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By: Scott Daloisio

(Upland, CA, April 8, 2021)
When the California Lightning Sprint Car Series rolls into the Bakersfield Speedway this Saturday night, April 10th, one of the main drivers to focus on will be Bobby Michnowicz in the #21 car. Since becoming a part of the CLS, he has won more championships (five) and main events than any other driver. He has had a long and storied career. On Monday, the friendly driver took and hour out of his time to talk about his racing career and his family. Sit back and enjoy what he has to say.

Bobby Michnowicz at the Ventura Raceway in 2019. Pit Princess Photography.

CLS: Very few drivers in the country, actually the world, have been racing longer than you. How many seasons have you raced?

Michnowicz: Oh, let me see. I started when I was five. I quit after my dad passed for about three years. I am 57, so I am going to say about 48-years. Damn!

CLS: Your father got you involved in racing, but how did he get involved in racing himself?

Michnowicz: My dad got out of the marines around 1959. He raced his younger brother in go karts. He worked on the Woods Brothers cars out of Daytona back in the day when you could have just a regular crew (not everyone being a specialist). In 1963 he decided to move to California. When I was four or five years old, he got a racecar and put me in it. I was always (and still is) number 21 because of the Woods Brothers.

CLS: The best thing you have gotten from racing is your wife Wendy. Explain how you met her.

Michnowicz: I was 15 and I was racing quarter-midgets and then my dad bought a TQ. He took me to Indian Dunes during the offseason and Walt James prepared a little dirt area for us. Then we started racing at Ventura. I did not know Wendy, but her grandfather Friday Shackelford raced TQ’s the same time as me. We decided to go back to run the TQ in Indiana on the fair circuit. Friday Shackelford went back there every year. That is where I met Wendy.

CLS: You have two sons. Darrell and Kevin. Kevin has raced quite a bit. Did Darrell ever race?

Michnowicz: I got dirt bikes when we quit racing for a few years. We went to the desert. Darrell got really good on a dirt bike, but he never cared to go racing. Kevin wanted to race. So, we took him racing in a Focus Midget, Micros, and a Lightning Sprint Car. Also, a little Sprint Car stuff, too. Unlike Wendy and me - we just live for racing - he has a lot of stuff going on in his life. Racing is just one of them.

CLS: You and Wendy have a tremendous love for pets and your dogs are always at the races. Tell us about that.

Michnowicz: Yeah, we love our pups. We had up to like four dogs, but I kind of draw the line at two. We have two pit bull mixes. They are just cool dogs. Nomad and Marli. I do not like taking them to the races that much. I would prefer to leave them at home, because it kind of draws away from what we are doing. But Wendy keeps an eye on them, so they are all right.

CLS: What do you do for relaxation when you are not racing?

Michnowicz: I don’t know that I get to relax that much. We live up in Oak Hills now and the trails are not that far. So, I go there and ride my quad. But, when you are self-employed, you do not have much time off.

CLS: Tell a little bit about the t-shirt business.

Michnowicz: My mom started it back in 1991 or 1992. I had already started my own graphic design business. She ran it (the t-shirt business) and built it up with the help of my dad after he retired from Reynold’s Metals in 1995 or 96. When my dad passed in 1997, she did not want to work anymore. I told her to keep doing it for a year and we will figure it out. So, a year later I bought the business from her. I added embroidery (to the business) and vinyl graphics.

CLS: You pretty much lived and worked in the Torrance area all your life. Why did you choose to move to Oak Hills last year?

Michnowicz: It was good timing, but it was bad timing. I kind of had an idea about six months before COVID hit to get control of my bottom line with business expenses and rent. I could never afford a building in Torrance and the rent was getting out of hand. One night we were driving to Bakersfield and there were some nice houses out there with buildings behind them. I told Wendy we could move to Bakersfield and buy a house with a building and everything. She said she did not want to live in Bakersfield because it is too hot. She suggested we look up in the Hesperia area. We started looking around and found this little area (Oak Hills) just below Wrightwood. We found a place that is perfect for us. We basically had to take every penny we had to buy this place that had a building and a house. So, we did that, and we were going to sell our place in Lomita and recoup the money after it sold, and we would be okay. Two days after we put our house on the market, COVID hit, and we had to take it off the market. So, we had no money, no anything and two houses! The one we needed to sell we could not put on the market anymore. So, we were in deep trouble. A couple months later we were able to put it back on the market and sell it. But it was a little scary for a while.

