When viewing the IHRA drag racing activity each Friday night at Lancaster Raceway Park, it often seems that there is a car from the Head Knocker Racing Team coming to the starting line every few minutes. Their team is quite noticeable.
Ron Szewczyk, 47, drives the original Head Knocker car, a 1963 Nova SS in competition in the Super Pro class. For nearly 27 years he and his brother Dan shared the wheel of this car until Dan, 51, decided to build a new car of his own, a 1956 Chevy, which should debut in about three weeks. They are the original members of this team.
Also part of the operation is their brother Rick Szewczyk and his son Rick Jr., who drive for the Head Knocker clan in the Pro class in their 1967 Chevelle and 1981 Camaro, respectively. Joe and John -- brothers to Ron, Dan and Rick Sr. -- are part of the team's pit crew. Family friend Mike Zmuda, who won two weeks ago, also is part of the team and drives the "Time Bomb" entry in Super Pro.
"I watched my brother John race at the old Niagara Dragway many years ago and that's how I got interested in drag racing," said Ron Szewczyk. "When we started the Head Knocker team, the name came from a song by the rock band Foreigner. I guess you could say that Dan and I were the originators of the Head Knocker team. Right now the cars are housed in all different shops but I'm looking to expand my shop and get everybody under one roof."
Ron chalked up a win a few weeks ago at Lancaster. "I was racing Ralph Galluzzi in the final and he's having a good year," said Ron. "It was a heads-up race as we both dialed a 5.46 and Ralph left too soon and red lighted (automatic disqualification). I made a full pass even though I saw the red light. It was solid pass."
In bracket drag racing, before a run, a driver will predict, based on his car's performance, how many seconds it will take to make the pass. This is called dial-in time. His run must be close to his dial-in in the race and he must also get a good jump at the starting line to have a better shot at winning the round.
Ron says that over the years he has set up his car to do wheelies off the line to excite the spectators, but it is harder to run the car as accurately as far as dial-in times are concerned. He feels, while it was entertaining for fans, it cost him wins. Now, the car is not set in the wheelie mode anymore.
Dan's new car may not carry the Head Knocker name.
"I am still deciding what to name the car," says Dan. "For tradition and sentimental reasons the Head Knocker names seems to fit but I'm leaning towards the name 'Skully.' The team symbol is the skull and crossbones. Either way, I will still be a part of the Head Knocker team."
Whatever the name, there is little question that the Head Knocker operation will continue to grab attention at Lancaster for years.
The local racing community is mourning the death of retired NASCAR Late Model driver Gary Schwab, who died this past weekend from injuries sustained by falling from a barn roof about two weeks earlier. He was 54.
Schwab raced mainly at Holland Speedway. A dairy farmer by trade, he was known as "The Flying Milkman." Schwab created one of the most successful marketing projects in local racing history several years ago. He was sponsored by Perry's Ice Cream and each race night the team gave out ice cream to fans.
"I have a lot of memories of Gary as I was growing up when my dad (Ron) was running the track," said Holland General Manager Tim Bennett.
The Bennett family has promoted Holland for nearly 50 years.
"It's a big loss," Bennett said. "Gary was a good-will ambassador for racing and I thank him and his family for all they've done to help Holland grow over the years."
"He was a super guy who died way too young," said Late Model driver Dave Heitzhaus. "We became really good friends, especially after Gary stopped racing. He was a good racer and a good man."
*Fans wanting to get a good seat for the Late Model Mid-Season Championships on Saturday at Lancaster better get there early. The annual appearance of the six-story, car-crushing, fire-breathing "Robosaurus" transformer vehicle annually packs the grandstand with Lancaster's largest crowd each year. Lancaster is also admitting fans to Friday's IHRA drag racing program for $25 a carload.
*The Sunoco Race of Champions Modified Tour, which drew a large crowd to Wyoming County International Speedway last month, returns Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
*McKean County Raceway will host the T3 Modified Series and the Jason Dunham Memorial for Super Stocks, tonight at 7.
*Russell Knutsen won the Street Stock race last Saturday at Lancaster.