At the time of this writing, there were 30 cars on the Factory Stock Showdown entry list for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the first race of the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series. That’s a lot of entries, and there are plenty of formidable drivers planning their attack at Gainesville Raceway, March 11-14. Two names that immediately stand out belong to diverse drag racers Mark Pawuk and Leah Pruett.
The Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak campaigners have each held their own in the Factory Stock Showdown, a series designed to showcase The Big Three with the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet, the Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, and Chevrolet’s COPO Camaro. The competition showcases Detroit’s finest in drag-racing ready, factory-built vehicles, and racers and fans have been intrigued – if not enthralled – since the inception of the class in 2012.
Ohio native Mark Pawuk joined the Factory Stock Showdown contingent in 2018. This is a driver who’s spent a lot of time in the seat, and Pawuk came into this new phase of his career with a pre-existing fan base. His first final round was at NHRA’s esteemed U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 1981 in Super Gas, and he competitively raced Pro Stock from 1985 until 2006.
Before Pawuk even slid into the driver’s seat of the Empaco Equipment Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, he had reached 25 final rounds at the national event level. Pawuk claimed six Pro Stock wins over the course of his time in the class, and so far, he has reached three finals in his newly claimed category of choice, the Factory Stock Showdown.
Last season, Pawuk finished No. 3 in the Factory Stock Showdown standings after a tough 2019 that left him outside the top 10.
“We’re gaining ground,” said Pawuk, a two-time low qualifier in the category who was runner-up to eventual 2020 champion Aaron Stanfield at Lucas Oil Raceway last September.
“I’m especially looking forward to Dodge’s debut of the new 2021 Drag Pak. It will allow our Empaco Equipment Dodge Challenger to run the 2021 engine package that comes in the ’21 Drag Pak. It should help us to be more competitive in the hot weather conditions.”
The weather in Gainesville is projected to be hovering in the 80-degrees Fahrenheit range, which would provide the DSR Drag Pak team with an opportunity to rise to the occasion.
Pawuk’s teammate, Pruett, was part of the development of the new generation Dodge Challenger Mopar Drag Pak and worked closely with Dodge//SRT engineers.
“We recently took delivery of the new Drag Pak, and we are still getting acquainted and comfortable with the all-new car,” explained Pruett, who will also race in Top Fuel at this event and throughout the season.
“It is showing promise, but we’ve only been able to test with it one time before competition, so we have to practice expectation management and understand we are still in our own development stage with the car. It looks fantastic, and I’m very proud to be able to continue to help improve the performance throughout the season.”
As for Pawuk, who is hoping to be in a new Drag Pak later this year, he’s eager to get the season started. It only adds to his enthusiasm that NHRA racing will, albeit uncharacteristically, launch at Gainesville Raceway this time around. Pawuk was runner-up to Darrell Alderman at the Gatornationals in Pro Stock in 1995.
“I’m really excited about the 2021 season, and I always look forward to the Gatornationals,” said Pawuk, who receives additional support from Mr. Heater, Ohio CAT, and Ohio Peterbilt. “It’s always been one of my favorite races.”
Of note: Gainesville is the first of eight events in NHRA’s Factory Stock Showdown. Houston, Norwalk, Denver, Topeka, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Las Vegas will also host the modern-day muscle cars in 2021.