MANSFIELD, Pa. — Audio and story by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda — Jay Alley/ARCA photo —
Matt Kurzejewski’s hopes of winning the 2015 Hoosier Tire Superspeedway Challenge began to go down before they fell exactly into place.
Kurzejewski made contact with Matt Tifft in the final 10 laps as the left-rear Hoosier tire on his No. 54 Costy’s Energy Services Chevrolet started to come apart. At the end of the night, the Mansfield, Pa. native finished ninth, which was just enough to nip eventual series champ Grant Enfinger by five points to claim the honors.
“By the time we went back racing, it had deflated completely,” Kurzejewski said. “Tire was coming apart and the last two laps, it was a nightmare. It was one of the most difficult cars I’ve ever had to drive before. By the time the race was finished and we pulled down pit road, there was no air left in the left-rear. One more position and we would’ve lost it.”
But he didn’t. The No. 54 team etched their name in the history books alongside the likes of Allison and Keselowski to clinch the title, only leading to bigger and better things for the 24-year-old.
Shortly after Kansas, Kurzejewski received a phone call from team owner and driver Ken Schrader to drive his No. 52 Chevrolet for the 2016 ARCA season. Ansell and Menards shifted their sponsorship from Venturini Motorsports to the KSR stable to help the 2015 Hoosier Tire Superspeedway Challenge champion pursue a title, and now? The rising star says it’s a “dream come true.”
“I answered the phone and said ‘Hello, this is Matt,’ and the voice on the other end of the phone was ‘Matt, Kenny Schrader, how are you?” Kurzejewski said. “It was a pretty neat experience. We’ve been working on this deal for a couple months now and it’s a relief to finally have it announced. I’ve been in talks with a couple individuals on some special sponsorship deals and I received a separate phone call after Kansas. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was someone trying to push equipment off on me. ”
“So I took the phone call and said I’d call you back and he said you better call me back. Bus time rolls around I didn’t really want to call him back. He’s a good friend of mine, but I ended up calling him back. He asked if I wanted to drive for us with Menards and I couldn’t believe what I heard. I was shocked of what I had heard. Kenny had a position to fill in the No. 52 car where he didn’t have any full-time drivers for this year, so everything has worked out quite well. From what little I’ve known Kenny now, we seem to get along great and I’m going to get along well with the team for sure.”
The man on top of the No. 52 pit box is Donnie Richeson, who has been with KSR for the past 13 years. Richeson worked with drivers such as Matt Tifft, Ross Kenseth and Kenny himself, only a few of the names that the veteran crew chief has called the shots for.
Second-generation driver Brian Keselowski served as Kurzejewski’s crew chief in 2015 with the No. 54 team en route to winning the Hooiser Tire Superspeedway Challenge. Kurzejewski didn’t win a race in 2015, but recorded a career-best finish of third at Pocono Raceway in August while leading 28 laps, the most laps he ever led in a superspeedway race.
“I think the biggest thing that Brian and I both learned from the second race at Pocono is that four tires is faster than two. I actually have some still feelings of the last Pocono event. We had a phenomenal car, pit stops came around and we took two tires opposed to four and it didn’t go our way. We just didn’t have the speed required to keep up with the 00 [car]. He [Cole Custer] had a a fast car, he was good. I still feel that I was faster, but then again, if you ask Cole Custer, I’m sure he’ll tell you that I’m the fastest loser.”
The same soon-to-be 18 year old driver, who kept him from that first-career win, will now be his teammate for the season opening Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway. Custer is scheduled to drive, ironically, the No. 54 Haas Automation Chevrolet as a second KSR machine. Both drivers will test at the 2.5-mile track this weekend in preparation for next month’s race.
Schrader has two Daytona ARCA wins as an owner, going back-to-back in 1994 (Mike Wallace) and 1995 (Andy Hillenburg). 63-year-old Mark Thompson became the series’ oldest pole-sitter last February in an old Ken Schrader Racing Toyota that raced on the Daytona high banks in 2012.
Two top drivers in Kurzejewski and Custer now have a chance to give veteran team owner Schrader his third ARCA triumph at Daytona.
But the former of those two is about to embark on a journey he never dreamed possible.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity and I couldn’t be more ready to get started. I think it’s going to be a great year.”
Listen in to Race Chaser Online’s conversation with Matt Kurzejewski by clicking on the player below:
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is Race Chaser Online’s Northeast correspondent and a co-host of Motorsports Madness, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday nights on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 22-year-old recently graduated with a degree in print journalism from Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
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