CLS: In all your years of racing, what different types of cars have you driven?

Michnowicz: I never kept track of races, wins or championships. I just raced to have fun and do the best we could ever since my mom and dad put me in racing. I have driven quarter midgets, TQ’s, winged and non-wing sprint cars, midgets, and stock cars a little. Did get to race at Riverside Raceway before it closed. I have been lucky to have been able to race in a lot of different things in my life.

CLS: What is your favorite type of car that you have raced?

Michnowicz: The winged sprint car. A non-wing sprint car, I always said I was to smart to be that good, because I just knew how treacherous and dangerous, they are. I was just not that willing to put my well being on the line to be great at it. Wing cars I felt more secure. Maybe it was a false sense of security or a false sense of reality. Honestly though, the most fun I have ever had is the Lightning Sprints. It is just a mini winged sprint car. I always say they won’t financially break me, and they won’t physically kill me. They are just a lot of fun.

CLS: When you talk about racing winged sprint cars, you raced some pretty big stuff including the World of Outlaws, correct?

Michnowicz: Yeah! Not full-time on the tour, but we would do the whole California swing in the spring and the fall. That was a lot of racing. We would get some heat race wins and some top 10s. When Sammy, Kinser and Wolfgang were all running, it was pretty hard to get a top 10. So, we were pretty proud of that.

CLS: Didn’t you also run the old NARC Series out of Northern California?

Michnowicz: Yeah, we ran NARC and all of the wing stuff up north. Baylands was a really neat place to race. Vodden (David Vodden) had that place really good. I ran non wing sprint cars with CRA for about two and a half years before I got hurt. Then I did not want to run non-wing sprint cars anymore. I always tell people that I learned how to race a sprint car up north with Brent Kaeding, Jimmy Sills, Tim Green, and all of those guys.

CLS: Is there any driver you raced against or who you watched growing up that is your favorite?

Michnowicz: When I was a kid, obviously David Pearson in a stock car. Sprint cars I really did not follow that much until I got in them. I was lucky enough to race with Deano (Dean Thompson) and Bubby (Bubby Jones) and Tony Simon. All the best, including Shuman, Haudenschild, Kinser, Swindell, Wolfgang. I always thought Wolfgang was the best that I had ever seen until Kyle Larson came along. I was lucky enough to learn from those guys. In lightning sprints, I win a lot of races and a lot of guys run second. I did not win a lot of sprint car races because there was always a guy like Shuman, or McSpadden or Swindell, Steve Kent, Brent Kaeding or Jimmy Sills. You always ran third, fourth or fifth and those were good runs. It was tough. My dad’s theory was that he was not going to take me to places to cherry pick where I could win. He was taking me to places where I could learn and get good.

CLS: That is a good way to make a pretty good race car driver.

Michnowicz: Yeah, that was his thing. We did not win as much as we ever wanted to, but we were always considered a top team. We could have cherry picked and won a lot of races, but that was not really his goal.

CLS: Is there any particular racetrack that you can say is your favorite?

Michnowicz: I like Hanford (California) a lot, because that is where I really learned to drive sprint cars. I like Lincoln in Pennsylvania because it reminds me of Hanford. I did not really like the big tracks like Manzanita or Eldora. Yet every time we went to them, I would seem to do better there. Ken Wagner would always ask me, “You don’t even like these places, but you do good.” It was because I don’t think about what I am actually doing. Because, if you think about what you are actually doing, how fast you are going and how dangerous it is to run a non-wing sprint car around those places, you wouldn’t do it.

CLS: Back to lightning sprints. What chassis and engine are you currently running?

