21-YEAR-OLD GRABS CAREER-BEST FINISH AT GREENVILLE, HEADED FOR STAFFORD CONCORD, NC (June 12, 2006) -- Starting Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Charles Lewandoski began what might have been the most important week in his racing...
21-YEAR-OLD GRABS CAREER-BEST FINISH AT GREENVILLE, HEADED FOR STAFFORD
CONCORD, NC (June 12, 2006) -- Starting Saturday night at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Charles Lewandoski began what might have been the most important week in his racing career.
Greenville hosted the opening event for the NASCAR Busch East Series (formerly the NASCAR Busch North Series) on Saturday, which Lewandoski called one of the single most important races of his career. Now, this weekend, Lewandoski will head back to his home track of Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut, a race that could give him a bigger high than the one he felt in 2002 when he became the youngest winner ever in a Late Model at Stafford, when he won in just his 10th start at the age of 16.
Lewandoski moved his entire operation to North Carolina in 2006 to help better his Busch East efforts. In addition, he hired former Busch Series driver Paul Wolfe to serve as his crew chief and work on the cars in the shop. With the Busch East season opening on Saturday night, Lewandoski had high hopes and high goals.
"I had two goals going into this race," said Lewandoski. "One was a top-15 in qualifying and the other was to finish in the top-10 with a car in one piece."
Lewandoski can say "mission accomplished." He started 16th and finished ninth in the An American Revolution 150 on Saturday night, besting his career-best finish of 11th, which came last year at Thompson International Speedway.
"We came close to that goal. We qualified 16th. I am not much of a qualifier anyway. We are really focused on improving that this year, though. In the race we just stayed out of trouble. We ran in the top-five and top-ten all night. We raced with a bunch of good guys out there and had a lot of fun."
Lewandoski never pitted during the 150-lap event, which might have cost him a better finish, but Lewandoski didn't wager on the decision.
"We decided not to pit. I think we were one of the only teams in the top-14 that didn't pit. We had a radio malfunction. Paul was spotting for me and he's also my crew chief. The thing is, he's more than my crew chief; he's a driver coach for me in all honesty. We had something go bad with his radio. It wasn't the battery, so Paul couldn't make the call of whether to come in or not. We had Kevin Heinz, who was car chief for Andy Santerre the past few years, come in and help. Scott McDonald, who is our tire specialist, hopped on the trailer with me and spotted for me from the infield for the rest of the race.
"We kinda decided to just ride it out and not worry about pitting. I don't regret that decision. If we had pitted with the first group, we might have been ok. We would have been 10th or 11th maybe if we did pit."
Now, Lewandoski returns to Stafford Motor Speedway, his home track. And this time around, the race will have special meaning for the 20-year-old. Just a couple of months ago, Stafford lost legendary track owner Jack Arute, who Charles considered a good friend and mentor. In fact, Arute often referred to Lewandoski as "Stroker," an affectious nickname harkening back to the racing movie "Stroker Ace."
So this weekend, Lewandoski will run the name "Stroker" above the door instead of his name, in honor of the late-New England legend.
"Mr. Arute meant a lot to every driver that ever turned a lap or sat in the grandstands at Stafford," added Lewandoski. "He did a lot for the sport and he always treated the competitors with respect. For me, though, he was a guy that always took the time out to make you feel welcome at his track and he always liked to joke around and talk with me in the pit area. I grew up going there and racing there and I appreciate everything he did for me. I know it's going to be a bittersweet feeling going back home to his place to race this weekend without him being there.
"I feel like I've had a reputation for not running good, not qualifying good, not being fast and not having a competitive car. Ever since Paul became involved with our deal, which was Thompson last year, we have an 11th and a ninth-place finish. It's hard to finish top-10 with these Busch East guys, so that is very positive. I'm getting more experience and more laps behind the wheel of these cars. The cars are much better and Paul being on board is the biggest thing. It's night and day compared to what we are used to. The way we set the cars up and what we do before and after we are on track, everything is different. We do it the right way now.
"I am not content with running ninth every week. I want to do better. I want more. We are going home to Stafford on Friday night and that is big. We are going to go through the car thoroughly and take it up to go through the gates God built for me. When I go through the gates up there at Stafford, I don't care if there is a race going on up there or not, it is home."
Next up for Lewandoski will be Friday night's TSI Harley-Davidson 150 at Stafford.