If there was a “Where Are They Now?” television show about short track racing, New England fans might have put B.J. Piekarski's name into the running prior to this past weekend. Piekarski was the 2004 Rookie of the Year on the ACT Late Model Tour. That accomplishment alone didn't make him a household name in short track racing though. Unlike Roger Brown, who won the RoY title the year before Piekarski and then ended up as an Oxford 250 winner, or Scott Payea, who won the RoY title the year after Piekarski and then went on to win races and contend for championships on the Tour, Piekarski didn't stay with the series for very long - only running an occasional race at Lee USA Speedway (NH) over the next several years after his rookie campaign.
So Piekarski remained just an entry in the ACT record book for awhile. But on Sunday afternoon, there was an easy answer to the question of where he was now - Piekarski was standing in victory lane after the 50-lap Late Model feature during Lee's Oktoberfest weekend.
Oktoberfest is a Lee tradition that dates back to 1983 and this year's race attracted a number of notable entries into the Late Model portion of the show - including two-time defending track champion Wayne Helliwell, Jr., J.R. Baril, former Twin State Speedway (NH) track champion Aaron Fellows, former PASS North regular Donnie Lashua, former PASS Outlaw driver Chuck Colby and Southern New England Jack-of-All-Trades Jeff Zudiema.
Piekarski took the lead late and beat them all to the finish to score his first career Late Model victory.
“This is absolutely incredible,” said Piekarski. “It's been a long time coming and I have a lot of people and sponsors who stuck behind me. To get our first win at Oktoberfest is just absolutely incredible.”
And while short track racing fans haven't seen much of Piekarski in the past several seasons, that does not mean that he hasn't been racing.
“I'm a flip-flopper,” said Piekarski. “I went back to road racing and did a lot of SCCA events and races at Lime Rock Park and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. We did a couple years in a Pro Stock, which is also known as a GT1 car, and then we went to the Spec Miata class last year - which was really competitive. Then we decided to come back and do the oval racing again. This year, we ran a few [Late Model] races here [at Lee]. We've been around, but just not in one series. So it's just awesome to come out of here with a victory now.”
Not many drivers get the opportunity to try out both disciplines of racing like Piekarski does, so he's in a fairly unique position of being able to accurately compare the two types of racing and learn from both experiences.
“I'd say that finesse and throttle control with the road racing [are the biggest differences],” said Piekarski. “I started out in go-karts road racing and I feel that if you do that, you definitely can become a much better driver and have more car control. Overall, it is a good experience for any driver to even go out and try to road race even once. You always learn from it.”
In 2011, Piekarski will likely be much more visible around the tracks of the ACT Tour. Although he hasn't set up a master plan for next season yet, he hopes that the Oktoberfest momentum will launch him into a season that includes more oval track racing than in recent season.
“We should do a few ACT races next year,” said Piekarski. “I'm not sure exactly which ones. I definitely feel like we've got a much better car than before and a regrouped team, so we should be ready to go.”