To become a champion, regardless of the sport, an athlete needs to have the complete package: hard work, preparation, talent, and, in most cases, luck. Late Model driver Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. had all of those things in his back pocket on his way to officially clinching the 2014 American-Canadian Tour championship at Airborne Park Speedway (NY) on September 27.
“It feels really good,” Polewarczyk said of winning his first career touring series championship. “It’s starting to (sink in) reading some of the articles that have come out. It really is starting to. It is, but it is still pretty hard to believe just because we’ve been doing this for so long. We’ve come a long way and everything just came together this year. We put together a complete year this year and it’s starting to sink in. It’s a really, really good feeling I can tell you that.”
For the 25-year-old Hudson, New Hampshire native, winning the biggest Late Model races in the Northeast region never seemed to be an issue. He has kissed the cow at The Milk Bowl, carried the checkered flag at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s AC T Invitational, held up the $25,000-plus check at the Oxford 250, and cashed another $25,000 check after winning the inaugural ACT International 500.
Despite all of his success in these big races, as the years ticked off, Polewarczyk began to question whether or not he had the tools in hand to become a champion.
If he could win two $25,000-to-win events, why couldn’t he finish within the top-10 in a 150-lap American-Canadian Tour event at Riverside Speedway (NH)? If he had what it took to win in front of a huge crowd on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend at NHMS, why couldn’t he record a top-five on a Sunday afternoon at Devil’s Bowl Speedway (VT)?
“We have never been the best point racers,” Polewarczyk said in a phone interview with Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We could always put everything together to be able to win one race. We could put the great races together but there would always be that one where it would be a points race at… I don’t know, Twin State, or not necessarily a big race but an important points race where we couldn’t put things together and would stumble or have a bad race.
“If you’re going to run for a championship you can’t have those races, you’ve got to put together every race. This year we did that. We put together a whole season and that was our goal going into this year.”
Polewarczyk used a year of consistent top-five finishes to mathematically clinch the 2014 ACT championship when he took the green flag in the season finale at Airborne Park Speedway (NY). He finished in the top-five in all nine of the tour’s points-counting events and averaged an impressive 2.44 finishing position, according to NERaceStats.com.
“We had great finishes and that’s what it takes to win a championship,” said Polewarczyk. “You can’t get greedy. If you’re running fourth you can’t dive-bomb this guy and try to get third. Sometimes you’ve just got to take fourth and in the long run it really put together our season.”
Unlike in previous years, when visiting victory lane seemed to be a frequent occurrence, Polewarczyk didn’t capture his first checkered flag until the eighth race of the season at Circuit Riverside Speedway in Ste.-Croix, Quebec. He followed that up with another win against the best of the best during the season-ending Fall Foliage 200 at Airborne, the same day he clinched the ACT championship that had eluded him for so long.
“We’ve had an amazing year but we hadn’t really gotten any wins,” said the 2014 American-Canadian Tour champion. “Then we won with the Super Late Model, then St.-Croix. All we had to do at Airborne was stay out of trouble, but our whole team really wanted to win because the best of the best were there. There were a lot of good cars there. We just wanted to go out on top and we felt like that was the right way to do it. If you’re going to win the championship, you might as well beat the best on the last race.”
For Polewarczyk, the difference between calling yourself a winner and calling yourself a champion comes down to one thing: the complete package.
“It’s still kind of surreal to think we’ve won some of those big races,” Polewarczyk said. “You look at the guys that have won all these big races and you’re like, ‘Wow, that guy is pretty good to win all of those races.’ But then you look at the whole year in review and you’re like, ‘Well, he’s won all of those big races but he goes here and doesn’t run so well so he doesn’t have the whole package.’
“Now we have all of those huge wins that are just unbelievable and now a championship to go along with it. You can kind of look at the team and say that not only can they win big races but they can put together a season and they’re champions, too. It’s still funny to say because we’re champions now. It’s just really cool.”
With the monkey off of his back, Polewarczyk now sets his sights on achieving the same type of dominance that eight-time ACT champion Brain Hoar and seven-time ACT champion Jean-Paul Cyr displayed during their years competing for a championship. He has a long ways to get there, but at the age of 25 he knows he still has time.
“Whatever we’re racing in our ultimate goal is to win races and win the championship,” said Polewarczyk. “Hopefully I’ll be doing this for a lot longer. Brian has eight championships, that is just unbelievable. It took me ten years to get just one. It’s pretty incredible, but that is going to be our goal.
“They say the first one is always the hardest. Now that we’ve got that out of the way I guess we’ll see what happens.”
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51