won, a few young guns are starting their year with big speed.
For 22-year-old South Texas racer Mason Castaneda, winning last Saturday's Factory Stock feature at South Texas Race Ranch was huge. Last year, he had one win, eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
He's found that consistency in performance and overall speed that eludes some racers.
“We did a lot of homework on the car during the off-season,” Castaneda said. “I talked to some of my buddies who run Factory Stock, and we bounced some ideas around about new setups. We tried some different things, and some of them worked out.
“We went to the practice session last Friday, and I made a lot of laps. I tried a lot of things, and we hit on something good. It made a big difference, and we stuck with it. The track was pretty similar on Saturday to the way it was in Friday night's practice. That is unusual, but it helped us out this time.”
While he may be young, Castaneda already has a lot of seat time in a variety of race cars.
“I started back in 2008 racing Karts at South Texas Speedway when I was six or seven years old,” he explained. “I did that for a while, then stepped away from the sport. I got back into it in 2014 driving an EMod. I jumped over to a Pure Stock in 2016, then I hopped into a Limited Modified in 2019.
“In 2022, I made the move to Factory Stock and here we are today. It's kind of weird how it all began, and a big coincidence at the same time. When I was an infant, my Dad and my Stepdad used to race in Street Stocks together in Corpus. I'd say my Dad got me hooked, and it was all over from there.”
One of Castaneda's career highlights came in the form of a comeback from injury. It took a big effort.
“I tore my ACL but didn't realize it at first,” he explained. “They one day I jumped off my porch and my knee just buckled. It took a lot of work in physical therapy, but I pulled it off. I practiced getting in and out of the car, which helped. Three weeks later, I went out and won the feature.
“I've finished second to some of the top drivers out there, but I'd have to say that comeback from a torn ACL was a career highlight to date. I was fortunate to heal from that and get right back in a race car.”
It's no secret that South Texas is home to some of the hottest Factory Stock drivers in the state.
“The level of competition we face down here is very high every year,” Castaneda said. “No matter if we're at the South Texas Race Ranch, at Texana over in Edna or up in Pleasanton at I-37, we know there will be plenty of fast guys capable of winning. It's never a cakewalk down here in this division.”
When Castaneda puts on his safety suit and gets ready to compete, he straps into a very fine machine.
“I drive a 2021 Express Race car built by Shane Hebert,” he said with obvious pride. “While he may be known more for his top-notch Limited Modifieds, he can build anything and have it come out perfect. I wanted that high quality and guidance he offers. I love this car, and we know it's a proven winner.
“As for horsepower, our motor is from Bruce Sanders at Ace Automotive Machine. He builds a top notch engine, and we don't have any problems with it at all. It's a smooth, powerful, reliable motor.”
Along with his driving skills and top-notch race car, Castaneda also has some key people is his corner.
“I need to thank Jimbo Myers, Marci Myers, Megan Redding, Ramsey Villarreal, Marcus Castaneda, Eddie Valdez, Eric Ramos, Steve Kapa and Roseann Castaneda. I also need to thank all my sponsors, including Ace Automotive, Ace Transmission, MAV Motorsports, Memphis Villarreal, Express Race Cars, TJM Mechanical, Lege Motorsports, Swenson Racing Components, and All In Designs.
“Both my Dad and my Stepdad have been the biggest influences in my racing career. They have been there for me since Day 1. Any time I need help, they drop what they're doing and run to help. I sure couldn't do it without them, I appreciate all they do more than they will ever know.”
With racing all over the state now in full swing, Castaneda has a goal to strive for during the season.
“I hate to say this, but I have a big job coming up at work,” he explained. “I'm not going to be able to make any of the April races, although I may make it there on the 15th for that one. I'll be out of the points, but the goal for this year is to earn five wins.
“My goal is to win a race at Texana and I-37 to go along with my win last Saturday at South Texas Race Ranch. That way I can say I've won at all three tracks in our area, which is no easy feat. I've come close before, but it's hard to pull off. It comes down to how you perform, and having a little good luck.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo submitted by Mason Castaneda