2001 Pawuk's Best Season Ever
RICHFIELD, OH 11/19/01 The just-completed 2001 NHRA Winston series season was the best-ever in Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk's 15-year Pro Stock career, yet his final standing in the points has left him more than a little disappointed.
"We finished fifth last year, which matched our previous best finish, another fifth, which came way back in '93," he said from his office at Empaco Equipment Corporation. "The way things worked out for our Summit Racing Pontiac, I'm thankful that we managed to climb back up to sixth, because with two races left it honestly looked like we might drop completely out of the Top 10."
Pawuk's 2001 Pontiac Grand Am started the season off looking pretty good, then got awfully tough during the late spring races, but seriously struggled coming down the stretch.
Three straight DNQs at Joliet, Reading and Dallas, plus a fourth in Brainerd, took their toll on Pawuk and the team.
"We stripped that car down to the bare chassis," he says, "and still couldn't find our problem. Then Scott Pastircak started putting our engines under the microscope, and found that we had a cylinder head problem. They got that straightened out, and we went from a DNQ in Dallas to the winners circle in Las Vegas.
"The problem the guys found wasn't that big, but in a class as competitive as Pro Stock the least little thing can turn into something major, and that's just what happened to us.
"But, despite all of that, I think we had one heck of a good season, and we're all definitely looking forward to 2002. I think we've got two good cars in our Jerry Bickel and Don Ness-built Pontiac Grand Ams, and I know we've got a first class crew headed by Scott and our crew chief, Rob Downing. They proved their skills this year, and from the way they're talking about next year, I think we're going to seriously contend for the championship. I don't usually say things like that, but I have a lot of confidence in our team right now, because they've earned it."
Downing was named to the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Drag Racing Team in the Pro Racing Crew Chief category, while Pawuk was one of three Finalists in the Pro Stock Driver listing, and Pastircak was among the trio of Finalists in the Pro Racing Engine Builder category.
"Being named to the All-Star Team is definitely one of the highlights of my career," Downing says. "I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity that Mark's given me, and at the same time I want to acknowledge the guys I work with every day, Paul Lavoie and Marcus Bowen. When you're working with good people on a team where everyone's trying to accomplish the same goals, it makes things a lot easier for the crew chief. I just hope we can keep this thing going next season, and I don't see any reason why we can't."
Pawuk made his second straight appearance among the Finalists in Pro Stock Driver, something he considered a major honor considering how many Car Craft readers had participated in the balloting process. "I really appreciate the fact that so many people thought I was doing a good job behind the wheel, but at the same time I think the right person ended up winning it. Jeg (Coughlin, Jr.) did a heck of a job in the last year or so, and I'll be the first to admit it. I was stoked at just being a Finalist, believe me, but he deserved to be on the All-Star Team."
Pastircak had the same response to Warren Johnson's being named Pro Racing Engine Builder. "I think it's an honor to be even considered with someone who's won six titles and almost 90 national events," he said. "Our guys did a good job this year, but we've got a long way to go to match his record. Just having my name mentioned along with his is an honor."
In addition to their individual honors, Pawuk's team played a significant role in Summit Racing Equipment being named Pro Racing Sponsor. Summit doubled up by winning Sportsman Sponsor honors.
"I'm just glad we could be a part of that," Pawuk says. "I think those wins demonstrated how strong Summit's commitment is to drag racing."
The on track performances of Pawuk and the Summit Racing Pontiac team were indeed impressive in 2000. They began the year with a runner-up finish in the Superbowl of Pro Stock in Houston, and then earned their first runner-up in a points-paying race at the year's third race in Houston in March.
Pawuk earned top qualifying honors at two races, the Gatornationals in March, and the Matco Tools Spring Supernationals at Englishtown in May.
The Matco Tools weekend was the team's best of the year, as Pawuk set a new national elapsed time record of 6.806 seconds, and ran three of the four quickest elapsed times in Pro Stock history to that point. He held the record for four months. More importantly, he also made it to the final round of the Holley Dominator Duel as well as the final round of the event, earning his fourth runner-up finish of the still-young season.
The team made two additional final round appearances before scoring their big win in Las Vegas, making it to the final rounds of the Topeka and Memphis races, giving them a total seven for the year.
By comparison, in 2000 Pawuk made just three final round appearances, with his lone victory coming at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing. In addition, last year the team scored five semifinal round finishes. This year Pawuk made three semifinal rounds in addition to his seven big final round appearances.
"When I look back on the season I have mixed emotions," Pawuk admits. "I know we made it to a lot of final rounds, but I wish we could have turned at least a couple of those runners-up into wins, but we didn't, so I'm not going to dwell on the past. I think drag racing is always about the future, the next race, your next qualifying run, things like that. With that in mind, we're going to bust our butts to make sure we start the new year ready to fly.
"I hope we can start out strong, and keep up the momentum from the Winternationals to the Finals. If we can do that I think we can come up with our best finish ever.
"We've got terrific, loyal supporters in Summit Racing Equipment, Pontiac, Matco Tools, Pennzoil, Mr. Heater, Holley, High Tech Trailers and a lot of others. We're going to dedicate ourselves towards getting all of our supporters into the winners circle every time we can.
"Ya know, 2002 is our tenth season with Summit Racing Equipment, and we're really proud of that. I've seen a lot of sponsors come and go during my 15 years in Pro Stock, and when I look back on our years with Summit it seems like we've only been together for two or three years, not 10. They've been exceptionally supportive, and I can't even begin to tell you how important that's been. It's really great knowing that everyone at Summit is behind us, and when we can deliver wins like we did in Las Vegas in October, well, it just makes all of the hard work worthwhile."
AC-Delco Nationals, Las Vegas
Superbowl of Pro Stock, Houston
Holley Dominator Duel, Englishtown
O'Reilly Nationals, Houston
Matco Tools Spring Supernationals, Englishtown
Advance Auto Parts Nationals, Topeka
AutoZone Nationals, Memphis
Semi-final Round Finishes
CSK Nationals, Phoenix
Fram Southern Nationals, Atlanta
Fram Autolite Nationals, Sonoma
Number 1 Qualifying Positions
Mac Tools Gatornationals, Gainesville
Matco Tools Spring Supernationals, Englishtown
All-Star Drag Racing Team
Summit Racing Equipment, Winner, Pro Racing Sponsor
Rob Downing, Winner, Pro Racing Crew Chief
Mark Pawuk, Finalist, Pro Stock Driver
Scott Pastircak, Finalist, Pro Racing Engine Builder