Michnowicz: I have a DLX by Circle Track – Mel Murphy. It is a Triple X Midget converted into a Lightning Sprint. I have a 2011 Kawasaki ZX10 in one of my cars. I just got a 2017 Honda for my other car. This will be the first weekend (Saturday, April 10 in Bakersfield) that we have tested the Honda. I ran an 08’ Honda back in the day and I liked it.

CLS: You did pretty good with that 2008 Honda.

Michnowicz: Yeah, the Honda was pretty good. I sold it to T.J. Hoover and now Zach Zauss still has it. I just happened to get a deal at a junk yard for a 2017 Honda. I had Don Guhl develop the fuel system and I will give it another shot.

CLS: Since you came to the CLS, you have won five-series championships. Let us go back farther. 1994 the last year of the original CRA. Some people say you won the last championship, and some people say Leland McSpadden won it.

Michnowicz: (Laughing) I don’t know! I will claim it if they have given it to me. It was the split between CRA and the newly formed SCRA. It was Frank Lewis (president of CRA) with CRA. Glen Howard, Rip Williams and all of those guys did not like what Frank was doing. They said, “you have to race with us, you cannot race with Frank.” I told them I really do not have a problem with anybody. I am just going to race with both. I said that if there is a conflict on a certain Saturday, I am just going to pick the track I like. I ran with Frank and I ran with SCRA. Frank went probably five or six races and he folded. I won two or three of them. According to Dave Ondo, I had the most points after the last race. So therefore, according to him, I won the last championship. I never got a trophy, banquet, or anything because Frank was just gone. It was like a 50-50 split back then. Lealand and the Tamale Wagon and some guys went with Frank and other guys went with SCRA. I ran wherever I wanted.

CLS: How did you get involved with racing in the California Lightning Sprint Car Series?

Michnowicz: I was not doing much racing. I was like racing the Focus Midget stuff and I had Kevin in a micro. We were at Perris. I think I took him there just to watch a sprint car race and the lightning sprints were there. They were whizzing around on the big track and I told Kevin that they were pretty cool. He thought they looked fun so I said that we should check into those. I got online and I seen some cars that were for sale. This guy out of Idaho had this track. He was rich. He had this track that he played with and he had six or eight lightning sprints. His friends would come over and hop in and it would be like going to a slick track. He was selling his lightning sprints because he was going to pave that track and he needed Focus Midget cars. So, I called him and told him I had a Focus Midget that is a combo car that can run on pavement or dirt. I asked him if he wanted to swap for one of the Lightning Sprints and he said yes. I met him out at St. George, Utah, which is about halfway, and we swapped. I took Kevin out to race it and he did good right off the bat. Well, one weekend he was going to the river and he did not want to race. The Lightning Sprints were going to Bakersfield. I told him I was going to take his racecar to Bakersfield that weekend. I had never even sat in it. I did not know what to expect. I get in the car and go out in hot laps. When I came back in, I told Wendy, “Call your son and tell him he is a helluva’ race car driver because this is a real race car.” And I was kind of hooked on the lightning sprints right off the bat because of what they are. We ended up buying another car. Him and I raced together here and there and just kept it going. It (the CLS) is really good, and I hope the series continues to be really strong.

CLS: Who makes it possible for you to be on the track?

Michnowicz: I do not have a lot of money coming in, but I do a lot of things with different companies. Like Outlaw Wings is really good to me with wings. Jamie Wagner from Pflum and Wagner is really good in helping me with motor stuff. These motors come out of junkyards and I will run them two or three years and when they get tired, I will get them freshened up or I will buy a new one out of the junkyard. Jamie will do the freshening up for me. Super Shox is really good to me on Shox, and Mel Murphy is really good to me out of DLX. No money sponsors coming in but deals that really help. Obviously, the t shirt business (Timeless Enterprises) supports us. Wendy with all the time we put in together. And my mom. She is really cool and wants the safety end being good. She takes care of all the safety equipment stuff getting me my firesuits and helmet.

CLS: Last question. You have been doing this for 48-seasons. Any idea how many more?

