Las Vegas: GM Racing preview

Pawuk's Pontiac Grand Am hitting stride heading into Summit Nationals. LAS VEGAS, April 2, 2003 - Like a skilled basketball coach trying to rebuild a successful program, Pontiac Grand Am driver Mark Pawuk is hard at work putting the pieces in ...

Pawuk's Pontiac Grand Am hitting stride heading into Summit Nationals.

LAS VEGAS, April 2, 2003 - Like a skilled basketball coach trying to rebuild a successful program, Pontiac Grand Am driver Mark Pawuk is hard at work putting the pieces in place for a competitive race team that he hopes will climb back into the thick of the NHRA POWERade championship hunt.

The fundamentals of Pawuk's game plan have been straightforward. Delegate more responsibilities onto crew members Marcus Bowen and Bob Glidden while concentrating on his driving and on-track performance. So far, the upbeat Pawuk is pleased and confident about the progress of his program.

"We've kind of taken a different focus this year," explained Pawuk. "Working with some outside sources, we took some of our existing parts that were running good a year ago and got them back to where they're running good again. We tested at Bradenton prior to Gainesville and ran three of our own motors. We're at least to the point now where we have a good backup, a pretty good race motor, and we should have an R & D motor that will be up and running soon. That's progress and positive steps in the right direction."

Pawuk's new approach to racing this season has been bolstered by a rare opportunity to work with two of the sport's all-time greats, Glidden and Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. As co-crew chief, Glidden has provided valuable input and guidance at the series' first three events on Pawuk's Pontiac, while Jenkins has also dispensed welcome advice and assistance.

"Bob is a very smart individual with a relentless work ethic," said Pawuk. "Combining those two ingredients together and you realize how he won 85 national events. Just bringing his wealth of knowledge to the team has helped us look at things in different ways. He's been outstanding to have as a part of our program. Bob works very, very hard and he's been a great addition to our team.

"Being able to spend time with both Bob (Glidden) and Grump (Jenkins), and having them somewhat involved in our program, is something that I'll never forget. It's something that will always be an inspiration to me. Ten years ago I never would have dreamed something like this could happen, and it's been an honor and privilege to have such talented individuals, such superstars in our sport, being a part of the Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am team. It's like taking hitting lessons from Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. It's an extraordinary opportunity that doesn't come along every day."

The ability to produce sufficient horsepower from multiple pieces also gives Pawuk the ability to test with confidence on a regular basis. At Pomona, the Summit Racing Pontiac responded rocketing Pawuk to a career-best time and speed of 6.797 seconds at 202.36 mph.

"Having the extra motors is a very big step for our program," said Pawuk. "We're back to where we were running two years ago when we had seven or eight good pieces and that enables us to test more. I'm very excited about the next month or two because I think we can increase our horsepower even more. Our power level isn't where the top teams are right now, but if you look at where we were 12 months ago, or six months ago, even three months ago, compared to where we are today, it's definitely been a huge move forward for this program.

"It's difficult to test when you have an engine that's not up to par with your race motors. Being down 15 or 20 horsepower, the car doesn't respond like it does when you have similar power to what you have at the racetrack. It's hard to learn things because the cars you test with don't act the same way. Having sufficient power enables us to test with the same kind of power we run at national events. That should help reduce the learning curve and help us make our racecar that much better."

After a bruising season in 2002 in which the 45-year-old Pawuk struggled to a disappointing finish, the Summit Racing Pontiac driver has now embarked on his 16th campaign on the NHRA tour. Over the course of his career, Pawuk has won six national events in 21 final rounds. His last victory was at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October 2001 when he roared to a final-round victory over Tom Hammonds.

"I'm excited about going back to Las Vegas," said Pawuk. "We've run pretty good there in the past, and the track's slight elevation doesn't concern me too much, but you do have to run the car with different gear ratios than you do at a sea-level track.

"I'm very pleased with the whole program, and our goal in 2003, with Summit Racing and Pontiac on board, is to deliver a strong season and make up for last year when we struggled. A big key to doing that will be to stay consistent and make the right run in the right session. There's a fine line between staying conservative and being aggressive enough to make a good enough run to get in the program."

So far this year Pawuk has placed his SC/T Grand Am in the starting field for the first three events. Currently ninth in the points standings, Pawuk is confident that the performance of his racecar will improve even more as the season moves towards midyear.

"The way our car has changed in the last year, we're looking forward to the summer months when the tracks start to get hot and a little on the slick side," said Pawuk. "We think that could give us a slight advantage.

"We're going to continue moving forward, putting better engines in our car and making more consistent and better runs. We're going to try and remain focussed and try to improve in all areas. I've always said that there's always .020 left in the car and .020 in the engine. We're going to be relentless in turning over every stone, looking at all aspects of our operation and try to make every one of them the best that we can."

Pontiac SC/T Grand Am Pre-Race Notes:

* Mark Pawuk is the most recent Grand Am driver to capture victory at "The Strip." Pawuk drove his Pontiac to a final-round win at the inaugural October event in 2001.

* Two current Pontiac Grand Am drivers have scored runners-up at this event. Jim Yates drove a Grand Am to the final round in 2001 and Warren Johnson advanced to the championship heat in a Firebird in 2000. Warren Johnson was runner-up at last year's ACDelco Nationals in an SC/T Grand Am.

* On the eve of the Nationals there are four Pontiac SC/T Grand Am drivers in the POWERade top 10. Greg Anderson leads all competitors with 265 points. Warren Johnson is in third place with 207 points, Bruce Allen is sixth with 168 and Mark Pawuk is ninth with 119.

* Greg Anderson and Chevy Cavalier driver Kurt Johnson are the only two Pro Stock competitors left in the top 10 this year who have not lost in round one of eliminations.

* Anderson leads all Pro Stock competitors with eight round wins.

* Bruce Allen has earned consecutive No. 1 qualifying positions at Phoenix and Gainesville.

* Each run Jim Yates makes on his new SC/T Grand Am provides him with valuable information. Currently 13th in the points standings, Yates is ready to blast back into the top 10. Heading into Las Vegas, the Splitfire Pontiac driver is just 26 points shy of 10th and only 48 points away from seventh place. Yates was No. 1 qualifier for this race in 2001.

* Pontiac enters the Las Vegas event tied with Chevrolet as the most winning automobile manufacturer in NHRA Pro Stock history with 111 victories.

Qualifying highlights for the Nationals can be seen on ESPN2 on Saturday, April 5, beginning at 10 p.m. Eastern. Early eliminations will be telecast on Sunday, April 6, starting at 2 p.m. with final-round coverage starting at 11 p.m.

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Mark Pawuk , Kurt Johnson , Warren Johnson , Greg Anderson , Bob Glidden , Bruce Allen , Tom Hammonds , Ted Williams
Teams Williams