Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – SOUTHBURY, CT – Kevin Starchak is a racer. He loves seeing cars he sponsors on track and loves watching them do well.
For the past seven seasons, he’s taken on the roll of car owner as well in the Dirt Modified world, and has enjoyed some great success, even winning the 2019 Lebanon Valley Speedway DIRTcar Big Block Modified championship.
His first wheelman was legendary Hall of Fame driver Kenny Tremont. Most recently, Starchak has put asphalt Modified star Chase Dowling behind the wheel of his potent #9 machine on a part-time basis.
However, late last year, Starchak struck a deal to have multi-time Albany-Saratoga Speedway Champion Marc Johnson in his S&S Asphalt Paving Big Block machine for two of the biggest events of the season, Super DIRT Week and Eastern States.
For 2022, the Starchak-owned team will be chasing the Lebanon Valley Speedway Modified crown again, this time around, with Johnson at the controls full-time.
As Kevin puts it, this is something that just makes sense for his team.
“We ran Marc last year at Oswego and Orange County,” Starchak said. “I sponsored Marc’s program at Albany-Saratoga in ’21 and for those two races, Marc’s crew, his Valley team, owned by Scott Hamlin, and my team all meshed together pretty well. It was just a nice fit.”
Even with Johnson being the primary driver at the Valley this season, this doesn’t mean Dowling won’t see time in a Starchak-owned car in 2022. Plans are to have him run the same type of schedule he did last season, when his work and asphalt racing schedule allows.
“Chase is going to be running a lot of asphalt races which won’t let him get to the Valley consistently,” he said. “That means we can’t get him in the handicap. That’s what we’d need to give him some quality shots at good runs.”
Starchak loves supporting Dowling’s racing efforts, but their relationship goes even further than the track.
“Chase’s asphalt deal is something he has to stick with right now,” he said. “Plus, I have him running a paving machine for my business. I told him I’ve sponsored him for years and now I need a hand. He’ll be busy this year.”
Does Starchak know how much fans can expect to see the asphalt star run a dirt car in ’22?
“We’ll see what he can do,” he said. “Chase just needs more seat time in the Big Block. We’ll run him in as many dirt races as possible, but our main focus is going to be with Marc at Lebanon.”
The primary issue with having Johnson drive for Starchak this year was making sure each of the three teams worked well together. In fact, the team Marc has run for the last three seasons at the Valley, owned by Hamlin, will run a majority of the Super DIRTcar Series schedule in ’22.
Getting all crew members on board aiming towards one goal is a big undertaking. Can it happen?
That worry was squashed pretty quickly based on the two events to close out 2021 and has the Southbury, CT business owner excited for this season.
“I know in the two races we ran last year, we had a blast and everyone worked really well together,” he said. “I don’t see why this won’t be a great program, and a championship-winning program, at Lebanon in 2022.”
Starchak likes seeing how much Johnson will be behind the wheel for the upcoming year. He believes it will only help to make the Guilderland, NY driver even better than he already is.
“Marc’s going to be pretty busy this season,” he said. “With him running the Super DIRTcar Series stuff for Scott, his own stuff on Friday’s mine on Saturday’s, he’ll be going in a million directions. However, I see this being an amazing season for him and everyone involved.”
In addition to the Valley of Speed, will fans get to see Starchak’s Bicknell at any other events this coming season?
“I’m working on getting one of those big Small Block engines put together right now,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s so hard to get parts right now but we might run my car from time to time at some other shows.”
With three Bicknell-chassis Modifieds in the shop and three Billy the Kid powerplants at their disposal, the Starchak team is loaded for the new season. As stated earlier, Johnson drove for the team in two events to end 2021. Did that lead into Starchak’s decision to offer the full-year seat to Marc?
“This situation just kind of came together,” he said. “Some of my friends sponsor Marc’s program on Friday nights and things just seemed to fall into place. We really didn’t get a chance to see what Marc could do at Oswego due to the track conditions but he did a really nice job finishing 10th at Eastern States. Marc will do great for us this year.”
Driving Hamlin’s SHR #3J last year at Lebanon Valley, Johnson had a solid season with two big feature event victories and just missed out on the track title. The fact that Johnson was so close to his first championship also intrigued Starchak.
“Marc ended up second at the Valley last year,” he said. “He’s a great driver and exciting to watch. I know we can do some amazing things together and can’t wait to see him put the #9 in victory lane.”
Obviously, every team’s plan is to do the best they can, but does the Starchak team have a goal for 2022?
“We want to win a championship with Marc,” he said. “Scott (Hamlin) is supportive of this change for the Valley and I’m supportive of his switch to the DIRTcar Series. We want to be as competitive as we can, win as many races as possible and do our best to finish this season as champions.”
Kevin Starchak’s a championship owner. Marc Johnson’s a championship driver and the team, led by Garry Waters and Joe Matthews, is a championship crew. Put all of that together with top notch equipment and you have a recipe for success. Add in Hamlin’s crew and Johnson’s bunch and this could be a magical season for everyone.
It’s funny how racers just love to race, huh?
A note from Kevin, in his own words…
“I think we’ve got a great team put together for this year, but it all starts with the amazing crew we have in place. If we want to be successful, it all starts with people and I think the 9 team will have the best crew in the business.
To be honest, the fact that I get to do this racing thing with some of my greatest buddies is something I love a lot. I can’t thank Bob & Tommy Laneville from Magnolia Hill Farm as well as Andy Sandstrom from Lebanon Springs Excavating for being a part of this team and, honestly, just their friendship. You guys are the best!
I also can’t thank our sponsors enough who are on board for this season. In addition to Magnolia and Lebanon Springs, they include Arrowhead Iron, Scott Hamlin Racing, Deacon Excavating, Boss Mechanical, JAM Performance, FOX Shocks, Bemiss Trucking, Performance Engines by Billy the Kid & Bicknell Racing Products.