CONCORD, NC – One thing was going through seventeen-year-old Alex Yankowski’s mind as he crossed the finish line at The Dirt Track at Charlotte to win his first-career Super DIRTcar Series Feature in his second-career star during the NGK NTK World Finals: “My grandfather. That’s it.”
Sadly, Yankowski’s grandfather passed away Friday morning.
“It was a tough day,” Yankowski, from Covington Township, PA, said. “I about lost myself there. I got asked if I wanted to race and I knew he wanted me to.”
Not only did the young pilot of the #84Y win the $10,000 Feature by overtaking “Lightning” Larry Wight in the late stages but he also bested the greatest Big Block Modified drivers in the world all day Friday from Time Trials through Lap 40 of the Feature.
“I put my head down,” Yankowski noted. “We set Quick Time. We won the Heat Race. I drew sixth and I was a little worried we weren’t going to be good enough to drive through traffic.”
Thirty cars swarmed beneath chief starter Dave Farney to take the green flag starting the 40-lap Feature. Legendary dirt Modified driver Brett Hearn drew the $500 SRI Performance pole position and started alongside Larry Wight.
Wight got the holeshot into Turn 1 and took the lead from Hearn right off the bat. Four laps in, 12th-place starter Mike Mahaney suffered a mechanical failure and rolled into the path of a hustling Kevin Root, breaking both cars in the unfortunate collision.
After the restart, Saratoga Springs, NY Jack Lehner, in the #2L, grabbed second place from Hearn and started a charge for Wight. After halfway, Yankowski, who started sixth, got around Brett Hearn and Jack Lehner to take over second.
As the green flag laps clicked off in a flurry of three and four-wide racing, Yankowski drew closer to Wight. With 10 laps to go Peter Britten cut down a right rear tire bringing out the caution and bunching up the field. The stage was now set for the upset of the year.
“My first couple laps off of that restart we weren’t really any good,” Yankowski said. “I thought maybe Wight was a little better. Once we got settled down we got tucked in and made ground. But then Mat Williamson threw a slider and I thought, ‘Uh oh, it’s going to be a race here,’ but I was able to run my line and roll around the top.”
Yankowski drove a perfect over-under with the NAPA Super DIRT Week XLIX champion to retain second place before going after Wight. The #84Y drew up on Wight’s bumper and dove under him going into Turn 3 to complete the winning drive.
At the conclusion of 40 thrilling laps, Alex Yankowski cemented the 17-year-old’s place in NGK NTK World Finals history.
Phoenix, NY’s Larry Wight held on for second after dominating a majority of the race.
“I think I just over-siped the right rear,” Wight said. “It just didn’t fire off the restart like it did before. Alex [Yankowski] had unbelievable drive down the straightaways. If that’s what we have to compete with, we have a lot of work to do.”
Wight took the lead on lap one and didn’t look back until a few circuits remained when Yankowski made his move. The Gypsum Racing team is looking at their setup and tire decisions going into round two tomorrow.
“We gotta do a little bit better tire management,” Wight noted. “We gotta take what we can learn from tonight and apply it tomorrow.”
Wight had gone deep into lapped traffic before the late caution.
“I didn’t think I was running it too hard,” Wight said. “I was letting off halfway down the straightaway and not even trying to spin the tires. Maybe we had it cut up a little too much. Too deep. We’ll go back and look at the tire and see what we have to make changes to.”
Third place runner Mat Williamson, from St. Catharines, ON, deflected attention away from his podium run.
“It’s really cool to see Alex get his first win,” Williamson said. “I know he had a passing in the family so none of this matters compared to his win. It’s just awesome to see. Hats off to those guys. Me and Larry [Wight] had a great race but Alex [Yankowski] had the car to beat.”
The concentration and ability it took to overcome such an emotional day for Yankowski were nearly as impressive as the win itself for the young racer.
“It was a cloudy day in my head,” Yankowski said. “I had a hard time keeping myself together. But we went out and made a couple of adjustments after Hot Laps. I just put together a good couple of laps in Time Trials. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Everything just fell into place. I just can’t really believe it.”
Yankowski’s parents left the track for home to be with his grandmother but his crew helped him keep his head above the water all day and night.
“We have a great group of guys,” Yankowski noted. “I have really good people around me. I just kept my head down and kept digging. You can’t overthink it. It’s just some rubber bolted on an aluminum wheel. Kevin Bates is like my brother. We worked our butts off. We wanted to just come down and get a couple of good runs and to win one is just unbelievable.”
Presumptive 2021 Super DIRTcar Series champion Matt Sheppard had a race to forget, finishing 15th overall. Sheppard and his team will look to celebrate a championship and try to get a win tomorrow night.