Many years ago Joe Karosik of Depew took his mother’s car out for a little joy ride. He went down the long defunct Niagara Dragway and a passion for drag racing was ignited in Karosik that burns brightly to this day.
When asked if his mother knew at the time that her car was being taken to the drag strip by her 16-year-old son, Karosik said, “She does now.”
Karosik, 60, currently competes in the Top ET class at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway, as well as at Empire Dragway in Leicester.
“I have so much fun drag racing,” Karosik said. “It’s my golf. Drag racing is all that I do.”
Like many, Karosik was turned on to drag racing by watching hot-rod style cars that were driven on the streets in the town where he grew up.
“As a high school kid going to Williamsville North, there was a lot of motorheads who went there,” Karosik said. “A lot of the seniors and older kids had hot rods that they drove around and I’d watch them go by on Hopkins Road.
“One day I had a friend who was interested in going to the drags and that’s how I ended up taking my mom’s car to Niagara. That’s where it all started for me.”
Karosik campaigned until 1995, when the economics of raising a family didn’t allow for a racing budget. Karosik sold the Cutlass he was racing and figured his racing days were over, at least for a while. Then something happened at Lancaster that allowed Karosik to keep racing without missing a beat.
“In 1996, Lancaster formed an exhibition drag racing class, the asphalt snowmobile class,” Karosik said. “I already had a snowmobile that I had for recreational use and the cost for converting the snowmobile over to the drag racing package was fairly cheap back then. So I converted it over and was drag racing snowmobiles.”
The results were impressive. After Lancaster officials it an official point class, Karosik won Lancaster snowmobile drag racing championships in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003.
Soon after winning his fourth Lancaster snowmobile title, Karosik went back to automobile drag racing.
“In 2004, Jim Salemi, John McGowan and I built a Mustang that I raced for a couple of years before I got my Nova which I race now,” said Karosik, who is sponsored by his employer, DeLacy Ford. “I’m usually in the top three or four every year in the Lancaster points in my class but I just needed more consistency to get a championship like I did in the snowmobiles.
“This season has been a pretty mediocre one for me so far but it’s because of me, not the car. Again, I have to be more consistent. I couldn’t ask for a better car.”
Karosik has had success behind the wheel of his Nova in the past. Three years ago, while competing for Team Lancaster in the IHRA Division 3 North Star Bracket Finals at Pittsburgh Raceway Park, Karosik won the Gambler’s race. Last season he advanced to the semifinals for Team Lancaster at the same event before losing to teammate Robert Bauer III.
Karosik has won one race in the very competitive Joe’s Transmissions TNT Super Series each of the last two years and was a victor in his class at Lancaster’s annual Sunday Niagara nostalgia drag race weekend in 2006 and 2009. He won the annual One-Eighth Mile Nationals at Empire in 2012.
One of the trademarks of Karosik’s areer is his strength in producing good reaction times as the starting tree’s green light comes on. That has been a real ally to his success.
“I use a practice tree as well as an app that they have out now,” Karosik said. “Plus I can practice on my delay box in my race car because I can practice hitting the button on it when my car is in the shop, at the track or still in the trailer.
“The use of electronics-like delay boxes for starting races as well as computers and other aspects of the car are the biggest changes to hit drag racing since I started. There’s a lot more to it now. I remember when the only thing I used to get down the track was my two feet for hitting the gas and braking plus my hands for steering.”
Karosik has no plans to hang up his helmet anytime soon but looks forward to continuing the fun that began in his mother’s car all those years ago.
On Friday night, Lancaster will showcase its biggest drag racing event of the season, the annual Nitro Night of Fire featuring head-to-head competition between the Top Fuel Dragsters of Bobby Lagana Jr. and Todd Paton. Also on the docket will be the Fuel Altered machines of Gray Kraus and Robert Floch along with the nitro-injected A-Fuel Dragsters of Chuck Getz and Frank Mazi.
Lancaster’s Mike Janis says he finally shook the “Norwalk Curse” off his drag racing back when he won on July 5 in the NHRA Pro Modified category at the NHRA Summit Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.
“I can sit here and talk about how this track has been very tough on us the last 25 years or how great the car ran but quite honestly that means nothing to me,” Janis said. “This event marked a race weekend that will forever go down for me personally as the most incredible weekend I have ever been a part of. Not only did we win but we had more family, friends, customers and supporters there then you could imagine. My mother was there, my brothers, my sister, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews – it was just completely amazing. To share this win with them is something I will never forget.”