Karl Budzevski was the name that everyone thought about when it came to the top contender at Motor Mile Speedway in the Limited Late Model division as the track came back to life this season.
Budzevski left no doubts about his intentions to run up front and be a championship contender in the first race of the season on April 27th. Budzevski picked up the win in the opener despite starting fifth after the mandatory redraw following qualifying and fended off a couple of challenges from another top championship contender, Daryn Cockram.
During the season opener, Budzevski and his crew chief Jason Merriman dialed his car in all day and while they missed it a little in qualifying, the team rallied to have the strongest car in the race. Budzevski came in with experience on the new harder Hoosier F-50 tire from racing on it at South Boston Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park, while Motor Mile Speedway sat idle last year.
However, the veteran Limited Late Model driver says the tires wore completely different at Motor Mile and thinks saving tires will still be a challenge with the two new tires every three races program that the Limiteds are on.
“The F-50 tire doesn’t quite wear the same as it does at South Boston,” Budzevski told RACE22.com. “I do expect the lap times will fall off dramatically, maybe not this race but by the third race. The tire is definitely a good move and I say you gotta be up on the wheel a little bit more because it doesn’t have quite the side bite that the F-45 does.”
Despite the challenges from the change in tires this season he says his car was even better than what it was last year.
“The car was stellar. I think we actually improved the car over the winter judging by the way it drove the first race in practice and in the race. I think as the season continues we can continue to make the car better and hopefully get more wins.”
After race one Budzevski is certainly the front runner for the championship but with nine races left on the schedule and possibly a tenth if the May 11th rainout is rescheduled, he knows that several guys behind him in the first race could mount a challenge for wins as well as the championship.
“Daryn (Cockram) has a lot of laps there and his association with Lee (Pulliam) is going to be tough. You can never count anybody out though. The guy who finished second to me, Travis Watson his little 602 motor really shined and the (Chase) Dixon kid is a good young talent that’s coming up and races clean.”
He also knows that the redraw for starting positions means you’re going to have race a little bit different to win the championship.
“With this draw, you’re going to have to race smart, not hard,” Budzevski continued. “Some of those things you’re just going to have to make educated decisions and hopefully have a car at the end to put yourself in a position to win. If not you may have to settle for second or third. Just have to look at the big picture.”
When the Limited Late Model field takes the green flag this Saturday night, Budzevski will be racing with a purpose and a heavy heart. Former crew member and the guy who Budzevski attributes getting his start in racing passed away on Sunday.
“I started off in a U-Car and I was able to have a bunch of luck and win some races. He (Cliff) got me in my first car and I took it and stripped it, it was a 2000 model Creech car and we built it from the chassis back up just as a learner car for me. By the end of my first year, I was challenging Anthony Barnes for a win and for me that was quite an accomplishment.”
Budzevski met Alcorn when he was just 19 years old and started working with him when he was 23. Together they worked for Roger Severa at Oval Technologies and that’s where Budzevski learned from what he calls one of the smartest men he’s ever met.
“I built a lot of race cars with him when we worked down at Oval Technologies,” continued Budzevski. “I learned a lot from that man, I had a lot of nose to nose battles with him. He was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. He had a way of thinking and I always told Cliff to bring it down to my level, he was about 10 notches above where I’m at thinking wise. He had such an engineering mind.”
Alcorn’s legacy in racing goes back many years before he worked with Budzevski and he helped pioneer the dry brake system still used on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars today.
“Cliff was that guy who would literally help anybody. There are countless drivers and he goes so far back before my time and he invented the brake system that the NASCAR Cup cars use. I believe it was his idea many years ago when he worked with Lindy White. He worked with Morgan Shepard and more recently Denny Hamlin, Tony McGuire and so many more. He worked for everyone and never asked for anything in return.”
Budzevski hopes to be able to park his car in victory lane on Saturday night to honor his late friend, mentor and crew member.
“The last four or five years his health wasn’t where it needed to be and he couldn’t go to the race track,” commented Budzevski. “Unfortunately he’s not with us but he’s in a better place now. I’d be speechless to be honest with you if we could get a win this weekend for him. Something that would be storybook and believe me we’re going to try our very, very best to do it.”
“If I could do that I don’t know how I’d react, to be honest. I think about Cliff and he wasn’t just a friend, he was a family member to me. I tear up thinking about all the stuff we went through. We had our share of arguments and our share of good times. He had a sense of humor and it was a one-off sense of humor, he could even make the doctors laugh. It’s a shame we don’t have more of those people in our sport in 2019.”