RICHFIELD, OH 10/1/01 Almost every racers has, at one time or another, considered his season somewhat akin to a roller coaster ride, and few know that better than Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk in 2001. The driver of the Summit Racing Pro Stock Pontiac Grand Am has had what some might consider an exceptional season, one that's been filled with numerous final round appearances. That's the upside. The downside is that in four national event and two non-points final round appearances, the Cowboy has yet to score a victory.
"I can't explain it," he says with obvious disappointment in his voice. "We started out the season really running well, then went into a kind of slump, and then bounced back at Memphis, but we still haven't won, and that's really bothering everyone on the team."
Let's catch up with recent doings of the Cowboy. At the U.S. Nationals the team lost in the first round, with Pawuk leaving the race listed eighth in the NHRA Winston Top 10.
The weekend was far from a total loss, however, as Rob Downing was named to the CAR CRAFT Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team in the Pro Racing Crew Chief category. On top of that, Summit was named both Sportsman and Pro Racing Sponsor, while Dan Fletcher got the nod as Super Stock Driver. Pawuk was a Finalist in the Pro Stock Driver listing, as was Scott Pastircak in the Pro Racing Engine Builder category, but neither was ultimately named to the All-Star Team.
"Just being one of the three Finalists was a real honor," he says. "Believe me, we were really proud of Rob for being named Pro Racing Crew Chief. He deserved that honor, and so did Scott in being a Finalist. That demonstrated that our guys are not only getting the job done, but that the fans are paying attention, and that's important to us."
Pawuk's Summit Racing team got back on track in Memphis for the AutoZone Nationals when, after qualifying 13th, they made their fourth national event final round appearance of the season. But, for everyone involved, it was an emotional weekend. It was the first race following the postponement of the Keystone Nationals following the attack on America on September 11th, and for the Pro Stock racers there was the added concern about competitor Jim Yates, who was forced to withdraw from the race due to health problems. Luckily, Yates has recovered, but Pawuk admits he was worried.
"We've raced against Jim for a long time, and he's a tough racer," he says. "We were all worried about him, but I'm glad to see that he's made a quick recovery."
Pawuk had a chance to win that Memphis finale, but George Marnell ended his hopes with an excellent holeshot. "There's nobody to blame for that but me," Pawuk admitted after the race. "I should have won that one, and didn't. I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm just going to move forward and see what we can accomplish during the balance of the season."
The runner-up finish bounced Pawuk up to sixth in the rankings.
One week later the tour returned to Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois for the NHRA Nationals, an event that ultimately turned out to be a crusher for Pawuk, as he failed to qualify for only the second time this season. A best effort of 6.857 seconds at 200.47 MPH found him in the 18th spot, two places out of the quickest Pro Stock field in history.
"It was frustrating missing the show this past weekend," Pawuk admits. "There's no excuse, we just didn't make good enough runs.
"What I'm really concerned about is that we dropped back to eighth place in the standings again, but we're only three points out of seventh. I'm confident we can climb back up in the Top 10, and I'm also confident we can still get to the winners circle this season. There are four races left, and we intend to play a prominent role in every one of 'em!"
Next: NHRA Keystone Nationals, Reading, PA Oct. 5-7