Q&A: SCREAMIN' EAGLE'S EDDIE KRAWIEC He may not act like it, but really, he's the new guy. Not just on the team, but in the category. Eddie Krawiec hit the jackpot when he was chosen to be the new guy, so he's not complaining. After all,...
Q&A: SCREAMIN' EAGLE'S EDDIE KRAWIEC
He may not act like it, but really, he's the new guy. Not just on the team, but in the category. Eddie Krawiec hit the jackpot when he was chosen to be the new guy, so he's not complaining. After all, he was one of many that were interviewed, poked, prodded and thrown on a Harley-Davidson V-Rod and sent down a quarter-mile track to see who was ready to ride the second entry on the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines Motorsports Harley-Davidson team. Make that, the three-time defending NHRA POWERade Pro Stock Motorcycle championship winning team. Krawiec's the new guy on that team. But if anyone was built to be the new guy on a team with a storied five-year history, it's Krawiec. He spent several years on the AMA Prostar tour and battled for the championship there twice. He came up just short (less than 10 points one year) but he learned how to compete. He had even raced at a couple of NHRA events. He made qualifying attempts at eight national events, but prior to this year's season opener at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway, had never qualified for the show. Krawiec has also logged in a few years working at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. -- a city he calls home in the first place. He has spent a great deal of time working for and with drag racers and has a keen sense of what it takes to run a historic racing facility and how to keep racers happy and competitive. After all that, Krawiec did the unthinkable. With years of racing experience on and off the track, he decided to take a year off from competition and just work on finding a job. That risk paid off. He got a job. Now the 30-year-old is set to compete in his fifth event with the Screamin' Eagle team. The Pro Stock Motorcycle class will next rejoin the series at Route 66 Raceway for the Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals, June 7-10. In this Q&A session Krawiec talks about what it's like to be the 30-year-old new guy, why he can respect a well-thrown newspaper and why he gave up a career wearing zebra stripes with cool shoes.
Q: What is it like being the new guy on the NHRA POWERade tour?
KRAWIEC: It's obviously very overwhelming. There is a lot of focus and eyes on me and our team all the time. The main thing that I have to do is keep focused and not to let that distract me. That can be pretty difficult. If you are not used to media attention and pressure, it can weigh on you.
Q: How have you handled the pressure to perform so far?
KRAWIEC: I rely on my team and having everybody assist me with it. I take whatever information Matt (Hines, crew chief) and Andrew (Hines, teammate and current NHRA champ) can provide. The entire group, from Terry Vance and Byron Hines (team owners) on down, everyone has been amazing. They are happy to give me any information they can share. Terry has been a great help with that. He explains the mental preparation of racing on this level and how to tune out all of the buzz. You can pound it into someone's head for a long time, but the experience brings it all together. Once you have the experience, then you can apply everything they told you and put it to good use.
Q: What made you want to become a professional racer?
KRAWIEC: Racing has always been in my family. As long as I can remember we were always spending time at the track. My background with working at the race track just made me want to race even more. The first time I met Dave Schultz (legendary six-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion) I just knew I wanted to race a motorcycle. He was the person that really got me interested in Pro Stock Bike. Since that meeting in 1995, racing is all I have thought about and it become my No. 1 goal.
Q: Have you ever wanted to race in another category besides Pro Stock Motorcycle?
KRAWIEC: I've always been a car guy and I grew up around car guys. Tom Martino (Pro Stock racer) is a close friend and I pay attention to the category because of him and a few other racers. I love Pro Stock car and I would love to drive one sometime, at least in a test session. I have always known that Funny Car is something I would never drive. I don't do well in tight spaces. I sat in a Funny Car once and the second they put the body down, I wanted out. I've never really even thought about Top Fuel.
Q: How did you get your start in AMA Prostar?
KRAWIEC: I went to one of my first races in 1998. I raced locally from 1995 to 1997 on street bike in bracket events. Then I went to Atco (N.J.) for the U.S. Nationals and I rode one of Ricky Gadsen's motorcycles. Ever since then I wanted to go out and do it on my own. That initial feeling of being in a competitive racing environment got me involved.
In 1999 I purchased a Kawasaki ZX6R so I could compete in the 600 SuperSport category of Prostar. I finished second in the standings in 2002 and 2003, which was a big deal. I finished eight points away from the champion in 2003. I was less than one round from taking the title. I had never won a race until that season and I won two races in six finals. Bringing Yamaha so close and in a position to win got everyone excited and it was a great experience.
Q: When did you think about moving over to NHRA competition?
KRAWIEC: Bryan Schultz (son of Dave Schultz) and I got together and we planned to put a team together and run a limited Pro Stock Bike schedule in 2004. Then Bryan was killed in a car accident and that changed everything. I tried to do two or three races in 2004 and 2005 just to try and get my name out there. If I learned anything during that time it is that you have to go out there and try and grab your dream. No one will hand it over. Then I decided that if I couldn't get something together by the time I was 31 years old, I was going to stop trying. I would just do it as a hobby. So I sat out of competition in 2006 and all I did was sponsor hunt and try and get something going. I'm fortunate this opening came up. I'm even more fortunate they gave me the job.
Q: What has exceeded your expectations about being a full-time, professional racer?
