Columbus: Pro Stock preview

HEBRON, Ohio - Just competing in the NHRA's Pro Stock category is an extremely difficult task. Competing well requires a driver to perform on a whole new plateau. Mark Pawuk is ready to climb his way into the terrain of the Pro ...

HEBRON, Ohio - Just competing in the NHRA's Pro Stock category is an extremely difficult task. Competing well requires a driver to perform on a whole new plateau.

Mark Pawuk is ready to climb his way into the terrain of the Pro Stock elite.

Pawuk, from Bath, Ohio, will be seeking to continue his impressive 2001 campaign as the defending event champ seeks his second straight victory in his home state at the 37th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing, June 14-17, at historic National Trail Raceway. The $2 million race is the 11th of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Pawuk's performance in his Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am has continued to escalate over the past few seasons. The 43-year-old has climbed from 20th, to 12th, to 10th, to eighth, in the Winston standings in the last few years respectively, and he tied a career-best by ending the 2000 season in the fifth spot among all Pro Stock competitors.

As the halfway mark of 2001 quickly approaches, Pawuk sits atop the Winston standings for the first time in his 14-year career. Despite not earning a victory, a consistent performance all year, including three runner-up finishes, a national record for elapsed time in his new Grand Am, and three No. 1 qualifying positions, has launched Pawuk to the top. Rather than accept his early season success, Pawuk realizes it will be a grueling fight to the finish and the Winston Pro Stock championship.

"Anybody could step up in a heartbeat and really start dominating this class," said Pawuk. "There are about six or eight quality cars right now that could get on a roll and could take this thing away, but right now consistency is the key. Every round we go is 20 points, at the end of the year the one who goes the most (rounds) gets the victory. We're just going to stay focused and try and go rounds and do the best we can. I'm not so sure anyone is going to take off with it as has happened in the last couple of years. I think this is the closest we've ever seen it with five cars within a couple of rounds of the points lead."

Pawuk's first No. 1 qualifying position of the year came at the Mac Tools Gatornationals in Florida. That effort ended a 183 race span since his last top qualifying performance. His win in Ohio last season also was his first since his 1995 victory in Memphis, Tenn. The consistency Pawuk has displayed this season has continued to build momentum among his team and make him a serious contender for the title.

"I decided to make a crew change a couple of years ago," said Pawuk. "I felt like we needed to go in a different direction. I just felt it was time for a change and (crew chief) Rob (Downing) is a young spark, a driven, high energized individual who is very intelligent. He had a learning curve to go through and I thought the best thing to do was to go ahead and bite the bullet and work with him.

"He's done a great job and the guys think a lot a like. They come up with great ideas and everybody is very open-minded. There are not a lot of egos on this team, which I feel is very important to move the team forward. As the team has formed together, so has the performance and that has to do with how focused they are and how well they work together...Unfortunately the season is (nearly one-half) over and we've got a long ways to go yet but I am very pleased with the performance. It's by far the best start of my Pro Stock career."

=NHRA

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Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk