CLERMONT, Ind. -- There's an old adage that says if you get bucked off a horse, you need to dust yourself off and get right back on. Although he didn't exactly get tossed off his horse, Pontiac Pro Stock driver Mark "Cowboy" Pawuk did see his consecutive streak of qualifying for an NHRA Winston Series event end at 43 at The Colonel's Truck Accessories Nationals at Brainerd, Minn. The Ohio native is anxious to get back in his Summit Racing Pontiac Grand Am and start another streak at the 47th annual NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
"Knowing that we had the third longest qualifying streak in Pro Stock was pretty special, but that's not important now. What is important is finding our problem and solving it."
Pawuk enters the NHRA's premier event tied with fellow Pontiac driver Bruce Allen for fifth in the driver points standings. This season's highlight for the Summit Racing team was the Matco Tools Supernationals at Englishtown, N.J., where Pawuk was No. 1 qualifier, established a national-record elapsed time of 6.806 seconds during eliminations, ran a career-best speed of 201.43 mph, and advanced to the final round before losing to Richie Stevens. He also had a runner-up finish in the Holley Pro Stock Dominator Duel during the Englishtown race weekend.
Pawuk qualified fifth at last year's U.S. Nationals and went to the third round of eliminations before losing to eventual champion Jeg Coughlin. This year's 47th annual NHRA Mac Tools is scheduled Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
How do you like the new surface at Indianapolis Raceway Park? "The track is awesome. It's so much better than it has been for years. It's nice and smooth. NHRA has done a great job, but you never know with Indy. If the weather conditions are nasty, like they can be with heat and humidity, I don't think you'll see stellar times, but if by chance we do get a couple of cooler days, we could see some really fast numbers put up on the board in all of the classes. The performance will be enhanced by the quality of the racetrack this year. It's not as rough down track as it has been in the past. It will be a good race and I just hope we can get our Grand Am up to par and be a part of it."
Talk about the '01 Pontiac Grand Am Pro Stocker. "I'm very happy with the Pontiac Grand Am. I love the racecar, I'm comfortable in it and it's a nice handling car. It goes down about every racetrack. I love the relationship I've had with Pontiac and Summit over the past years. GM has been a big factor in trying to help us figure out what's wrong with our engine program right now. We've got a lot of people behind us and hopefully we'll be able to turn it around and come out running fast."
What are some of the problems you've been running into lately? "We started struggling right after Columbus. The car just wasn't running as fast as before and we were thinking it was the car. We've taken our engines to other people's dynos and we've changed everything in the car six, seven or eight times and nothing has responded. We went to Indy to test after not qualifying at Brainerd. We would've got in at Brainerd but the car shut off both runs on Saturday when I left the starting line. We wouldn't have been in the top half but at least we would've been qualified. We went to Indy and ran three different motors, three different sets of carburetors, along with numerous other things and the car would just not respond. So we went ahead and put our race motor and our national record holder in someone else's car to test for us and it ran almost 3 mph slower than what he ran with his own stuff. We've got something wrong with our engines. We just don't know what it is. We haven't changed them, it just looks like they won't accelerate and we don't know why."
"The team has worked really hard. We've been testing on a regular basis and my engine shop has really been working hard. It's very disappointing to me because I know I have a great team and we've had a great year going. We've lost all the points cushion we had. If we have another bad race we could easily be in ninth or tenth place. I'm obviously very concerned. We can't put our finger on the problem."
What was the key to your success early on in the year? "We worked really hard in the off-season to get our new car working and it was running awesome. The guys found power this winter too. The car appears to still be running alright but for some reason we've lost our combination, or we think, we've lost our combination with our engine program. I'm confident that they will find it. It's just frustrating for all of us right now, especially since we haven't changed anything. There's just something funky going on and we can't put our finger on it."
What do you have to do to pinpoint the problem? You have to look at everything inside and outside of the car. We think we've found the problem, we just don't know how to fix it yet. Before we didn't even know what the problem was so at least we've figured that out. We thought it could be an electrical problem with the car, bad rear end, bad transmission, bad carburetor etc. But after running three different sets of carburetors, three engines, five transmissions, three different rear ends, 25 ignition systems, and 15 batteries you figure out it's not the car. It's tough."
How has the team responded? "The team's been great. Nobody is pointing fingers at anyone. Everyone is working together to try and figure out the problem. We win and lose as a team. We've all made our mistakes. We've missed a tune-up on race day before, I've had bad lights, etc. You can't point fingers at anyone. We give each other confidence and build each other up. It's a team effort. Right now we're working with our engine shop guys to help them to solve the problem so we can get back on track as soon as possible."
What do you want to accomplish in the last seven races? "We want to win a
race and more than just one. Our Grand Am's been fast enough win a couple of
them but luck just hasn't gone our way. We want to qualify well and try and
stay in the top four or five in points. There are a lot of cars that have
really picked up this year. I just feel so bad for my guys. I know how hard
everyone is working. It's just hard to take when you know you have the
potential. We had a shot at the championship a few races ago and now we
didn't qualify. We're just going to have to stay focused and try and get our
problem straightened out."