After more than two decades, former Pro Stock racer Mark Pawuk found his way back to the NHRA winner’s circle when he clinched his first Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series triumph on Sunday at the NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.
Aboard the Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak, Pawuk defeated Stephen Bell in the final round of eliminations to pick up his first win since returning to the NHRA ranks in 2018 to compete in the Factory Stock Showdown Series. Pawuk’s last NHRA victory came in 2001 while he was competing in the Pro Stock category, and while it had been 22 years since Pawuk last hoisted an NHRA Wally trophy, the ‘Cowboy,’ as he’s long been known to fans of the straight-line sport, is no stranger to the winner’s circle. In addition to the slate of NHRA Factory Stock Showdown Series (FSS) events, Pawuk also competes on the National Muscle Car Association (NMCA) circuit. Including his three NCMA wins, two of which were won at his home track, Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, Pawuk is now a four-time winner at the helm of his Empaco Equipment Dodge Drag Pak with Sunday’s St. Louis victory.
“It feels great to finally get an NHRA win in my Empaco Equipment Dodge Drag Pak,” said the Pawuk Family Racing team owner/driver. “We’ve had success in NMCA, and have gone to several final rounds and had many late-round finishes on race day at NHRA events, but it feels really good to have checked that box of first NHRA Factory Stock win this past weekend.
“The car made really nice runs all throughout eliminations,” added Pawuk. “My guys did a great job of tuning it for the track conditions. It was hot all three days, in the 80s and 90s. But just an all-around awesome weekend. My first NHRA win since October 2001 when I won Vegas in Pro Stock.”
Pawuk’s drive to the St. Louis winner’s circle began from the top-seeded position on the FSS elimination ladder. Pawuk earned his fourth NHRA FSS No. 1 qualifier when he clocked a stout 7.712 E.T. at 179.40 MPH in Friday’s opening session. While the team struggled to make a full pull in the remaining qualifying rounds, no other competitor was able to top Pawuk’s Q1 time and his No. 1 qualifier position held strong.
“We came out Friday in the first qualifying session and made a really good run. The air got hotter during the day and another driver went out in the second session and ran within a few thou of us so I was a little concerned we might not be able to hold the pole. On Saturday, we didn’t get down the track either time so by the time we got into eliminations, we had only made one full run down the track. But my team, led by David Barton, Mike Valerio, my son Kyle Pawuk, Derrick Reese, and Brian McHattie, got the car straightened out for the first round of eliminations.”
Pawuk and his first-round competitor, Conner Statler, treated fans to an old-school staging duel, idling for a minute and 47 seconds before both cars were eventually staged. Pawuk nabbed the holeshot advantage over his opponent and recorded a 7.715 E.T. to advance.
“That first round really lit a spark for our team,” explained Pawuk. “I ran Conner Statler, who beat me at Indy second round. I staged and then he took forever to go in. He eventually staged and I beat him, and that got me fired up for the rest of eliminations.”
In round two, Pawuk and the Empaco team had the benefit of having a bye run. They took full advantage of the opportunity, ripping off a 7.583-second E.T, which not only reset the previous national FSS E.T. record, also recorded by Pawuk, but went down in the history books as the first sub-7.6-second run recorded in NHRA FSS competition. Pawuk then went on to defeat Del Holbrook in round three before outrunning Aaron Stanfield, the previous Factory Stock Showdown event winner, to capture the $1,000 Flexjet bounty. In the final round showdown, Pawuk’s starting line advantage coupled with a 7.638-second blast propelled him through the finish line beams ahead of Bell’s 7.651-second effort.
“I just want to say a huge thank you to all of our tremendous partners,” said Pawuk, who now has a win, three runner-up finishes, and four poles in NHRA FSS competition. “Thank you to our Ohio contingent of supporters such as Empaco Equipment, Emil Pawuk and Associates, Inc. and Seabreeze North Corporation, Ohio CAT and its Ohio Cat The Rental Store division, Enerco Mr. Heater, Summit Racing Equipment, and Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels. I also want to acknowledge Red Line Oil and VP Racing Fuels, and our newest partners who joined our program this year, E3 Spark Plugs and Cometic Gaskets. We appreciate the support and thank you for keeping us on the track.
“I also want to be sure I acknowledge my team. I commend David Barton and Ray Barton Engines, and Mike Valerio, he’s been working on my car all year. The whole group has really turned my program around and I can’t wait to get back out there next weekend in Dallas.”
With only two races remaining, the 2023 Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series season is quickly approaching the finish line. Pawuk, who moved up from fifth to third place in the FSS standings after his Midwest Nationals performance, is pursuing a ‘top three’ finish to close out the year. His best prior finish came in 2020 when he ended the season in third place. FSS competition picks back up next weekend, Oct. 13 – 15, with the Texas NHRA Fall Nationals near Dallas before heading further west for the season finale, the NHRA Nevada Nationals, Oct. 27 – 29, in Las Vegas.