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Tonawanda's Andy Jankowiak checks Atlantic City win off bucket list

It's a good thing the TQ Midget race car that Tonawanda's Andy Jankowiak helped construct ran more trouble free recently than his 2007 Chevy Aveo personal street vehicle he owns.

After a few years of trying, Jankowiak was able to check a major career race driving accomplishment off of his bucket list when he won the Gambler's Classic TQ Midget event Saturday at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.

The annual indoor auto racing event draws top driving talent from across the northeastern United States each winter. Not only did Jankowiak win as a driver in the 40-lap affair, but he also won as a car builder in a homemade TQ Midget built by himself and fellow racer/builder Ricky Kluth.

"It feels amazing to win Atlantic City," Jankowiak said. "I was always scared that I would never get the chance to win one there. I've been close before, even second. I've won preliminary events and qualifiers there. It felt like something would happen or I'd have some bad luck. To finally have it come all together there is great. I feel 1,000 pounds lighter today."

While Saturday's race ran without a hitch, a recent trip to Texas to repair his damaged engine was anything but routine.

A few weeks ago, Jankowiak and Adam Bainbridge drove the engine in the back of Jankowiak's Chevy Aveo from Western New York to Texas by way of North Carolina to have it repaired. Then the pair brought it back home in a marathon, 45-hour round trip.

"Our engine in the TQ Midget broke in the first weekend in January in the first indoor race of the season in Allentown (Pa.)," Jankowiak said. "My engine builder (Sparky Grape) lives in Texas, and we usually put the motor in a crate and ship it. But with weather, there was no guarantees of when it would get there. We were a little nervous that it might not make it there and back on time for Atlantic City.

"It seemed to me the safest bet was to take a couple days off and just drive it down to Texas myself. Before the trip I put wheel bearings in my Chevy Aveo and forgot to tighten up one of the brake calipers. And the brake caliper fell off while driving to Texas. It jammed up the right front wheel, so we had to do a little roadside repair at 4 in the morning in West Virginia. We got a flat tire later in the trip, too. Once we got there, my engine builder busted his butt to get our engine fixed in just two days.

"Adam and me took turns sleeping and driving, and we got the engine there and back and wound up winning Atlantic City with it."

Jankowiak was especially proud of the fact that the car that he took to Victory Lane last Saturday was one that he had a hand in personally designing and constructing. The car was constructed over a two-month period almost three years ago. Last weekend was the third outing for the new car at Atlantic City.

"Ricky Kluth and I built the car together," Jankowiak said. "It is pretty cool to do it that way. I told everybody after Saturday's race that if I had won it driving a wheelbarrow as the best option to win the Gambler's Classic, that's what I would have driven. I drove for Trey Hoddick (local car builder/owner/former racer) and also Karl Hehr before I embarked on building this car, and I had a lot of knowledge from my time racing with Trey.

"I wanted to continue with things I understood from Trey's cars, so Ricky and I built a car similar to his and then added some of our own ideas. I thought it was the best option for me to do it this way. It ended up winning us the Gambler's Classic. It's been a very satisfying experience for me and Ricky. If I had any questions, Trey was always happy to be helpful as we were building the car, even though I'm not driving for him any more."

Jankowiak is also grateful to crew members Jake Jankowiak, Jim Grandits and Lexi Healy. Jankowiak also donated half of his purse from Saturday's win to injured TQ Midget racer Mike Tidaback, who is recovering from injures suffered in a race last year.

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