New Season, same winning attitude: Mark Pawuk aims Pontiac Grand Am at POWERade Top-10. AKRON, Ohio, Jan. 22, 2004 -- After struggling through a disappointing 2003 race season, veteran Pro Stock driver Mark Pawuk is hoping that the lessons ...
New Season, same winning attitude: Mark Pawuk aims Pontiac Grand Am at POWERade Top-10.
AKRON, Ohio, Jan. 22, 2004 -- After struggling through a disappointing 2003 race season, veteran Pro Stock driver Mark Pawuk is hoping that the lessons learned a year ago will help guide his Summit Racing Pontiac program back to a POWERade top-10 finish. Long recognized by his peers as a tough, hard-nosed competitor, the 46-year-old Pawuk is encouraged by a determined, winning attitude in his race team as the NHRA prepares for its season-opening kickoff in Pomona, Calif.
To help buoy his prospects for the upcoming campaign, Pawuk added the skills of veteran tuner Terry Adams at the end of last year. Adams is a well-respected driver/tuner and his addition on the Summit Racing Pontiac will go a long way in relieving some of the pressure on fellow crew chief Marcus Bowen. Pawuk feels the additional assistance and expertise Adams has to offer will free up Bowen to concentrate on the overall administration and management of the program.
"This is a team sport and we're trying to put the right mix of people together," said Pawuk. "With Terry coming on board it brought us a little more knowledge at the racetrack. Not that Marcus (Bowen) wasn't doing a good job, but he was hampered by trying to be involved with the engine program, tuning the racecar, and driving the truck from race to race - it was just too much to ask from one person.
"Having Terry aboard has enabled Marcus to focus more on the management of the whole team, and now Marcus has been managing the engine shop since the end of the season. We brought a new car out at the end of last season, and Terry tested it with Marcus, which allowed me to spend more time with the business. Terry can be our test driver and that will give me the opportunity to focus more of my time running EMPACO."
Since the summer of 1985, the northern Ohio native has displayed his skills as a Pro Stock competitor on the NHRA tour. Prior to his debut on the professional straight-line circuit, Pawuk cut his teeth bracket racing at local strips in the northern and eastern part of his home state where he earned the nickname "The Cowboy."
As a successful Super Gas competitor in the NHRA Sportsman ranks during the late 70s and early 80s, Pawuk was a three-time national-event runner-up, first at Indianapolis in 1980, and then at Columbus and Brainerd in 1983.
"Back when I was in high school, I worked at a transmission shop and the owner had a drag car," explained Pawuk. "I went to the races with him a couple of times, ended up buying a car of my own, started bracket racing and won several local championships. There was a race every July 3rd called the Pro Stock Eve that people like Bill Jenkins, Don Nicholson and Ronnie Sox would come to. My parents, like they are today, were always very supportive of my dreams and aspirations. I told my dad one day that my dream would be to drive one of those cars. I thought they were the neatest things in the world. I worked hard, got the sponsorship together and started racing Pro Stock.
"I like drag racing because I'm such a competitive person, whether it's basketball, golf, running or anything that I'm participating in. That's probably why I get so down on myself when I don't win."
As a Pro Stock racer who entered his first event at Columbus in 1985, Pawuk has survived for over 20 years in one of motorsports' most competitive categories, accumulating six national-event victories, 21 final-round appearances, 199 round wins, two top-five and 11 top-10 points finishes.
Pawuk scored a pair of career-best fifth-place finishes in the 1993 and 2000 final points standings, but a sixth-place effort in 2001, the result of five final-round appearances and two No. 1 qualifiers, may have been his best overall performance. Pawuk also set the national e.t. record at Englishtown (N.J.) that year and held first place in the standings in late May. He's hoping for a return to the categories' elite in 2004.
"After making some key personnel moves at the shop, we're getting our engine program back to where it's going to be competitive," said Pawuk. "Scott Pastircak, who was with me for about six years is back and he's doing better than ever. We also have Dale Eicke on board doing some cylinder-head work, and Jim Shaver, Mike Smith and Robert Morrow are doing an excellent job at the race shop. I've made a commitment to my guys and have given them several months to get the program turned around. By the end of February, we'll get a better indicator of the direction we're headed.
"We're working on acquiring some new equipment that will enhance our engine development program at a faster pace. The perfect scenario is to get the engine program turned around with the group of guys we have, and maybe do one engine-rental customer to offset some of the cost. If we can get a second engine out there it will help move our program ahead faster."
With the record number of rainouts and postponements last year, each delay and rescheduled event put an enormous strain on the resources of all the professional teams in 2003, including Pawuk's.
"When you're struggling, and you go that many weeks in a row at the racetrack, you have absolutely no time to fix what is broken," said Pawuk. "We spent two months trying to pick up our new racecar, finally got it, went right from the rainout in Reading, Pa., down to Houston, got rained on there during two days of testing, made about five runs, went to Dallas and ended up getting in the show.
"As we keep making more power, the cars need to be more rigid. Bringing out our new Grand Am when we did last year and getting used to its characteristics gave us a head start for this season. We're doing everything we can to make '04 a better year for the Summit Racing Pontiac. I'm not going to race another season like the last two."
In 2004, Pawuk is hoping to drive his Summit Racing Pontiac back to the winner's circle, something he hasn't done since October 2001. But Pawuk feels a top-10 finish and a rejuvenation of his engine program will be the needed boost to get him back into Pro Stock's upper echelon.
"I want to be out there racing, having fun and getting my sponsor's name at the top of the page," said Pawuk. "We're making do with the resources we have, but I really feel the desire at the shop to succeed is the best I've ever seen. Everybody gets along great and everybody's pulling this team in the same direction. When you see that kind of attitude, and that kind of desire, you usually see pretty good results.
"Anymore, the top five is a heck of an accomplishment, but with the amount of good teams out there, getting into the top 10 is a statement. For '04, our goal is to get back into the top 10, and then for '05, our program should continue to evolve. If I can drive like I did last year, get a little more steam out of the engine program and a little luck, then I think we'll make some reachable goals. And when I see the dyno numbers increase over the next couple of weeks, I'm really going to be stoked."
Pontiac Motorsports fast fact: Mark Pawuk's first career final-round appearance was at the 1988 Winternationals. In 1992, the Summit Racing Pontiac driver, and two-time e.t. national record holder, was the No. 1 qualifier for the season-opening event.