Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – PARISH, NY – DIRTcar Sportsman Modified Series points runner-up. Second-most Feature wins of any driver in the division.
Third-place in the Mr. Sportsman Modified Hoosier Racing Tire Weekly Championship. And ultimately, NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week champion.
Zach Sobotka had the biggest year of his career in 2021.
He soon backed it up with another headline trip to Victory Lane in the South of the Border Showdown at South Carolina’s Lake View Motor Speedway in February, and looked to be riding high on the momentum before the start of the 2022 regular season. The win was another shining moment for the 22-year-old from Parish, NY – one that was soon overshadowed by devastation.
On the evening of February 28, a large fire erupted at the back of Northern Coat & Blast – the Sobotka family business and race shop – destroying both sections of the building and much of its contents. He and the team were able to save both race cars, two air jacks, and his Super DIRT Week trophy, among others, but most everything else had been lost to the flames.
With only the cars and tools remaining on the pit box in the trailer, Sobotka and his family-run team were left with the remains of a charred building and their 2022 racing season in question.
When news of the incident appeared days later, an outpour of support from friends, family and the entire Northeast racing community immediately helped the team get a jumpstart on the road to recovery.
“There were so many people that helped us,” Sobotka said. “Nobody could even guess the number of people that helped donate to us or offered to donate their time or shop space. Anything you could think of – people offered to donate it.”
They were soon contacted by former DIRTcar Big Block Modified racer and current 360 Sprint Car pilot Jason Barney – proprietor of 87Speed in Brewerton, NY – who offered up the shop space to Sobotka that allowed he and the team to continue preparing for the regular season.
“It wasn’t perfect, but it kept us racing,” Sobotka said. “He was one of the main reasons that we were still able to keep going.”
Through hard work and the generosity of his peers, the shop and family business have since been restored. They were able to recuperate their tools and parts supply over the past several months, which has translated into six Feature wins in local DIRTcar-sanctioned competition thus far, including a last-lap pass for the win in Monday night’s SummerFAST speedweek opener at Weedsport Speedway.
“Now that we’re working out of our shop, we’re getting our tools back and working on the car every night,” Sobotka said. “We’re able to have the proper maintenance, and it’s definitely starting to get better.”
Northeast dirt racing has officially passed the halfway point of the season, and only 47 days remain before the start of the 50th Running of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week (Oct. 3-9). Sobotka will star in his first title defense against what is expected to be another 100-plus car field in the Sportsman Modified division, aiming to become only the third driver in event history to win the Sportsman Feature more than once.
“It would mean a lot to be able to recover from what we’ve been through over the winter,” Sobotka said. “To be able to come back like that from the first half of my season going the way it did.”
Last October, Sobotka made an incredible drive from 19th on the starting grid to win Northeast Sportsman immortality at Oswego Speedway. Though it seemed like a lofty goal to everyone including himself before the drop of the green, he defied the odds and passed his way to the front with laps to spare.
“When we went out for the Feature, my dad leaned into the car in staging and he goes, ‘Well, we’re probably not going to win this thing. But just get up there as far as you can and we’ll move on from it,’” Sobotka said with a smile.
Though his ultimate goal is the Sportsman Modified 50th Super DIRT Week trophy, Sobotka isn’t letting the pressure of going back-to-back on the Northeast’s biggest dirt racing stage get to him.
“No matter what ends up happening at Super DIRT Week this year, we know – me, my crew, my family – that we’ve definitely bounced back from that whole situation,” Sobotka said. “But to be able to win the 50th one, that’d be something special.”
Catch Sobotka and the rest of the DIRTcar Sportsman Modified field at Oswego Speedway for the 50th Running of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week, Oct. 3-9.