LAS VEGAS (April 4, 2000) - It's time to get serious! After a late winter opening schedule that saw just three races in the first 10 weeks of the season, the pace of the NHRA Winston championship tour quickens with the arrival of warmer weather...
LAS VEGAS (April 4, 2000) - It's time to get serious! After a late winter opening schedule that saw just three races in the first 10 weeks of the season, the pace of the NHRA Winston championship tour quickens with the arrival of warmer weather in the northern latitudes. Over the next 12 weekends, the mettle of the competitors will be severely tested with nine national events including back-to-back matches this month at Las Vegas and Houston.
One competitor who is fully aware of the importance of the next few weeks and the effect these races will have on the outcome of the Winston points championship is Mark Pawuk, driver of the Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird. The Las Vegas event will have added significance for the 42-year-old Ohio native since SummitRacing.com is the title sponsor for the series' inaugural national event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Currently fifth in the Pro Stock points standings, Pawuk was runner-up at the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals in Phoenix and will be one of the Pro Stock categories favorites when professional qualifying begins on April 6.
The inaugural SummitRacing.com Nationals on April 6-9 is the fourth race on the 23-event NHRA Winston championship tour. Television coverage can be seen on TNN on Sunday, April 9, beginning at 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
What is your team doing to prepare for the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas? "The conditions are always questionable going to a new racetrack. For example, at Bristol last year we raced at a new facility and on a green racetrack that was more than capable of handling our horsepower. One of the factors that will be an issue at Vegas is the actual altitude of the facility. Instead of racing at 500 or 1000 feet, the actual altitude we'll be racing at will be over 2000 feet and that will reduce the amount of horsepower that our naturally aspirated engines produce. Traction therefore won't be as big of an issue as it will be with the fuel cars. I feel all the Pro Stock drivers will be in the same situation. I hope that our record keeping will give us a performance edge.
Is pre-event practice something you would be in favor of? "I think it has positives and negatives. One of the negatives is that we have so many races and there is so much going on. That extra day or two added to the schedule would really make it tough for us. The NHRA prepares a racetrack differently than the way a facility does, and testing may do nothing but throw us a curve during the national event. It would be great to make some test runs before a national event, but it would have to be limited to certain cars and classes. Is it worth going in a day or two early to make an extra run? It could help us out, but most of the tracks today are fairly consistent. Maybe not in the case of Las Vegas, but with the other facilities we run at we can usually fall back on our past records. My problem is time. Being a business owner limits the amount of time I can spend on the road.
Do you feel that the Pro Stock class is beginning to tighten up with the competitiveness of the different engine programs? "Definitely! There are several teams that have stepped up, even from last year. Tom Martino, Bruce Allen and Ron Krisher are three of the racers that have become very competitive. The Dodges are starting to rebound and it's good to see a mix of cars in our class that can win a race. At the same time, the harder we work and the more progress we make, the harder everybody else works. That little bit of advantage we seem to have had last year in performance appears to be gone. We're right there near the front of the pack, but don't have the slight advantage over some of the cars that we had a year ago. It's great for the sport though. The Pro Stock class is by far the most competitive category in drag racing. I know the fans have to love it. A perfect example was my race against Kurt Johnson in Gainesville. I ran a 6.902 and he ran a 6.910 and beat me. That was a terrific drag race but Kurt isn't the guy you want to race in the first round. It shows how competitive the Pro Stock class is. The NHRA is working hard to make the lanes more even so that you can win in any lane on any day."
Although the Pro Stock class is close from a competition standpoint, doesn't that also drive up the cost as well? "It's very costly. We're fighting tooth and nail with the Winston Cup to keep our good people. Their bigger budgets afford them the opportunity to offer better incentives. The reason NHRA and some of the fans don't understand the costs involved in a Pro Stock operation is that most of our research and development is done away from the racetrack. If anyone would come by and look at the facility that we have, as well as the other Pro Stock teams, and see the full-time staff that we support; the amount of parts and pieces, and the amount of r & d that we have going on to try to stay competitive, they would realize the tremendous investment is takes to race NHRA Pro Stock. We don't have the fire and the bang at the races, and we don't blow up parts like the Fuel teams. I do know that we have a lot of supportive Pro Stock fans out there who come to the races to watch us and appreciate the technology involved to produce the side-by-side racing of the category. I would love for the NHRA and others to come by the shop to witness firsthand the investment we make to be competitive on the racetrack. There would be a better appreciation for the dollars that are involved in Pro Stock drag racing."
As a team owner, how do you manage to keep up with the rising costs? "There are some teams that don't run their racing operations as a business. They run it more like of a hobby, throwing a lot of money at it without any concern for a return on investment. It's very hard to compete against those teams. I have to run our program as a business. I don't have an open-ended budget, and from a management standpoint, I just have to work harder to bring in new associates. We made a multi-year deal with Matco Tools this year - they're a great new associate sponsor. I'm also working on some other associate programs. Mr. Heater has been with us for several years as an associate and is looking to increase their involvement. I keep working with our major and associate sponsors to enhance our program, in turn giving them more for their investment. To stay competitive we have to continue to raise our level of funding. We're constantly buying new parts and pieces and going in different directions to figure out what works. I would say that maybe five percent of what we try actually works. When you're battling it out in such a competitive arena as we are, those are the chances you have to take to move your program forward."
Are you satisfied with the progress of the team so far this year? "I'm very satisfied. I'm driving much better and the car has performed very well, especially on raceday. Obviously I'm disappointed with the outcomes at Pomona and Gainesville. We went out first round but were the faster racecar. But when I compare my reaction times to last year they're over four hundredth's of a second better. I thought maybe our luck was changing after Phoenix. We ran well and I drove well. With being fifth in the points, and with the way our car has performed at the first three events, it's exciting going to the races. We have a young aggressive team, everybody works well together, and we continue to build and gain knowledge. I think all indications point to the Summit Racing Pontiac Firebird being in the winner's circle more than once this year. We came close at Phoenix and we're going to continue working hard to get there."
Are you prepared for the hectic race schedule of the next few months? "Yes we are. We have more than one good engine due to the excellent work that the engine shop has completed in the last year. They're giving us good horsepower to race and test with. It's disappointing that we've had so much time off in between the first four races and now we get hit so hard. I know that NHRA is looking at redoing their schedule. We need to have more races at the beginning of the season when we're fresh off the winter months and then they can give us a break later in the year. We're prepared for it though. We're looking at our racing and test schedule so that we can address issues in the event of unforeseen circumstances. Hopefully we'll have enough spare parts on hand to carry us through."