Michnowicz: I don’t know. I think about it all the time. The last year life has just been brutal for everybody and it has been tragic for us, too. It takes the wind out of your sales. I don’t have as much wind and energy to do it, but the cars are all good to go and I plan on going Saturday and running all of this year. My deal is, as long as I am competitive and its fun for us (him and Wendy) and we enjoy doing it together, I am going to keep doing it. Physically, I am 57, but I feel as good as I ever have. We will keep doing it year by year until we get sick of it. Then we will not do it, I guess (laughing).

In addition to the CLS, the IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Mod Lites, and NMRA Midgets will also be on Saturday’s card at Bakersfield. Fans who would like to attend the race can find the track at 5001 N. Chester Ext., in Bakersfield (93308). The track website is http://www.bakersfieldspeedway.com/ and the office phone number is (661) 393-3373. The pit gate will open at 2:30 p.m., the general admission gate will open at 4:00 and the first race will hit the track at 6:00.

The CLS would like to thank 2021 series sponsors Hoosier Tires, T Shirts By Timeless and TJ Forged Racing Wheels. If you or your company would like to become part of the series, please call Alex Grigoreas at (909) 437-3170.

To keep up with the CLS online, please visit the website at http://racecls.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/californialightningsprints/

2021 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Point Standings
1. Eric Greco – Palmdale – 137
2. James Turnbull – Indio – 132
3. Dakota Albright – Waterford – 123
4, Jeremy Queener – Chino – 117
5. Scott Kinney – Citrus Heights – 112
6. Dave Gasper – Santa Barbara – 107
7. Bruce Douglass – Ventura – 106
8. Jon Robertson – Torrance – 93
9. Hunter Kinney – Citrus Heights – 85
9. Dale Gamer – Anaheim - 85

2021 California Lightning Sprint Car Series Schedule

March 13 Bakersfield Speedway – Eric Greco

April 10 Bakersfield Speedway

April 24 Merced Speedway (Wayne Albright Memorial - Round #1 of the Civil War Series with BCRA – Wingless)

May 1 Ventura Raceway

May 15 Bakersfield Speedway

June 5 Ventura Raceway

June 19 Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford)

July 3 Santa Maria Speedway

July 24 Santa Maria Speedway (Wing Madness #1)

August 7 Merced Speedway (Civil War Series #2 with BCRA – Winged)

August 14 Bakersfield Speedway

August 28 Santa Maria Speedway

September 4 Ventura Raceway

September 18 Bakersfield Speedway (Civil War #3 with BCRA – Winged)

September 19 The Dirt Track At Kern County Raceway Park

September 25 Santa Maria Speedway (Wing Madness #2)

October 2 Ventura Raceway

November 16 Bakersfield Speedway (Civil War #4 with BCRA – Winged and Western States Lightning Sprint Car Championship)

November 18 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

November 19 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

November 20 Placerville Speedway Hangtown 100 – (Co sanctioned with BCRA and in companion with the USAC National Midgets)

The schedule is subject to change due to Covid restrictions.

1994 Tony Everhart, 1995 Gary Sexton, 1996 Rob Sczymczak, 1997 Jon Rahe, 1998 Chris Rahe, 1999 Brent Sexton, 2000 Greg Bragg, 2001 Greg Bragg, 2002 Greg Bragg, 2003 David Cardey, 2004 Keith Janca, 2005 Johnny Bates, 2006 Donny Gansen, 2007 Shane Rossen, 2008 Brent Sexton, 2009 Stuart Hielschier Sr., 2010 Jarrett Kramer, 2011 Tim Brown, 2012 Bobby Michnowicz, 2013 Stephen Limon, 2014 Bobby Michnowicz, 2015 Bobby Michnowicz, 2016 Bobby Michnowicz, 2017 Bobby Michnowicz, 2018 Jarrett Kramer, 2019 Jarrett Kramer.

This press release was produced by Scott Daloisio Sports (909) 226-7768 mailto:sdaloisiosports@aol.com