SZUPKA'S FIRST DIVISIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WAS ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS
Anyone familiar with the robust complexity of the Comp Eliminator category knows how difficult it is to win multiple races in a season. And getting back into the right mindset to compete on that level takes an adjustment period for most people, but Steve Szupka isn't most people.
Szupka is coming into the 2023 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series as the Division 1 champion in Competition Eliminator, an accomplishment that's still sinking in for him - primarily because, at this time last year, he wasn't even planning to compete in the category. If it weren't for the generosity and camaraderie of the drag racing community, Szupka's championship hopes would not have been realized.
Szupka's story is similar to many second-generation drivers. He grew up at the track where his mother fondly recalls warming up his baby bottles on the manifold of his father's Super Stock entry. When he was a teenager, it was only natural that he would attend Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School to get his license. His first car was a C/Econo Dragster, so he's no stranger to Competition Eliminator.
After focusing on Stock and Super Stock for several years, Mike and Pam Miskovsky asked Szupka if he would be interested in driving their Comp Eliminator C/Dragster Automatic dragster for the 2022 season.
"I hadn't driven a Comp car for six years," said Szupka. "So the plan was just to try and get our feet wet over the season. We missed the first Division 1 event at Atco, so the second divisional of the season was going to be my first chance behind the wheel. We did pretty well in testing, but I did not have any big expectations. Then lo and behold, I won the first race in Cecil County."
The following weekend in Maple Grove resulted in another divisional victory for the savvy driver. He was undefeated and feeling great! Then at a double-header, after a runner-up finish in the first leg of the event, Szupka's luck would take a turn.
In short, they had engine problems and no spare. With supply chain issues wreaking havoc nationwide, he knew this would likely be the end of his season. Szupka planned to continue competing in his Stocker and Super Stocker while he watched his points lead in Comp dwindle without a thing he could do to change it.
However, another fateful call from another Comp racer, Clint Neff, offered new hope. In August, Neff and Szupka did what all drag racers do when they aren't working on drag racing. They were talking about drag racing. Neff suggested that Szupka compete in his altered machine at the upcoming double header in Montana.
"I flew out to Montana and met Clint at the track," Szupka recalls. "I'd never driven his car before. I'd never even sat in it. So on Thursday morning, we rolled it out of the trailer, and I hopped in the thing thinking, 'How do I even start this thing?' So, that first race didn't go very well. I went red in the first round. It was my fault."
Szupka made some changes to the car and his racing mentality before going into the second event in Montana. Those adjustments worked for him as he secured another runner-up finish. That finish proved strong enough to land the Division 1 championship in a surreal turn of events for Szupka.
"I ended up winning the division driving two different cars, neither of which I'd even sat in before the season started," said Szupka. "It was a thrill, for sure. I'm very grateful to everyone who helped me get there."
Szupka will be piloting the Miskovsky Comp Eliminator machine again in 2023. With his persistence and panache behind the wheel, the racing community expects more winning performances from this affable driver.