Mario Vincent Opipari was born in Detroit on January 24, 1975. The Opipari family lived in Detroit for generations after his great-grandparents waved farewell to Calabria and Naples, sailed to America and settled in Michigan. When Mario was only three, his family escaped the frigid climate of the Motor City and decided to call Las Vegas home.

“My family came out to visit Las Vegas on a vacation in 1978 and that was it,” began Mario.

These days, most Las Vegans are used to seeing Mario in a helmet and firesuit. But long before he made a name for himself as a stock car driver, his uniform of choice was a batting helmet and a jersey.

“I started playing baseball when I was eight years old and that was it. I kept going,” he continued. “I graduated from Basic High School, then went to junior college in Cypress (Calif.) for two years. We won the state championship while I was pitching for Cypress in 1994 and that was one of my biggest moments in the sport. Then I went to the University of Kansas for a year.”

In the summer of 1996, with the school year completed, Mario traveled back home in Las Vegas. Then came the phone call. A baseball scout was on the other end of the line, wondering if the six-foot-two right-hander was interested in a shot at the big time.

“I was getting ready to go up to Alaska to play summer ball. I was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. I was excited. It was just like winning a feature race now. That was the other big moment of my baseball career. I never made it to the big leagues, but I made it to triple-A (Memphis Redbirds) with the St. Louis Cardinals.”

In 2000, Mario hung up his spikes.

“After I left baseball, I moved back to Las Vegas in and started working at my dad’s shop (Performance Plus on Boulder Highway in Henderson). My mom owns the shop now.”

Fast-forward to 2010. Mario has been driving stock cars at the Bullring, Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s 3/8-mile asphalt oval for six years. To date, he’s won 11 feature races and one championship (2007). His most recent win came on May 22 of this year and he currently leads the point standings.

“I’ve always been interested in cars,” Mario explained. “I’ve been working on them since I was
10, but Phil Goodwin got me into racing. He works at the shop right next door.”

Goodwin has won a number of titles at the Bullring and he and Mario are the perennial favorites. Both race cars are painted white. Mario’s car is a Camaro, No. 53. Goodwin drives the No. 35 Camaro. More often than not, their cars are the first and second to reach the checkered flag.

With a solid business and a good race car, Mario is content to race under the hometown Saturday-night spotlight. He’s till one of the boys of summer, only now he competes on an oval instead of a diamond. With a little luck and a few more victories, he stands an excellent chance to win the title once again.