with have been doing something up through this year. The guys who will be around me know the latest stuff so hopefully it will just be a matter of stepping back into the car and getting my rhythm back.”
MIKE EWANITSKO GETS BACK TO THE TRACK by Mike Twist
He's One of the Best Mod Pilots in Recent History and He Could Be Racing Again Soon
Mike Ewanitsko has raced among some fast company through the years. When it comes to Modified Tour titles, he has finished twice as a bridesmaid to two of the best Modified drivers of our time, Mike Stefanik and Tony Hirschman. He has had classic battles from local tracks on up with Steve Park.
“It’s great to be here,” said Ewanitsko as he made the rounds from hauler to hauler at Stafford. “It’s been extremely hard to go to the track and not be able to drive. I’d love to be able to come here and see everybody. I’d love to spend some time and see the fans, but it’s just been too hard. The easiest way to explain it is to think about bringing a kid to a candy store and then telling him that he can’t have anything. Knowing that there is some hope that I can do this again makes it easier to come back to the racetrack.”
He’s won his share of those battles as well. Ewanitsko is ranked fifth on the win list during the modern era (post 1985) of the Mod Tour. He has more career victories than the combined totals of former champion Jamie Tomaino, current hotshoes Todd Szegedy, Chuck Hossfeld, Donny Lia, Nevin George and former NASCAR Cup drivers (and Mod alums) Ken Bouchard and Brett Bodine.
But a series of hard wrecks, off-track injuries and medical conditions took their toll on the Long Island native. Despite the fact that Ewanitsko is only 38 years old, he had all but vanished from the Mod Scene in recent seasons.
But last week as the Modified Tour visited Stafford Motor Speedway, “Iron Mike” [a nickname that he coined from the former Long Island Trackside television program] was back. That was good news. But the even better news is that if all goes well, fans might be seeing a lot more of him before too long. Ewanitsko could be back in the driver’s seat by the end of this season.
Vision problems have been the specific reason for Ewanitsko to be sidelined and those could be a thing of the past for him soon.
“I’ve been talking to some doctors about the surgery needed to get my eyes straightened out. I got some real encouraging news this past Monday and that has given me some hope to get back to doing this. I’m having the surgery on the 20th of June. They are going to do the right eye and two weeks later, they will do the left eye. So I’m hoping by the middle of July I will know what the future holds.”
Ewanitsko has a seat lined up for himself when he is ready to come back.
“I have a ride there for me. Ed Whelen, who used to own the #17 car that I drove, has basically said that if I’m ready to go, he’ll put something together for me. We’ve talked to some of the guys who used to work on the car and aren’t doing anything as of right now. They’re all willing to come back and get going. I’m hoping to come back. We’ll play it by year, but right now that is the goal – to be back by the end of the summer.”
“I don’t think that there is anything that could explain coming back. It’s something that I had and took for granted. I enjoyed it so much and I didn’t realize what I had until it was gone. To be able to maybe get a second chance at it is indescribable.”
Ewanitsko dropped out of the Modified Scene for the past few years, but resurfaced earlier this spring in cyberspace. Somebody posted a message inquiring about his well being on the popular message board at ModSeriesScene.com. A reply was posted by a user who called himself “Mike Ewanitsko” with positive news. Fans started wondering, was the poster really who he claimed to be?
“Yes, that was really me,” admitted Ewanitsko. “I go on Mod Series Scene quite a bit. I don’t post a lot but if I see somebody asks a question, I’ll reply. If these people are taking to time to inquire about me the least that I can do is to answer their questions and let them know what is going on. I answered one post and the response that it got was amazing. It makes me want to come back twice as much. The fans didn’t forget me
Howie Hodge has caught Ewanitsko on film in various rides through the years including the #36 (1990), #93 (1993), Art Barry's #21 (1995) and the Sheba #8 (1997).
"I remember talking to Steve up in New Hampshire and he told me that in the next two months, he only had one free day to himself. So, I think that he’s got enough going on without hearing from me.”Still, the two drivers share some good times together and could talk again real soon.
“Some of my fondest memories are growing up and racing against Steve. We had our battles at Riverhead and all over the place. We grew up as family and I kick myself in the ass for not keeping up with Steven through the years. I might have something to talk to him about now since he came through the same type of battle that I face now."
Anfd that could still happen.
"It might be a good idea to try and give him a ring," said Ewanitsko. "I’m sure that I can get his number from somebody.”
And if Ewanitsko could pull over a Steve Park-style comeback to a victory lane on the Modified Tour, watch out. It won’t just be the fans from Long Island that will go crazy. Mod faithful from all over the Northeast would no doubt help to put on an epic post race celebration.
Ewanitsko in victory lane at Martinsville in 2001 (51 Photo)
Mike Ewanitsko was all smiles at Stafford. (Mary Hodge Photo)
Ewanitsko could be back in Ed Whelen's car sometime this season. (51 Photo)
and it was great. I’m this big Modified racecar driver sitting in front of the computer and tears were coming out of my eyes. It’s amazing.”
The power of the fans has been pretty instrumental to Ewanitsko’s recovery.
“I just want every fan out there to know that 99% of the goal I have set to come back is because of them. When they say over the loudspeaker ‘Starting such and such is Mike Ewanitsko’, hearing all those people booing or cheering would be awesome. It doesn’t matter as long as they are making noise. It gets you going and I really miss it.”
Quite a bit has changed in the three years since Ewanitsko last raced. He has been away since May, 2002 when he wrecked at Waterford Speedbowl. Technology has caught up with the Mods and set-ups aren’t what they used to be. However, Ewanitsko does not think that he will have to overcome much when it comes to teaching an old dog new tricks. His team members have kept current on the latest racing advances even when he has been away.
“I’ve had my own cars and have driven for people through the years. The guys who I’m planning to come back
Ewanitsko has little doubt that he can get his rhythm back. If not, he doesn’t expect his comeback to last very long. The hard charger still wants to win and won’t settle for riding around.
“I hope to be competitive, if I can’t be don’t see any use in doing it.”
Ironically, Ewanitsko’s biggest rival through the years, Steve Park, also had to endure a long comeback in recent years. The former Modified ace had worked his way up to the NASCAR Cup level and became a winner for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. He was seriously injured in a 2001 Busch Series wreck at Darlington. Park has come back and now calls the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series his racing home. He won his first race in that form of competition earlier this season at California Speedway to complete his recovery process. It appears that Ewanitsko could learn a lot from his buddy’s experiences, but the two haven’t spoken in quite some time even though he has stayed close to another member of the Long Island Gang.
“I haven’t talked to Steve since probably around 2000. Basically, we lost touch. I still talk to Tommy Baldwin, Jr. a lot. Steve and I were
friends and we hung out on Long Island once in awhile, but I was closer to Tommy. I keep in touch with him a lot more these days.”
It almost sounds like Ewanitsko has stayed away because he knowsknows just how busy Park is with making a living in the top levels of NASCAR.
Then and now: Ewanitsko at Thompson in 1993 (Top) and three Mikes in a row at Stafford - Ewanitsko is to the left talking with Julie Stefanik while Mike Stefanik hides behind Mike Christopher. (51 Photos)