Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – TONAWANDA, NY – What started out as crazy luck during the peak of the pandemic turned out to be a dream come true for Andy Jankowiak.
The Tonawanda, NY native will be making his stock car debut this weekend at Daytona International Speedway as he gets behind the wheel of his #73 OneRail Ford Fusion in the ARCA Menard’s Series.
Jankowiak will be driving a car built in 2018 that he obtained from former NASCAR Cup driver Ken Schrader.
In an interview for RSN Trackside, Jankowiak talked about how the deal started.
“It really started when COVID hit,” Jankowiak said. I didn’t think we were going to have a racing season. Daytona has been a place I really wanted to get. I’m not a tourist, I wanted to go to race. I started to seek an opportunity to do so competitively and with the COVID situation, everything just fell into place.”
It really set in for Andy J. when he took his ARCA car to the Daytona test last month. In the combined results of the two-day test session, Jankowiak was 24th fastest out of 56 drivers with a 49.881 on day two.
On just being at Daytona, Jankowiak said “It was so overwhelming, it was honestly hard to slow down and process it all just being there. Getting there was so cool. Once we got into the racing part, we weren’t where he wanted to be speed wise. We came here to run in the top ten and be competitive. We started searching for a little bit more speed and found a little. I have to credit Andy Seuss and my crew chief Mike Dayton for really jumping in. Once I said I wanted to work on this and make it better, it was all hands on deck. We’ve been working on it, and I think we’ve found a lot of ways to improve and I think we’re going to end up being better.”
Jankowiak plans on doing two additional races on his ARCA schedule, Talladega and possibly Michigan, provided he can bring the car home in one piece at Daytona. Jankowiak did confirm as well this is the only car he has, no backup car at all for this weekend.
Jankowiak will also be racing with a heavy heart. Back in December, his crew member and friend, Matthew “Mateo” Hope, passed away. Jankowiak has Hope racing with him by placing “Mateo” on the roof just above the rear windshield; and a co-worker at Jankowiak’s other job as a pizza delivery driver, who is also a retired NASCAR tire changer, had patches made for Jankowiak and his team to wear on their crew shirts.
“I’ve had Matt a lot on my mind lately. It’s been really hard. Working on the car so much is probably the first distraction I’ve had from thinking about Matt and everything that happened,” Jankowiak answered when asked about Hope. “He would do this thing where, I had some pretty cars, and when I wasn’t looking, he’d get a Sharpie and write “Mateo” as big as he could. He did it to all of us and wasn’t shy about it. The “Mateo” we have on the [ARCA] roof was actually scanned off of one of the signatures I had hanging up at the stop. I was trying to figure out what to do, and that was the one that kind of felt right. I wanted to bring Matt along with me. I know he’s in the pits with me in spirit. It’s hard to describe.”
Jankowiak will also another Western New York native in his ear when on track. His spotter will be East Bethany’s TJ Majors, current spotter for Joey Logano in the NASCAR Cup Series and former spotter for Dale Earnhardt Jr,.
“The idea came from my family friend Eddie Murray, who used to race Cup Lite division, which Majors came from, a division that used to race in the Western New York area, said Jankowiak. He told me to give him a call, I asked if he would work with me and he said he would. I’m really excited to have someone with experience that would guide me, because obviously I have none. Any amount of experience and leadership in that regard is going to be huge.”
Jankowiak’s pick for the Daytona 500? He’s going with Denny Hamlin, as he looks to be the first Cup driver to win three 500s in a row, but will be rooting for fellow Modified driver Ryan Preece, as well as Corey LaJoie and Daniel Suarez.
Jankowiak’s ARCA debut in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona can be seen this Saturday at 1:30pm ET on FS1.
To watch the full interview with Andy J., tune into RSN Trackside this Wednesday at 10 pm ET on www.facebook.com/ROCSportsNet.