KRAWIEC: The biggest thing I would say being involved with the Harley-Davidson organization. I would have never thought, even a year ago, that I would be on that team. I would have said there would be no way that could happen. The team is loaded with talent and experience. I get to work with two three-time champs in Matt and Andrew and amazing talents like Byron and Terry. The talent and organization of the team from Harley-Davidson on down has blown me away.
Q: What has been completely different than you expected?
KRAWIEC: The transition to being a member of the team. Everyone has stood behind me 100 percent. I feel like I have been there a year or two. Gainesville didn't seem like it was my first race. Everyone was so welcoming. It was like I've always been there.
Q: What do you think about the current field of competition?
KRAWIEC: The competition level now is almost at its peak. There are so many competitive teams out there. There are probably 24 competitive teams that roll into the track at every given race that have a chance of qualifying and have a shot at winning. To look at that you stop asking who is going to qualify and you have to sit there and wonder who isn't going to qualify. Years ago you could pick the top 10. Now, if you can pick the 16 bikes in the field, you should pat yourself on the back.
Now you have to go out and perform every run and every round. It's no longer just a battle of the teams that can just make horsepower. It takes an entire team collaboration to make a bike competitive enough to win rounds. The rider has to do their job after everyone else has done their job preparing the bike. Years ago, if you had the quickest bike, you would win. Now, the most consistent team from top to bottom who also has the most consistent rider wins.
Q: Why did you choose to work in the racing industry in the first place?
KRAWIEC: Who knows? Some days I wish I had become a doctor. But in reality, racing has always been in my blood. I don't think I chose racing, it just fell into my lap. I was never forced into it, but it was what I wanted to do. I've always been a motor head. Anything that goes fast or has a motor, I've always played with. It seemed like the right fit. There is no better way to live your life than going to a job and having fun at the same time. I think that is probably what led me to it the most. I wanted to go out and have fun.
Q: Who encouraged you to start a racing career?
KRAWIEC: My father and my mother always supported me 100 percent and told me to go after anything I want. I can never say anything different. I was always told to be careful, but they never said no or asked what I was thinking.
Q: You have been to some of the NHRA tracks, but not all of them. What is the most challenging thing about racing at a new venue?
KRAWIEC: The most challenging thing is having worked at a track. I rate every facility against the one I know best: Englishtown. It's difficult to avoid doing when we're parked in the mud at some places and we're walking around in four inches of water. But no matter what, you have to find your comfort zone and be ready to race no matter what. Sometimes that's a tough adjustment to make.
When it comes to wanting to get a heads up on the racing surface, I rely on my teammate. Andrew is great in the way that he gives me data and feedback. He helps before we even make a run. It helps knowing if it's going to be bumpy and I need to hold on that extra bit, or if it's going to be smooth and fast which allows you to just float and let your weight sit there. Andrew and I spend a lot of time talking about the tracks and each run.
Q: What is the best thing about your hometown in New Jersey?
KRAWIEC: There is always something to do. This is a fast moving, fast paced area. We have good pizza and if I ever do get bored, New York City is right around the corner.
Q: Why did you want the job with the Screamin' Eagle/Vance & Hines team?
KRAWIEC: Why wouldn't you? If you want to be involved with racing, this is the best place to be. This is the top team in drag racing. Now I have to do whatever I can to earn my keep. It's amazing to be involved with an organization like this. I'm just going to be a sponge and absorb it all.
Q: What does the Screamin' Eagle team do better than any other team in NHRA competition?
KRAWIEC: Everyone works so well together and the team support for each other is better than I ever expected it to be. It's the communication that makes this team special and that's something I think a lot of teams lack. It's a very well organized place and they have the right person in each position and everyone knows their role. Everyone knows how to do their job and you are never hounded about what to do next. Everyone knows what to do next.
Q: What are your goals for the season?
KRAWIEC: I want to qualify at every race. We didn't do that in Atlanta, so I want to make sure I do whatever it takes to qualify at the other 15 events. My second goal is to go a round or two at every race and make a respective showing and be consistent. Ultimately I would like to win a race. If I can walk away from this season with a win and finish in the top eight of the final standings, that would be icing on a big cake.
Q: What other jobs have you had in your lifetime?
KRAWIEC: My first job was a newspaper boy for the Home News from the age of 11 to 15. I walked to the bus stop on the way to school everyday, delivering papers as I went. When I was 16 I started working at Foot Locker. I wore the referee shirt, the whole thing. When I was 18 I started working as an auto mechanic, which was nice. I had to stop working at Foot Locker at some point. I owned too many pairs of tennis shoes.
Q: What do you do well as a rider?
KRAWIEC: I think I absorb information well. Something my parents taught me a long time ago was that it's always easier to be open to learning new things rather than shutting it out and think you know it all. In fact, you can learn something new everyday and that has really come in handy with this new adventure.
Q: What do you do need to improve on?
KRAWIEC: I feel like I need to improve on my tuck and down track positioning. Especially with this V-Rod, you are greatly affected by everything. Andrew has showed that to me by watching a lot of videos of runs and just being on the bike for a short time already. I also want to work on my mental focus. Everything is a work in progress but it's fun work so I'm enjoying every minute of it.