Mark Pawuk Confident Of Gatornationals Performance Surge GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 9, 2005 - During his long career as an NHRA Pro Stock competitor Mark Pawuk has been a multiple national-event winner, a two-time national-record holder, entered...
Mark Pawuk Confident Of Gatornationals Performance Surge
GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 9, 2005 - During his long career as an NHRA Pro Stock competitor Mark Pawuk has been a multiple national-event winner, a two-time national-record holder, entered 372 national events and earned the respect and admiration of fans and fellow competitors throughout the sport. And although the Pontiac Grand Am driver has made the trek to Gainesville Raceway every spring for the last 20 years, his annual visit to the storied Florida strip remains one of his favorite stops on the 23-event schedule.
"The Gatornationals is one of our majors, so to speak," said Pawuk. "Living in northeast Ohio, it's great getting out of this cold, winter weather and heading south. With the altitude and air temps, it's usually very, very fast, so the performance of the racecars are at their best. It's also a college town so there are many things to enjoy; the people, the city, the restaurants, just everything about it.
"The Gatornationals mark the first time this season we get to race on the East Coast and it really kicks up our schedule a notch - things get pretty busy after that. I've always liked visiting Florida, but racing there makes it even better. A lot of knowledgeable drag racing fans from the northern states like to come south for a few days to see their first national event of the year, and that packs the grandstands. The car turnout will be tremendous and that will make it tougher for us to get into the field."
A lot has changed in the sport of drag racing since Pawuk first made his debut as a professional in 1985. The Pontiac Grand Am driver, who is second to Warren Johnson among active drivers in the category for most starts, has been a major contributor in the evolution of the Pro Stock category.
"Being stubborn and refusing to quit are probably the best reasons for why I've been able to stay around for so long," said Pawuk. "Throughout my career I've set some pretty lofty goals for myself and my team, and I feel that this year we are capable of performing much better than we have the last two years. The way the last couple of seasons have been is not the way I want to end my career. I've made a commitment to get our program turned around, acquire a new sponsor and get back to where I belong - in the top five or top 10 in the hardest class in which to compete."
With his longevity in the sport, affable attitude and approachable nature, Pawuk has managed to build a large, loyal fan base during his long tenure in the sport.
"My philosophy has always been to treat the fans the way you would want to be treated," explained Pawuk. "Even though I'm a hands-on guy that works on the racecar, taking the time with NHRA fans goes a long way toward building our support base, and anything you can do to make sure that the race fan is getting his or her money's worth lets them realize you're just a normal guy. Sure, I'm more upbeat when I'm winning or running good, but I want people to treat me the same regardless of who I am, or what I am, and treat others the same way. We need the fans because without them, our sport doesn't survive. With some of the wonderful encouragement I've received over the past year, it's one of the reasons I wanted to continue."
Prior to his debut on the professional straight-line circuit in 1985, 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.
As a Pro Stock racer (who entered his first event at Columbus in 1985), Pawuk has survived for more than two decades in one of motorsports' most competitive categories, accumulating six national-event victories, 21 final-round appearances, 200 round wins, two top-five and 11 top-10 points finishes. Only Warren Johnson (25), Bruce Allen (14), Kurt Johnson and Jim Yates (12) have more top-10 finishes among active Pro Stock competitors.
Pawuk scored a pair of career-best fifth-place finishes in the 1993 and 2000 final points standings, and 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.
"When I started I was the young guy out there and I'm not so young anymore," said Pawuk. "Every year I can tell the difference. It's more difficult handling the travel and the schedule than it used to be, and then coming back to work on my business places an even greater demand on my schedule. But you're only as old as you feel. I exercise and that definitely helps keep my energy level up."
