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Young Mormon NASCAR hopeful makes time for faith and family

Mitchell Taylor is an Eagle Scout, served as president of his LDS seminary class and earned his associate's degree while still in high school.

He's also known as a daredevil who does everything from scuba diving to snowboarding, which might explain his active involvement in stock car racing — a high-speed sport that landed him in a fiery crash when he was 14 years old. In fact, this 18-year-old member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints dreams of competing in NASCAR and racing against Jeff Gordon some day.

But he tries to put faith and family first.

"I have a strong testimony of the restored church, and I have never let there be a conflict with my racing," Taylor said. "God, family, racing, in that order."

"He is one of those kids you never have to worry about," said his mother, Jennifer Taylor. "We never had to tell him not to use bad language, even though he heard a fair share of it in the racing environment. To this day, I don't think he has ever used a swear word, and people that we raced against knew it and they would not swear around us. Mitch was really the one creating that environment, and people recognized it and respected it wherever we raced."

Paul Webster, who was a leader in Mitch Taylor's Scout troop when he received his Eagle, described Taylor as a good, goal-oriented kid who was part of a close family.

"I never got to see him race but heard a lot about his ability from his dad and him. … A quiet leader, I would call him, not really loud or boastful but kind of a 'get ’er done' kind of a kid," Webster said. "(Getting his Eagle) was a challenge; it really was for him. He was so busy. … Truth was, it was a priority for him. He knew he'd regret it if he didn't get it, so he put stuff aside and made it happen — he made it work."

Dallas Day, 18, met Taylor in the 10th grade at the SUCCESS Academy, a high school program that guides students through an associate's degree at local colleges. Taylor had parties regularly at his house on weekends with other students from the academy where they watched movies and played games, and the two became friends.

"He's really, really funny," Day said. "We always hang out because he always has something funny to say. He's really a daredevil; he'll do anything. You dare him to do something and he'll do it. … He's also really chill, kind of laid back and friendly to everyone."

While Taylor is involved in many extracurricular activities, "racing has always been the most fun for me," he said. "It's most guys' dream to be able to race cars … and I have been lucky enough to live that dream."

Taylor was introduced to racing when he was 7 years old. His early enthusiasm and aptitude for the sport came as a surprise. The Taylors had no previous background in racing when their son started competing in go-karts at 9 years old, which is unusual for the parents of a driver.

After watching Taylor dominate one of his races in late 2004, a driver for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West approached the family. He told them Mitchell had talent and needed more opportunity. Following the driver's advice, the Taylors packed up and moved from Highland to Santa Clara, in Washington County, closer to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Bullring, where Taylor began racing Bandoleros. At 12, he entered the Winter Road Course Series and placed second (once), third (twice) and fourth (twice) in five of six races.

Jennifer Taylor remembers one of her son's races in particular. He was 14, driving in his first Legends car race when a rod broke off of a piston in the engine. Halfway through the race, just as Taylor came around in front of the stands, the front end of his car blew up. Jennifer started panicking when flames engulfed the car.

"Fire is the one thing that is really scary in racing," she said. "I called my husband, who was missing Mitchell's first race ever, and told him Mitch had caught on fire and I didn't see him get out. While I was running full speed with my daughters, my husband got a call from Mitch on the other line. He was calm as ever; said, 'Dad, the car blew up, fire was everywhere, but I'm good. We've got a lot of repairs to do.’ ”

When Jennifer and her five daughters reached him, they "grabbed him and hugged him like we hadn't seen him for five years.

"He didn't know what all the fuss was about," she said.

The experience is a testament to her son's drive and calm, Jennifer said. Taylor remembers the incident as nerve-racking but not paralyzing.

"I just pulled straight off (the track) onto the grass," he said. "The seat belts are made to come off pretty fast, so I was out within 10-15 seconds from the time it blew up, but it definitely scared me. … They keep you pretty safe, though; everything's fireproof."

Not long after that, Taylor's racing career came to a brief halt when his sponsor fell through. He was unable to race for three years but used the time to earn his Eagle and focus on the college courses he was taking through the SUCCESS Academy. After a long search for another sponsor, Taylor's father hit upon Scott Lagasse Jr., a driver who has raced in NASCAR. Soon after, Taylor joined Lagasse's racing development team in 2011 and started competing again.

Taylor has routinely avoided participating in races on Sundays in order to attend church meetings.

"Luckily, racing historically is a Saturday night sport so we have rarely, if ever, had to be conflicted about church," said Jennifer, adding that her son's religious convictions have even influenced other racers.

"Mitch is a passionate young man about what he is doing," Jennifer said. "He is a kid that gives everything he has in whatever he does. He is the most easygoing of personalities you will meet, but a more competitive person I have not met. … We are proud of all of our children, and we are proud of Mitch for the great leader and example he is to his sisters and his friends. … We wish we could take credit for him being who he is, but he came down to us this way."