Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – DANBURY, CT – Back in February of 2021, it was announced that Modified racer LJ Lombardo was going to make racing his full-time profession. While this past season had some bumps in the road, there were plenty of highs to go along with the low points.
Now, as the calendar gets ready to turn the page to the new year, Lombardo is set to make an even bigger impression in this sport while staying on track to make a living doing what he loves.
It’s safe to say race fans will be seeing a lot of Lombardo’s race cars in 2022.
“I’m still going to be running for Paul Wehnau full-time at Lebanon Valley Speedway,” Lombardo said. “On Saturdays, though, were also going to chase the Small Block Modified title as well.”
Wehnau has been integral in the progression of Lombardo’s career, as has Pete Chuckta and the group at PMC Race Cars. Will things stay the same as they did in ’21?
“Yes, everything for Lebanon Valley will be PMC,” he said. “Both Paul and myself have a great relationship with Pete. PMC Race Cars have been great for us so we want to build off what we learned last year and put it towards this coming season.”
How does Lombardo feel about the idea of doubling his team’s workload for this season?
“Running two cars a night at the Valley will absolutely help me as a driver,” he said. “We have a ton of help at Lebanon on Saturday nights so getting everyone a job and being organized will help our program completely.”
Last season, Lombardo finished a solid fourth in points on the strength of three huge wins. Does he have confidence as he enters another year at Howard Commander’s track?
“We were good last year and I know that’ll carry over,” he said. “I also will now know exactly what the track’s doing through the night. I’ll be on it constantly instead of only three times a night.”
Is that all of Lombardo’s news for the new season?
“Todd Lutinski from Dryzone Racing sponsored me last year and has officially started his own race team for ’22,” he said. “He’s hired me to run the full Short Track Super Series North and South regions.”
This is a big step in Lombardo’s career as he’ll be running close to 75 races next season. Does he have an idea when his season will commence?
“We’re going to start by running the full Florida swing of races, running both DIRTcar and Short Track Super Series events,” he said. “We’re leaving the last day of January and I won’t return back to Connecticut until the last day of February.
The new Lutinski team will have a brand new Bicknell chassis ready to go for the Deyo races and they’ll utilize a brand new Small Block engine built by Billy the Kid. How excited is LJ for this coming season?
“I’m excited and nervous,” he said. “That’s what you need to be determined to take on this whole deal.”
Lombardo and his team have been maintaining their race cars full-time in their Danbury, CT shop since the beginning of ’21. Now it seems like they’re going to double the workload. Is he ready for this?
“I think we are,” he said. “Not only do I work on all of Paul’s stuff, but now we’re throwing two more cars into the fleet and they all need to be at 110% to perform. I have a great group of guys behind me and everyone is 100% on the same page.”
This season, though, will be a little bit different. Lombardo will have some more help calling the shots with the team.
“There are a lot of changes being made to our racing program as a whole,” he said. “However, I now have a crew chief for the Lebanon program. That’s going to help us out a ton both on and off track.”
Lombardo has brought Eddie Sickles on as crew chief for his program at the Valley of Speed.
“Eddie helped me for about 3/4 of the season last year,” he said. “I raced karts against him for years before I moved into the big cars. He’s been a huge part of our team and will be even bigger in ‘22.”
How involved will Sickles be with the day-to-day operations of the team?
“He’ll be very hands-on,” Lombardo said. “He’s actually going to house our Lebanon Valley 358 car at his own shop. That’s going to take some of the workload off me and the guys in my shop.”
The funny part is, Sickles isn’t the only crew chief on the team. The other is LJ himself.
“I took on a crew chief position to help Sportsman racer Brock Pinkerous and the NPS Racing team,” he said. “They’re racing at Albany-Saratoga on Friday nights as well as traveling around with us when his schedule allows him to.”
What does he think of the driver they call “Bam Bam?”
“The kid is the real deal,” he said. “He’s a great kid and has his head on straight. I never knew one of my best buds would be 11 years old. He understands racing way more thank I did at his age and he has great support behind him.”
Since a very young age, LJ Lombardo has wanted to make a living in the sport of auto racing. Last year, he took the leap. This year, he’s doubling down with plans to eat, sleep and breathe the sport.
Chances are, if you’re at a dirt track in 2022, you’ll se LJ Lombardo there, either in the pits or in victory lane.
A final thought from LJ in his own words…
“I can’t thank everyone that supports my dream of being a race car driver. From my family to my crew to every single person who’s given me a pat on the back telling me I could do this. All of the confidence I have is because of you guys.
I also have to thank my amazing sponsors. For our Lebanon Valley program, I couldn’t do it without Paul Wehnau and Snap-On Tools, Frick Trucking, TC Facility Services, Gorsuch Performance / Stoptech Racing, Billy the kid, PMC Race Cars and Precision Hydraulic & Oil.
We have sponsorship opportunities for our Valley program if anyone is interested. Both of our cars, the Big Block and Small Block, will be seen by thousands of people weekly. We’d love to have you aboard!
For the new Short Track Super Series deal, we currently don’t have a main sponsor. We’re going to leave our quarter panels blank in the hopes that our performance will be good enough that we can attract a new potential sponsor. However, I really have to thank Dryzone Racing, Octane Mobile Services, Northeast Paving & Seal Coating, Paul Wehnau, Billy the Kid, Gorsuch / Stoptech and Precision.”