Monday, January 28, 2019

Okrzesik Claims SpeedFest 200 in Decisive Win Over NASCAR Champ Busch

Prior to scoring a breakout win at SpeedFest, Connor Okresik put up an impressive showing in Pensacola during the 51st Snowball Derby weekend. (Daniel Vining/

CORDELE, Georgia (January 28, 2019) -- Just a few weeks ago, I found myself standing next to a young man at Sunny South Speedway. He was flagging kids younger than him during an open test for groups of go karts, Bandoleros, and the like.

We talked about finishing up school. In May, he will graduate after being homeschooled throughout high school; a move that has afforded him the opportunity to begin a racing career at an age when most of his peers barely have their driver’s license.

We talked about the new engines in Legends cars this year. We talked about mounting cameras in weird places to get interesting perspectives. We talked about how hard his Mom and Dad work at the Speedway the family owns and operates, and how hard his team works to support his racing endeavours.

He’s not very outspoken, and his comments reflect that; responding with modesty and an strong sense of appreciation of the opportunity in front of him.

From humble beginnings at a quirky little quarter mile racetrack in Grand Bay, Alabama, Connor Okresik has begun a climb up the racing ladder in the Deep South racing scene. At each rung he has found success, and on Saturday in Cordele, Georgia, he took the next step by scoring a breakout victory in the SpeedFest 200 at Crisp Motorsports Park.

Okrzesik claimed his first Super Late Model win in fine fashion, besting NASCAR Champion Kyle Busch in a five lap dash where the restart made all the difference.

“I was pretty mad when the caution came out,” Okrzesik told Short Track Scene. “It took me a lap to get my bearings. And then I started to think about what I was going to do on the restart. I knew it would be tough.”

Veteran racer turned Crew Chief and driver coach Mike Garvey was in the youngster’s ear, and gave Okrzesik some intense motivation.

“You need to do whatever it takes to beat him on this restart,” Garvey said on the radio. “This story is going to be even sweeter when you beat Kyle Busch for this one.”

On lap 194 the green flag flew and Okrzesik took off, leaving Busch to battle with Harrison Burton for the second spot. Okrzesik jetted to an 0.80 lead en-route to victory in his Senneker powered machine.

“It feels good,” Okrzesik told  “I’m like, half the age of Busch or something like that.  There’s a lot of older drivers out there.  Being on a low-budget team, not a shoestring but a lower budget than KBM, Toyota Racing, or any of those guys, it’s really sweet to get this win.”

Okrzesik began to see a noticeable shift in his performance midway through the 2018 season, after his first late model victory in a Show Me the Money Series Pro Late Model race at Montgomery Motor Speedway.

“It’s not just the team, but also me as a driver;  I’ve gotten better,” he said. “Around Montgomery it just clicked.”

From then on Okrzesik has steadily improved and is constantly finding himself among the names at the top of the charts week in, and week out.

During the 51st Snowball Derby, Okrzesik turned heads with a fourth place effort in the Derby, and a third place finish in the Snowflake 100 after starting from the pole.

Kyle Busch was quick to credit Okrzesik on his performance at SpeedFest.

“The 14, Connor and those guys did a great job,” Busch said. “They were hauling butt today.  Fun to see these younger guys going fast and doing well, and sucks to finish second to them.  Overall, we had fun and that’s what it’s about.”

Busch held off Harrison Burton in the final laps to remain in second after starting the day in tenth.

“We were really bad in qualifying,” Busch said.  “Our car was terrible there.  A couple of guys ran some really good laps in the .70s and we were stuck in the .90s.  I knew we were going to have a struggle in qualifying, but once the race started I knew we had a good race car.

“It was always just a little too tight or a little too loose. We tried everything, we wholesaled it, we threw the kitchen sink at it on both pit stops trying to make improvements.”

For Okresik, this win is the start of 2019 racing program that will him once again compete in the Southern Super Series and various other Pro and Super Late Model events.

Plans also include entering in the ARCA 200 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida on March 9th. Okrzesik has already turned laps at the famous half-mile in an ARCA car in preparation for that event.

On a personal note, I have to say that I am excited for what a kid like Connor Okresik brings to the racing community. I have seen many in his position in the past that have not maintained the level of composure and appreciation that this young man shows.

Instead of going the route of the spoiled rich kid, Connor has so far chosen to put his nose to the grindstone; all the while thankful to be surrounded by a hard working and passionate network of family and friends that ready to help him rise to the ranks of racing’s elite.

He has an honest to goodness true shot at making it pretty dang far, and it’s exciting to get to play witness to the rise from the ground level.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A correction to Okrzesik's finish in the Snowflake 100. I initially had him as the runner up, however he in fact finished third. For the record, Bubba Pollard finished second to Chase Purdy in that race. (Updated: 1-28-19, 17:23)

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