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Pawuk Wins Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown at NHRA Gatornationals

Veteran racer and team owner Mark Pawuk raced his Empaco Dodge Drag Pak to the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series winner’s circle at the 55th annual NHRA Gatornationals. Pawuk took advantage of the three qualifying sessions to enter race day as the No. 3 qualifier and in the final round he defeated Stephen Bell, to also claim the Flexjet $1,000 bounty. His traditional looking Dodge Drag Pak was adorned with a special memorial to NHRA Hall of Famer and close friend Don Schumacher.

“Don and I were very close and I reached out to his stepdaughter Megan and asked if I could do a car in his memory,” said an emotional Pawuk in the staging lanes after his win. “We are going to celebrate him at a couple races and it’s just so cool. I’ve always wanted to win the Gatornationals. This has always been one of my most favorite races and to do it with my wife and daughter here and all the people helping me. Unfortunately, Kyle, my son had to leave to get a flight home, so he left right before the semis. It was not the same without him on the starting line. I’m glad I could do this for Don every round.

Pawuk had to take on three tough Chevrolet COPO Camaro competitors every round except for a bye run in the semifinals. Throughout the day Pawuk was up to the task leaving the starting line on time and hitting his shift points.

“I drove good all day,” said Pawuk, who has won eight Wallys in his career including two in the Flexjet Factory Stock Showdown Series. “I was a tad late in the final. Look at the parity between the three classes. You had cars running 7.79 and a couple 7.80s. so all three brands, Dodge, Ford and Chevy all ran right together. I think they did a great job of standardizing everything and getting us all so we can be competitive again. I really want to thank all my sponsors. I want to thank Ohio CAT and CAT Reynolds storage and Mr. Heater, Heat Star and Summit came back on my car with Red Line Oil, Dodge and all my associates like VP Fuel, Mickey Thompson and the group at Diamond Pistons.”

In the first round Pawuk took on Lee Hartman and it was one of the best races of the day with both drivers leaving the starting line together and then swapping the lead down track. Hartman was ahead for the first 400 feet and then Pawuk moved around him to take the win. The elapsed times at the finish line favored Pawuk, 7.796 second to 7.839 seconds.

The quarterfinals featured Pawuk facing another Chevrolet COPO Camaro. Anthony Troyer, the No. 6 qualifier, gave Pawuk a run for the money. Pawuk was first off the line but Troyer moved to the lead before the Dodge Drag Paks power kicked in and advanced Pawuk to the semifinals. The margin of victory was approximately six feet at the finish line with Pawuk’s 7.784 second run at 176.51 mph getting the win light over Troyer’s slightly slower 7.800 second, 173.41 mph run.

“Everybody worked really hard on this program this winter, especially Mike Valeria, who’s been helping me the last couple of years,” said Pawuk. “He really spent a lot of time just finding every little nook and cranny and David Barton on our engine program has been great. I am driving better than I have in a few years. Hopefully, I can keep that up. It seems like when the car comes around, the driver does better too. I wish I was cutting 10s and 20s off the line but I’ve been cutting a lot of 30s and that’s a lot better in 70s and 80s. I’m very happy I really appreciate Flexjet being back out here and the support they give us.”

Prior to Pawuk’s run, David Janac and David Davies III squared off with Janac’s Ford Cobra Jet taking the win but after the finish line the Ford contacted the guard wall and spun down track in spectacular fashion. When the race car came to a stop Janac exited the vehicle under his own power, but he was unable to return to racing action affording Mark Pawuk a bye to the final round. Pawuk outran Anthony Troyer in the next pair to ultimately advance to the final round.

In the final Pawuk was facing his final Chevrolet COPO Camaro competitor of the day, Stephen Bell, who carried the Flexjet Bounty as well as the title of series runner-up in 2023. Pawuk was first off the line and Bell spun the tires allowing Pawuk to get a sizeable lead which he took the winner’s circle.

This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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