Four years ago, Mark Kislowski had the rug pulled out from under him.
Just when he was starting to carve out a nice, comfortable spot for himself in the sportsman division at both Albany-Saratoga and Fonda speedways, the rules changed.
Albany-Saratoga announced it was going to change its surface from dirt to asphalt, and Fonda said it was eliminating the open sportsman division to concentrate on the less expensive 602 crate motors.
Which left Kislowski no alternative, except to move up to the modifieds.
In terms of equipment, it wasn’t really a big jump, but in terms of experience, it was huge.
This is only Kislowski’s seventh full season of racing, and each week during the last three years, he was going up with drivers with tons more track time.
But he kept learning, kept his nose clean, for the most part, and last Saturday, finally came away with his first career modified victory at Fonda Speedway.
“All the stars must have been lined up,” said Kislowski, the general manager at Morris Ford in Burnt Hills, earlier this week.
“Four years ago, my hand was kind of forced. What was I going to do?” he said of the move up to modifieds. “I was racing against guys with top-notch equipment, and some of them have been racing for 25 or 30 years. But I thought I was getting closer. I’ve had 11 seconds in the last three years, so I was close to sealing the deal.”
Kislowski started fifth Saturday night, took the lead away from Elmo Reckner on lap six and that was all she wrote. Although Ronnie Johnson had a faster car, the feature was caution-free, allowing Kislowski to maintain a comfortable cushion in lapped traffic.
Kislowski started racing in the sportsman division in 2005, and got his first win at Fonda on June 16 that year. He has nine sportsman victories at the Track of Champions, and another six at Albany-Saratoga, where he won the sportsman title in 2009.
Although he started out racing slingshots, he saw the way “that class was deteriorating,” and began helping out Jeff Trombley. “The year Jeff got hurt at Fonda was my first year in a sportsman, and he really helped me out a lot,” said Kislowski. “He got me headed in the right direction.”
And since then, Trombley and Johnson have served as the unofficial advisors to Kislowski’s racing operation. Kislowski and Johnson park next to each other at Fonda, have been known to share a meal or two together and when Kislowski needs help, Johnson is always right there.
For a while, Kislowski was also racing on Sunday nights at Utica-Rome, but he’s cut that out of his weekly racing schedule.
“If I could purchase four extra hours a week, I’d do it,” said Kislowski. “But I’ve got a great group of guys who help me out, and as long as I don’t wreck, it’s really only one night in the shop. Not going to Utica has freed up everyone’s Sundays, and that’s been a big help.”
Kislowski has a stable of three TEO cars, all powered by JPM motors. The car he used Saturday nigt is his newest chassis, and was powered by a small block.
“This is just a hobby for me,” he said. “I do it for fun, but it’s a lot more fun when you’re running well.”
With that thought in mind, he’s still working on getting his Malta program togther.
“We’ve only been on the track twice over there, and I’ve still got some bugs to work out,” he said. “But the guys who are winning already had their bugs worked out.”
Yes, but those guys are Brett Hearn and Ken Tremont Jr., the former who makes his living from racing, and the latter who has been racing for 35 years and has won 12 modified championships at Albany-Saratoga.
“The guys who are racing four or five nights have an advantage,” Kislowski said. “While we’re heading to the garage to work on the car, they’re usually heading home from a track somewhere.”
Saturday night’s win probably won’t be Kislowski’s last, but no matter what happens, he can now say he’s won in the premier division at one of the best-known tracks in the Northeast.
By the numbers
Tremont’s victory at Albany-Saratoga on Friday night was the 300th win of his career. Tremont and Trombley put on a show, racing side by side over the final 10 laps.
“If he picked the bottom, I was going to pick the top, and if he picked the top, I would have picked the bottom,” said Tremont after the race. “Sometimes, it’s easier to run second through traffic than it is to lead.”
Hearn kept his undefeated streak alive at Lebanon Valley last Saturday, driving to his fourth straight modified win. But don’t even start talking about track records. Howie Westervelt won 10 in a row during the 1959 campaign, and Tremont had a seven-race winning streak, spanning the end of the 1998 season and the start of 1999.
Around the tracks
Bobby Varin had a good weekend, getting a win Friday night in the Nelson Racing car at Glen Ridge, and then picking up his first win of the year at Orange County Speedway in Middletown on Saturday.
Stewart Friesen finished fifth in the modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Friday night, breaking a streak of 10 consecutive top-four finishes, dating back to June 22 last year, the first night he ran for owner Jake Spraker.
Todd Stone picked up where he left off at Devil’s Bowl, winning the season opener at the Vermont track last Sunday. Stone also won the 100-lapper that wrapped up the 2012 season. Two-time defending track champion Ron Proctor of Charlton was second Sunday, with Vince Quenneville Jr. third and Joe Williams of Scotia fourth. Tremont was also on hand for the opener, finishing sixth.
The American-Canadian Tour was also at the Bowl Sunday, and Dan Petronis of Mechanicville finished 15th in the 113-lap feature.
The Lucas Oil Outlaw Midgets will be making their first appearance of the season tonight at Glen Ridge, and the card also features a 75-lap enduro.
The DIRTcar 358 modified series begins this weekend, with races Sunday at Cornwall and Monday at Merritville.