Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – TONAWANDA, NY – If you told Andy Jankowiak before making his first ARCA starts that he would have two top tens in two starts, he would’ve thought it was impossible.
It’s been a tremendous start for the driver of the #73 AJ Racing Ford Fusion. In two races in a 2018 race car, he took home an 8th place finish at Daytona and 7th place finish at Talladega.
“It was probably the high end of our expectations. Everything has gone wonderfully so far. I’ve gotten a lot of great help,” Jankowiak said in an interview with RSN Trackside. “We started out in one place and we keep improving. It’s exciting to see all the work going somewhere. We’ve had good luck in both races. The car has been fast and it’s exciting to be relevant.”
Jankowiak even had major TV time during the FOX Sports 1 telecast at Daytona. Under a yellow, Andy was featured and brought up how he got to race. As a pizza delivery driver for his day job, Jankowiak has used his tips from driving that was supposed to be a down payment on a house, to fund his racing career.
“It’s been humbling. It’s been overwhelming. I’ve done my best to catch up. I’ve gotten fan mail which has just been crazy. It’s exciting to be in a position where I can give back to the motorsports community.”
On if he saw the video, Jankowiak said people posted it to his Facebook wall about “600 times.”
“I knew they were going to do a little piece on me. I didn’t know exactly how they were going to do it. That was cool to see a picture of my dad on TV…to get my dad and my uncle’s story out there and the family…and racing in WNY is what’s important to me. Getting all our sponsors OneRail, V1 Fiber, Thermal Foams, Pinnacle Travel Staffing, getting everyone up on TV. Doing my part to help our partners and get them exposure…the more we can do that the easier it is to continue what we’re doing,” Jankowiak reacted.
The story even got defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who was calling the race for FS1, impressed and showed his support for Jankowiak.
The results have been good enough for Jankowiak and his team to purchase a show car from Our Motorsports to run at intermediate tracks. Jankowiak will be making his ARCA Intermediate debut this Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Andy J took part in a recent ARCA test session, scored as the ninth fastest in a car that took the team ten days to work on.
“I was pleased with how well the car ran. It was good,” Jankowiak said. “We had more mechanical issues than anything. It was probably ill-advised trying to go quick with it. Some of the guys sort of recommended we probably aim for Pocono. I don’t know where any of this is going… I have every reason to think this is going to keep going. I’ve really wanted to experience Charlotte on Memorial Day.”
Jankowiak was under a second behind ARCA and NASCAR phenom Ty Gibbs, for which Jankowiak calls a success.
“They (his crew) said if I can get within a second and a half of Gibbs, who was gonna be on stickers, taping up and cooling down, we’d be pretty close and we got within a second with 12 laps on track. I’m very encouraged for being a small team about where we are. I don’t think we’re ready to beat Gibbs yet obviously. Everyone is going to come out of that test and be faster when we come back. I think we’ve proved that the car can be competitive.”
Earlier this week, Jankowiak announced in a press release that the team will be honoring fallen soldiers from Western New York with names on driver and crew helmets, in addition to the racecar at Charlotte, on this Memorial Day weekend. Fuel carrier First Sergeant Adam Brown, USMC (ret), is a crew member on the team, and showed how to honor the brave men and women.
Names on all the team helmets will include Marine Lieutenant Corporal Tamario Burkett of Erie, Marine Lance Cpl. Zachary D. Smith of Hornell, Army Sergeant First Class Peter P. Tycz II of Cheektowaga, Army Specialist Alan N. Dikcis of Niagara Falls, Army Staff Sergeant Michael S. Lammerts of Tonawanda, Army Sergeant Cari Anne Gasiewicz of Depew, and Army Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Dill of Tonawanda. On the car will feature Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas S. O’Brien of Stanley, NC.
“It is an honor for us to be able to do this,” Jankowiak said in the press release of the tributes. “It has been an emotional experience for me, and it’s difficult to put words to how much it means to our team that we will be able to recognize all of these men and women.”
On the ARCA schedule, one of the stops includes a home state race to Watkins Glen International in August. Previously, that race was been on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East side (Now ARCA Menards Series East). Could Andy J add that to his schedule?
“That is a dream. I certainly need a car to do that. We keep coming out of these things in good shape. Our partners are happy,” Jankowiak said. “We got to come out of Charlotte very good. Watkins Glen is really going to be dictated by the ability of parts because I can’t buy all of the parts. I just need to see where we are after Charlotte and make an assessment on that.”
Jankowiak races in the General Tire 150 this Saturday night at 7pm ET on FS1.
For the full interview with Andy, head to the RSN Trackside Facebook page.