4 Racing Starts, 4 Wins: The Rise of Kowalewski

After his double victory at the SCCA U.S. Majors event at Mid-Ohio the first weekend of June, we realized there is a natural talent within our midst. So we turned to him, Ryan Kowalewski, pictured on the top step below, to learn more about him.

My Beginnings, by Ryan Kowalewski

Prior to this season, it had been 3.5 years since I had sat in any type of race car. Before taking this break in order to return to school and complete my MBA degree in Finance and Supply Chain Management, I competed in autocross for a few years and won a local championship in 2011. I also built a car for ChumpCar and ran a couple races with mid-pack finishes. During this time I competed pretty heavily with iRacing, including a 12th place finish in the inaugural iRacing Pro Road Series. During my racing hiatus for school, my plan was always to find a way back to road racing with the SCCA.

I’ve been interested in road racing ever since I was a child due to the technical aspects and driving techniques that set it apart from oval racing. Particularly, when I was younger I was mesmerized by Michael Schumacher and his dedication to his craft with Formula 1. With my background in Physics and Engineering, I have always been fascinated with the different technologies present in sports car racing. Watching the Rolex 24 at Daytona has always been an annual favorite of mine.

To celebrate my MBA graduation and attempt to get back into racing, I participated in a Skip Barber school at Sebring in December 2015. I had the opportunity to run an MX-5 with 36,000 miles that ran flawlessly and fit my driving style perfectly. The car I was assigned had the number 02 which I decided to keep for my actual car. To please my engineering side, I originally wanted to get an STL build MX-5 due to the extra modifications allowed. Ultimately, I decided to go with a T4 car in order to limit the cost of competing.

I was able to purchase my MX-5 already built and ready. My first time in the car, first time at a track day, and first time on Hoosier tires was at Putnam Park in April 2016. I followed this by running a single day at Blackhawk in a Divisional round.

After this successful trial, I dove in the deep end and ran the Blackhawk Major event. On Day 1, I got my first taste of rain racing when we were greeted with substantial showers. Surprising myself, I was able to qualify on pole in T4 and was quick enough to be in the middle of the T2 field. I followed up the race with a class victory before adding another win on Sunday. I was able to follow those with two more wins this past weekend (June 4-5, 2016) at Mid-Ohio to start my SCCA career 4-for-4.

Despite never having been to Blackhawk or Mid-Ohio prior to the race weekends, my biggest takeaway is that I have remained focused on my own performance versus focusing on how I was stacking up against the competition. By focusing on hitting my marks, not making mistakes, and ensuring I ran to the best of my ability, the results took care of themselves. At both Blackhawk and Mid-Ohio, I opted against having a radio, as I did not want any distractions. My only concern was improving my own performance and getting better each lap. At Mid-Ohio I wasn’t expecting to be competitive and ran tires that were on their 7th weekend just because I was trying to gain knowledge. By focusing on my own performance and not worrying if I had the best tires, ideal alignment, or most power, everything else was able to fall into place.

When I started this journey, my goal was to use 2016 as a learning experience in preparation for the 2017 Runoffs just three miles south of my home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After a tremendous start to the 2016 season, I plan on running the 2016 Runoffs and seeing just how far I can push myself. I plan on completing the Northern Conference Major series to get to that point. Looking long term, it has always been my dream to move into professional racing. I am beyond ecstatic to be in my current position and would welcome any opportunity that may arise to grow further and continue my education. My ideal scenario would be to connect with the Mazda Road to 24 and see what happens. In the meantime, I am going to continue to focus on ensuring my next lap is better than my last, and that I am learning the entire time.