Until now, his 2006 trophy and ring from his win at the Toyota All-Star Showdown were perhaps his most prized possessions. This year, he's making room for something bigger - the 2008 NASCAR Camping World Series East Championship hardware.
In his tenth anniversary in the series, Kobyluck finally seized the brass ring and will sit at the head table at this year's banquet. It's been a journey of sorts for the series' only Native American, and one that has seen the 38-year-old driver evolve into the competitor that all others turn to for advice. Kobyluck is one of the old guard, and his championship winning season was certainly a fan favorite. The technology and resources flowing to the development teams couldn't beat this independent.
“Those other teams have resources, equipment, and manpower available to them. These drivers that are development drivers are handpicked so the talent is not lacking for the drivers,” Kobyluck said. “To beat that is just a huge accomplishment.”
Kobyluck didn't even consider racing until he was 22. Kobyluck went to Norwich Tech and had a successful college basketball career in which he was a team captain and all-state player. Having a competitive spirit, when college and basketball was over, he looked for something else.
He became successful almost immediately behind the wheel, but was sidelined for several months following a horrific crash at Stafford Motor Speedway. Kobyluck spent two weeks in a hospital bed recovering from a punctured lung, broken collarbone, broken ribs, and a knee
injury. He spent the following three months in physical therapy just gaining the strength back in his muscles and tendons.
It was after this injury that Kobyluck moved up to the then-titled NASCAR Busch North Series. After two full seasons, Kobyluck began winning. In 2002, he was in line for the championship, but fell just nine points short at the season finale and finished second to Andy Santerre.
In 2005, Kobyluck was a season-long title contender, but was frustrated only by two bad finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the team's biggest nemesis on the schedule. That year, he led the series in race wins with a total of five victories. In 2006 and 2007, Kobyluck again was a threat for the title, but was always shut out at the end.
The 2008 season couldn't have gone any better. True, he did start out the season with a frustrating finish at Greenville-Pickens Speedway when a flat tire relegated the driver to a 22nd place finish, but everything else seemed to fall into place. His dual third place finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway were just what he needed to put the past behind him.
“The last race of the season was indicative of some of the earlier races of the season
with tires. We weren't in contention at Greenville, we had a blown motor out of Watkins
Glen, we had problems at South Boston - it didn't all go right. We just made the best
of the situations that we could have and made successful days out of them,” said
Kobyluck. “Our only finish outside the top-10 was at Greenville, which considering
everything that happened this year was in of itself truly remarkable. What I can say
about this year is that I made a lot better decisions on the racetrack. I made sure I
wasn't trying to go too far too fast. That's when things go wrong.”
“I feel like I have evolved as a driver,” he continued. “I noticed it at Stafford when I was
coming back through the field after I had my flat. I was coming out of turn four without
about 30 laps to go and I was on the outside of Marc Davis. I was on the outside
through three and four and coming out of four he was squeezing me up into the wall.
I decided to keep it in there anyway and I knew the potential was there for that to be
bad, and sure enough I hit the wall. Earlier in the season I would have backed out. At
Stafford I tried the alternative because I didn't have anything to lose. I guess that
proved my point that sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.”
Kobyluck made history at Dover International Speedway when he clinched the title.
He's the first Native American to achieve such a feat since the series began in 1987.
He may very well be the first in NASCAR history to do it (there's some debate as to
whether or not David Pearson had a Native American background).
“The Mohegan Tribe presented me with a proclamation for this event. I think that
shows how big of a deal that is for them,” Kobyluck said. “There's only one time that
someone will be the first Native American championship driver. That's history and that
can never be duplicated. It really is a big deal. It's a huge accomplishment and I'm really
proud to be able to do that.”
The season ended just a couple of weeks ago, and the Championship is starting to hit home. It's time to finally sit back and enjoy their success, but Kobyluck says it really hasn't settled in yet.
“I recognize that it's a huge accomplishment, but I really haven't seen it yet. I know it's a huge deal. I don't know why it hasn't really hit me yet. Everywhere we go people are congratulating me and congratulating the team. I know when I was the guy congratulating others and wanting to be in their position I recognize how big it was then wanting to be there, but it's a totally different perspective when you are there. We feel like we reached our goal. I guess my everyday life keeps me from dwelling on it. Taking the time to sit back and truly smell the roses just isn't my nature. I have my son Kyle that races and my girls doing gymnastics and dance. I haven't really gotten a chance to reflect. I think when we get to the banquet is when it will really hit home.”