When Jan Winkowski clinched the Top ET season championship in the second round of New York International Raceway Park's IHRA drag racing season point finale Friday, it completed a mission that took more than three decades to accomplish.
After being so close in the past, Winkowski finally received the championship accolades.
"This is my first championship and it took a lot of work to get me here," Winkowski said. "It's been a lot of years of trying for it. I've had a lot of No. 2's. Now I'm finally No. 1."
Also crowned NYIRP season IHRA point titlist Friday was Reid Ricketson in Mod ET. Donny "D.J." Raiser (Street ET) and Lucas Salemi (Bikes/Sleds) already had their respective titles clinched before Friday's finale. P. J. Marston earned the Tuesday Junior Dragster title earlier this season.
Winkowski has won numerous races at NYIRP and other tracks over his long career accompanied by high-point finishes with his 1972 Nova named "Lunatic Fringe." For various reasons, the championship proved elusive.
Even his young nephew, Cody, captured a championship at the track formerly known as Lancaster Speedway when he was the Street ET champion in 2015.
Jan's championship was built on consistency. He posted no final round wins at NYIRP in 2019.
"This is my 31st season here," Winkowski said. "It's all been in this same car. This is definitely so satisfying."
After beating Shawn Beatty in the first round, Winkowski clinched the title when rivals Paul Cochi and Keith Cleveland lost in the second round. Winkowski bested Fran Pepi and Jim Green in subsequent rounds before losing to Ann Marie Nugent in the fourth round.
In Mod ET, Reid Ricketson came into Friday's event leading twin brother Ryan by 30 points. When Reid beat a red-lighting Chris Eashak and Ryan suffered a red-light loss to Bill Bigham in the first round, Reid earned the title. Reid would lose to Joe Gonsowski in the next round.
Reid, who amassed four Mod ET wins at NYIRP this year, is also the track's 2017 Mod ET champion.
"Everything fell my way," Reid said. "After winning the championship in 2017, I had some trouble last year, but I got it done again this year. So I'm very happy. Ryan and I talked about our point battle during this week here and there, but pretty much we just let our time slips do the talking. There was not a lot of trash talk between the two of us."
The last name Salemi is synonymous with local drag racing. Lucas Salemi, who lost in the second round Friday, took the Bike/Sleds honors this season, his first NYIRP title in this class since 2015.
Salemi races a snowmobile owned by veteran drag racing competitor Joe Karosik.
"The sled was running good this year," Salem said. "We got it all dialed in just the way I wanted it to be. I had a good year cutting good starting lights. That's what it's all about, cutting good lights more than anything. I've got to definitely thank Joe Karosik for letting me race his snowmobile, and it's definitely a fun ride. About six years ago, Joe told me that while he was going to race his car I could race his sled."
"We make a good team since we've been together," Karosik said.
Salemi is the son of noted G-Force Racing Pro-Mod owner/builder Jim Salemi and the nephew of Pro-Mod driver Melanie Salemi. Lucas' cousin, Evan, also competes as well as Lucas' uncle, John, along with a few other relatives.
When asked if drag racing is discussed at family holiday gatherings, Lucas responded, "Yes, there is nothing else to talk about."
During class eliminations Friday, Nugent became the first repeat Top ET winner of the 2019 season at NYIRP when she bested Robert Bauer III in the final. In other finals, Frank Klaskov downed Russell Morris in Mod ET; Joe Passero beat Rich Yacos in Top 8; Tim Markle edged Russell Morris in Street ET; Ron Dean beat Dave Lawrence in Bikes/Sleds.
A total of 170 drag racing vehicles competed at NYIRP Friday.
Also Friday, the track had a memorial for Ryan Thurnherr, 27, the racing son of veteran drag racer Rick Thurnherr. Ryan was killed Oct. 16 in a shooting near Brooklyn Street and Winslow Avenue.
"This memorial for my son Ryan was put together largely by his sister Jennifer (Thurnherr)," Thurnherr said. "I'd really like to give a big shout out to Jennifer. She's been tremendous in putting this all together."
Also remembered was retired drag racer Gary Westberg, 79, who died this past week from complications following surgery.
Here are the winners from the Presque Isle Downs and Casino Race of Champions Weekend at Lake Erie Speedway in North East, Pa.: Matt Hirschman, ROC Modifieds; Andy Jankowiak, ROC Sportsman; Jeric Johnson, ROC Late Models; Andy Cryan, ROC Super Stocks; Rich Sharpe, Street Stocks; Brier Dils, ROC 4-Cylinders; and Shawn Nye, ROC TQ Midgets.
ROC season champions are: Patrick Emerling, ROC Modifieds; Chuck Hossfeld, ROC Sportsman; Terry Weldy, ROC Late Models; Tommy Barron, ROC Super Stocks; Andy Jankowiak, ROC TQ Midgets; and Jacob Gustafson, ROC 4-Cylinders.