BORKOWSKI IS CALCULATING AND CONFIDENT AS HE BEGINS THE STOCK CAR PHASE OF HIS CAREER DETROIT (February 8, 2000) - A couple years back, Mike Borkowski appeared to be headed down a career path that would take him to the streets of Detroit, Long...
BORKOWSKI IS CALCULATING AND CONFIDENT AS HE BEGINS THE STOCK CAR PHASE OF HIS CAREER
DETROIT (February 8, 2000) - A couple years back, Mike Borkowski appeared to be headed down a career path that would take him to the streets of Detroit, Long Beach and Surfer's Paradise. The 1995 Cornell University graduate had been tabbed by CART team owner/driver Bobby Rahal to drive his SCCA Trans-Am entry in 1997 and then his Indy Lights car in 1998. Borkowski appeared to be Rahal's protégé and project, and the high-banked ovals that define NASCAR seemed a world away.
But just two years later, Borkowski has arrived in the NASCAR Busch Series, taking over the driving duties for a Pontiac Grand Prix team owned by Bill Davis that has been ultra competitive in the past. And, after two days of January testing at Daytona International Speedway, it appears Borkowski is having no trouble adjusting to his new seat behind the wheel of the No. 20 AT&T Grand Prix.
THOUGHTS FROM MIKE BORKOWSKI...
...entering the Busch Series with an established team:
"Coming into an established team obviously is a huge advantage and a great thing for me. I've worked long and hard for a lot of years to try to get this opportunity. I've always wanted to get going in the Busch Series and hopefully try to get to Winston Cup. But, you know how the business is. I never knew when that opportunity was going to come. The last couple years, unfortunately I've never had the money behind me to get the right deal, and I've sort of struggled in some really bad programs.
"When I met with Bill Davis and Mike Brown, the team manager, for the first time at their shop, I maybe spent an hour with them. I knew they were a good team, but I was meeting with other good teams, as well. The biggest thing that set them apart and made me want to go there was the people that make up Bill Davis Racing. Just meeting those two guys and some of the other guys in the shop made it easy for me to see what makes it such a great organization, and I think it's what is going to make it an even greater organization down the road. It's phenomenal already, but it's still kind of on an upswing. I think Bill Davis Racing is going to be a force for a long time to come.
"Bill's experience in working with young, talented guys - I don't think anybody has the record he has in terms of guys going on to become successful Winston Cup drivers. I felt like it was the best place for me to learn, the best place for me to do well right now, and the best place for me to grow a relationship and do a goo job, and maybe stay for a long time."
...the endorsement that comes from being hired by Bill Davis:
"When they called me and said that they decided that I was going to be their choice, I was knocked back a little. I mean, I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I could do the job. But, when it comes to the Busch Series, you're expecting people to hire guys that have either been in the Busch Series or been in stock cars for a long time. It's just like an Indy Car team that rarely gives somebody a new chance, even when they are coming from a step down in Indy Lights. That's one thing that I have tremendous respect for as I look at Bill Davis. It's harder to see if somebody is going to be talented enough to do the job in the Busch Series when he hasn't been in those cars yet. But, Bill did it with Jeff Gordon when he hadn't been a stock car driver yet, and he did it with [Dave] Blaney when he hadn't been a stock car driver yet, and now he's doing it with me. There is a ton of talent out there. I think there is more talent than there are good opportunities. It's just a difficult business. It's hard to get an opportunity.
"Bill is a racer, and he's been an all-out racer his whole life. He is not a business person who is running a race team for fun. He's never said this to me, but I think he enjoys the challenge of taking what he sees as raw talent and feeling like he can mold it even better because there aren't any bad habits. Maybe he thinks he can mold it more into what he thinks a good stock car driver should be."
...his changing career path during the past couple years:
"When I was seven years old, I started racing quarter midgets with my dad. Those were all little ovals, and even though it was a lot different than driving a big heavy stock car around bigger ovals, that was still my background.
"I grew up loving racing. I'd race your lawn mower around your back yard if you'd let me. I knew it's what I always wanted to do, but I didn't know when I'd get a shot. It's a hard thing. I didn't have family in the business. I didn't have family that could back my career all the way up, so you never knew when you were going to get your shot. My first shot came when a friend of a friend was racing SCCA club racing. He was a wealthy guy, and he helped me get started. It was just kind of a freak coincidence, and from there, things kind of snowballed. I was doing well, and when you get some momentum, you keep following that path with your career.
"But, what I have always loved more than anything is being able to get in there and have good, close, hard racing and be able to make a career at it. Nobody in the world can argue that NASCAR is not the best at both of those things. Where else do you have such close intense racing - not even from start to finish of a race, but from start to finish of a race weekend? You're racing your tail off just to qualify for a race. The one Busch race I did run last year, I don't think I've ever had more fun in a race in my whole life, and I wasn't even running up front. It was hard as hell. Those guys don't give an inch.
"NASCAR has done such a great job with marketing and promotions, we have so much more to offer sponsors, which means more sponsors come, which means more teams have money to do what they want, which means they can hire more good drivers. All-in-all, it snowballs, and you have unbelievable competition. There is no racing like it anywhere. I can have a good career here.
"You look on the flip side. You have very little opportunity, You have foreigners who are very talented, but who have support and are buying their rides for their first three or four years in CART. It's almost impossible. I know a lot of guys over there that are like me that wish they had started pursing NASCAR stuff, as well. The biggest negative I can say about my switch from open-wheel to stock cars is that I wish I had done it five years ago. Every once in a while, I sit up at night and I wish I had done that. That's my only regret. That's the only negative thing I can possibly say about my switch. People ask me if I'm going to miss the other stuff - would I ever want to go back. To be honest, I'm not even paying attention to it. I don't ever want to go back. I hope to stay in stock cars, move to Winston Cup and have a great career.
"Jack Baldwin is a good friend. When I was about 18 years old, he told me, 'You've got a ton of talent. Don't screw up like I did. Pack your bags, move south and start chasing a stock car career.' I'm a few years late on that, but Jack was right. I wish I really had pursued it some years back. But, I'm really lucky to be hooked up with Bill and getting this opportunity now. I'm still young and have a ton of years ahead of me. I've never been more excited about any opportunity in my life, especially in racing."
...the strengths he brings to Bill Davis Racing as a Busch driver:
"I don't expect to go in there and start winning races right away. My intent is to go win races, and not be satisfied and happy until we do. But, I know I have a steep learning curve, and a ton to learn. The difference is, even though I'm new to these cars, I think there is some benefit to having driven a lot of different things, because you learn to adapt and adjust quickly to different kinds of tracks and different kinds of cars.
"In the cars I've been used to, you live and die with your engineer, so you take a very analytical approach to driving the car, feeling it and being able to communicate that back to your engineer or crew chief. I think I'll be able to give good feed back. I think Birdie (crew chief Steve Bird) and I will work well together. I think I'll adapt really quickly.
"Most importantly, there is a certain mindset that comes with being a good driver in this sport, and in a lot of ways, being a champion in any sport. There are guys that can shoot free throws and there are guys that can turn a fast lap. There are guys that can lead their team to a bunch of wins and those who can win races.
"I've always consistently won races, and poles and championships. And I think Bill Davis maybe saw something there with me. Maybe he thought that I would have the dedication, attitude or approach to do more than just turn some fast race laps. I don't want to sound arrogant saying that. I think it's going to be really tough, but if I didn't think I could do the job, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't want to waste my time or anyone else's. There is nothing else in my mind. It's all I think about. I want to do the best job for this team and hopefully add some wins to the Bill Davis column."