STORY: Kyle Souza / PHOTO: FOX SPORTS
Daytona Beach, Fla. — Four days later, Andy Jankowiak is still overjoyed with his performance in his ARCA Menards Series debut at Daytona International Speedway.
Jankowiak, a native of New York, made his debut in the ARCA Series at the World Center of Racing in the Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire, and crossed the line with an eighth-place finish. Driving the No. 73, with countless supporters on his side, including OneRail, Jankowiak made his dream of competing on a national level come true.
“It really was incredible, and I have all of the ambition in the world to do it again,” Jankowiak told My Race News. “It was overwhelming, a lot of stress, a lot of lost sleep and anxiety. It’s really difficult to put something like this together. Making sure everyone is there, signed in, you have the proper pit equipment, the car is ready to go… we had to obtain a lot of equipment for pit road that we don’t normally use. I’ve been pretty lucky that we surrounded ourselves with good people. Andy Seuss, Mike Dayton, everyone at Ken Schrader Racing, mainly Donnie Richardson… they were always there to help me get everything straightened out. I got lucky with the people that I have involved. That’s what made it doable for someone like me to make it happen.”
Jankowiak, a multiple-time Modified winner, specifically in New York, is no stranger to running in the front behind the wheel of the open-wheel, ground-pounding Modifieds. He’s also competed in Midgets and Dirt cars during his career. But the trip to the ARCA Menards Series was one Jankowiak had wanted to tackle for years. The opportunity was right, and he took full advantage. Jankowiak was used to competing at bullring short-tracks where speeds might excel over 100 mph. But on the 2.5-mile Superspeedway of Daytona, Jankowiak somehow felt at home, quickly.
On top of his assistance on pit road, Jankowiak had the perfect eyes in the sky to help him as spotter — TJ Majors — a man who built his legacy spotting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. en route to multiple-time restrictor plate wins.
“It’s completely different, it’s a lot more focus just on being smooth,” Jankowiak said. “Just adjusting how you had to drive the car based on where you were in the draft is tough. When you’re tucked up behind someone, or driving alone, it drives way different. You go so much faster in the draft. There is a lot to it. We had to learn about side-drafting, what lines to run, when to pull out, when not to pull out, who to follow, trail-brakes or letting off the gas. There is just a lot to it. I was still learning during the race. I was lucky to have TJ Majors there to help me and guide me through it to help me understand. You have to work with people the right way to make friends out there.”
After a year filled with anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jankowiak had enough funds built to compete at Daytona, with the help of sponsors. Unlike competing in a Modified at home, the funding required to run at Daytona was monumental. Jankowiak decided to not run his own Modified once in 2020, partly due to COVID, and partly due to the opportunity to compete with ARCA in 2021. The funding was enough to go to Daytona and get the job done the right way.
READ MORE FROM 2020: Jankowiak Looks To Make Step To ARCA
“It was truly an all in move,” Jankowiak said. “My savings and my 2020 racing budget, and I did not race my own modified last year because of that. My hope was that if we made this move, a sponsor would see what we are doing to jump in and keep us going if I took that first step. I looked at it and said this was the only time we were going to be able to do this. I knew with COVID and working more, it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime. I’ve had a good couple of years… when we went to Atlantic City indoor TQ Midget races twice and won, we’ve been top-five in the Tri Track Open Modified Series… there have been a lot of times with money where I came home with more money than I left with, which is hard to do in this sport.”
During the race itself, Jankowiak knew he had the speed to get to the front. After pacing most of the practice session, and finishing second on speed after a late run by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs, Jankowiak felt confident when the green flag dropped. However, a wreck in the first half of the race, where multiple other drivers ended their day, slowed the progress for Jankowiak. Slight damaged caused to the left-front of the nose while trying to avoid the wreck slowed the car a bit on speed. Jankowiak was running sixth, leading the second pack of cars, prior to a late caution. He would finish eighth — but did that meet his goals?
READ MORE: PRACTICE: Jankowiak Second at Daytona
“We met our goals… my goal was a top-10,” Jankowiak said. “We led most of the practice and it took them taping up their grille to catch us. I knew if an opportunity presented itself to try and win the race, I would have taken it. I just wanted to get home safe. If we were running eighth, I didn’t want to wreck it trying to get seventh, but if there was an opportunity to win, I would have went for it. I wanted to make sure we had a car to go to Talladega.”
Speaking of Talladega, that event is next on the radar for the 32-year-old, scheduled for April 24, back with ARCA.
“I’m looking for some to help to do a Charlotte or a Michigan, or a track like that as well,” Jankowiak said. “But we’re currently seeking sponsors to go to Talladega, financially because it’s so similar to Daytona, it’s not a huge step, so I’m confident we can make that happen. Some of the sponsors are already staying with us. We’re looking to find some sponsorship to do a little bit more than that. To take the car somewhere past a Superspeedway would take some wholesale changes.”
Without supporters like One Rail, Freeman Hotel, Karl Fredrickson at Speedway Illustrated, Bruce Bachta, ‘Uncle Jake’, Rick Hoctor and more, Jankowiak wouldn’t have hit the high-banks — and he will be forever thankful for those who stepped up to help him make it happen — including his entire family and friends.
“Just being there and sharing that with my family and my team, it was very special. There is an eight-year-old boy that always wanted to race Daytona, that pulled on pit road and was really in my glory,” Jankowiak said. “Being able to go through the corners and look up at the wall and read Daytona, and think about all of the drivers that have raced there, and tried to win… I thought about all of the drivers that didn’t get an opportunity to race there, drivers far better than me. That part of it isn’t lost on me. It was a special experience. I’m forever humbled by it and grateful that we were able to put something together and take 10 years of relationships and friendships and turn it into something like this.”
“The sky is the limit.”