Pawuk learned a long time ago that trying to qualify in NHRA Pro Stock is not for the feint of heart. He was reminded last year of just how the narrow the performance margins can be when trying to make the 16-car field. At the season-opening Winternationals, Pawuk's Pontiac was one of three cars with an identical 6.802 e.t., but he ended up being the only car of the three outside the field after being bumped by speed. Pawuk encountered a similar scenario at Houston when he was one of two drivers with a 6.778 second qualifying run, but again, a slightly slower speed relegated him to the No. 17 position and out of the Sunday eliminator. At Topeka he missed the show by .006 of a second, at Englishtown his deficit was .007, and at the second Chicago race a razor-thin debit of .003 kept him out of the field. At the Pontiac Excitement Nationals, Pawuk's Grand Am qualified 16th and was the third of three cars with an identical 6.862 e.t.
"No excuses, we just have to work harder," said Pawuk. "We can't let any aspect of the racecar go unexamined. If we can find a hundredth in the transmission ratios, or five thousandths in the clutch tune-up, that's what we have to do. When you see how many races last year we missed the show by a hundredth or less, that tells me that we weren't that far off. I feel that we have a pretty good tune-up for our car, but putting a different power band in could completely change how we run our Pontiac.
"We're looking at every single part and piece to see what will make us better and run faster. What was really frustrating last year were the two races we missed on speed. It's bad enough being a thousandth off, but when you're the first car to run e.t. quick enough to make the field, and then you get bumped out by speed, that's heartbreaking."
After struggling through a disappointing season in 2004, Pawuk made a personal and professional commitment to rebound and get his race program back to a competitive level. The veteran driver is looking for new primary sponsorship for his 2005 Pontiac Grand Am, and to fill the horsepower gap, he's teamed up with veteran engine builder Bob Ingles and cylinder-head designer Carl Foltz.
"I've been pounding the pavement trying to find sponsorship," said Pawuk. "The Pontiac-GM relationship has been tremendous, and Mr. Heater, who has been very loyal to me for many years, is back on board with us again. After 12 years, Summit Racing respected me for the job I tried to do for them and wants to continue to build on that relationship. It's going to be great for me and it will be great for Summit Racing. It's a win-win situation for everyone.
"I worked with Bob about eight years ago before he put the program together with Jim (Yates)," said Pawuk. "We've always had a great relationship, and having Bob and Carl involved with our program, we anticipate that it's going to expedite our learning curve back at the shop in Ohio. Bob's already run the parts and knows what it takes to get them down the racetrack. Hopefully we can compliment each other in order to reduce that learning curve and get to where we need to be that much faster. I've made a commitment, it's costing extra to do this, but I feel it's the right thing to turn our program around. The communication and the relationship that has been built so far has been tremendous."
Even with a pair of DNQs at the season's first two events, Pawuk is more upbeat and confident than he's been in a long time and looking forward to returning to Gainesville Raceway. Over the years he's experienced his share of success at the Gatornationals, scoring a runner-up to Darrel Alderman in 1995 and earning low qualifying honors in 2001. A strong performance at this year's event would reaffirm Pawuk's belief that his race team is headed in the right direction.
"I want to prove that I'm still capable of driving and that we have what it takes to run with the best of them," said Pawuk. "We're trying to get some motors done for Gainesville and find more power. If everything goes right, Bob should have us a new motor for the Gators. Right now, my guys are rebuilding our race motor and we're confident we can pick up its performance, make it a little bit better. We'll test on next Monday and Tuesday in Bradenton (Fla.) We're not missing by much, and we need to have the whole click and we're working hard trying to get that done. I honestly feel that the crew I have, both on the road and in the engine shop, are the most dedicated I've ever had.
"Everything we've learned over the past five or six years, every time we make a run down the racetrack, we learn something. We know we'll have to run a different combination this year with the way our engines are now performing, but we feel we have a good starting point and from there we can expand. If nothing else, we have a car that we've run for a year, and we have a lot of experience with what it likes and what it doesn't like. Hopefully with a different combination and more power, that will help us run pretty decent on the drag strip. We want to consistently qualify, and in the top half of the field. Second, we want to start going some rounds on Sunday. We'd like to win at least one race this year, maybe two, and get back in the top 10. Once you get the car qualified anything can happen, and from there, it opens up a lot of opportunities."
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