Last week I drove out to Smithfield, RI to a gorgeous piece of land with a beautiful house, some chickens and, as they like to call it, “Garage Mahal”. I sat down with Craig and Kyle Pianka, Andrew Kun, and Chris Pacheco to talk a little bit about how their operation works and what they are planning on doing this season.
What is your Hometown and what division are you competing in this year?
Craig: I grew up in Cumberland, but now live in Smithfield. I will be racing in the Sportsman division this year. I raced in ‘91 in the Street Stock division when it was originated as the Street Stock division, then in ‘92 I raced in the Sportsman division and came back to the Street Stocks 7 years ago and now the division is called Sportsman again.
Kyle: Smithfield, RI and I race in the SYRA 600s.
Andrew: Cumberland, RI and I moved up into the Legends for this season.
Chris: Cumberland, RI and I will be back in the Sport 4 this year.
What are your plans for this season? Is there anything new to the car this year?
Craig: I am looking to pull off a full season this year as long as everything is going well and we are having fun, but my number one goal is giving Kyle every chance at a championship. This year I lost my number, 44, so I am now the 4. (Craig will also be rolling onto the track with some really awesome orange rims this season.)
Kyle: I want to win a race. I have had a lot of bad luck and just want to focus on winning…and not let all the girls beat me in the points this season. (We all had a good laugh, but both Kyle and Craig wanted to be sure that everyone knows that he was saying this all in fun and has the greatest respect for everyone in his division especially the girls!)
Andrew: I want to grow into the Legend and be competitive for wins, even if I don’t get a win I want to at least be competitive.
Chris: I plan on getting more wins this season and contending for the championship.
Are there any sponsors you would like to thank for last season and are there any new for 2017?
Craig: I would like to thank all of my sponsors for coming along for the ride last season and I am glad to have them all back for 2017: Concord Home and Health, White Cross Pharmacy, Spring Villa Memory Care, Boulevard Cigars, and Hanna’s Color Center. I would also like to wish my daughter, Cori a Happy 12th Birthday. (Her birthday was the day we did the interview May 2nd)
Kyle: Thank you to all of my sponsors that will be back with me for this season and I hope to give them a win. MulchRI.com, Summer Villa Assisted Living, Concord Home and Health, and White Cross Pharmacy.
Andrew: New to the car this year is MulchRI.com, but I would like to thank James R Paige Plumbing & Heating, Spring Villa Memory Care, Craig & Jill Pianka, and Signs by 6 for a great 2016 season.
Chris: I’d like to thank all of my sponsors for a great rookie year. Spring Villa Memory Care, Onsite Truck Repair, Wright’s used Auto Parts, Nassaney Brothers Landscapng, and DG Custom Graphics.
Who is your biggest racing influence and how did you get your start in racing?
Craig: Steve Sanford Sr., he drove at Seekonk in the late 70s, he had a lot of wins and was a Champion at Waterford. I grew up looking at his trophies and became addicted to racing. I first raced a half season in 1990 at Seekonk in a Street Stock.
Kyle: My dad (Craig), and Andrew. I grew up around racing and watching dad race, and once I started I became addicted.
Andrew: My dad, Michael, he was never a driver, but was the tech at Seekonk and has always been around racing. He gives me a lot of help and advice and is the one of the only people I know that can tell you exactly what is wrong with your car just by seeing what it did on the track. He also used to help Steve Sanford Sr; that is how he met Craig and how I eventually met Craig.
Chris: Craig and Andrew because Andrew and I helped Craig with his car, then he (Andrew) got a car, and then I got a car.
Is there any significance to you paint scheme or number?
Craig: The paint scheme is taken from of Alan Kulwicki’s. When I started I tried to get the numbers 4 or 14 because my uncle’s number was 4, but those were taken so I took the number 44. Now I have the 4 because the 44 was taken, so that worked out.
Kyle: I wanted my paint scheme to be the same idea as Andrew’s but my car is so small that I have it the way it is so I can fit my sponsors on it. The 22 was taken in my class already so I took 66 to keep the double even numbers like my dad and Andrew.
Andrew: I chose 88 because it was a play on the 44 and also because it is a number that connects with the fans and could help build a fan base. If you think about someone who has never been to Seekonk before and they like NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt Jr, they could potentially become a fan and say “I want the 88 to win.” just because of my number.
Chris: It was between me and Kyle for the 22 and 66 because we wanted to keep the double even numbers and because the 22 was taken in the Syra600 Kyle took the 66 so I took the 22. I designed my paint scheme myself and I did like the neon yellow, but didn’t want to copy Andrew, so I went with the neon orange.
Other than Seekonk…What track would you like to be able to race at?
Craig: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, TN)
Kyle: Thompson Speedway (Thompson, CT)
Andrew: Bowman Gray Stadium (Winston-Salem, NC)
Chris: Eldora Speedway (Darke County, OH)
What is one word you would use to describe racing at Seekonk Speedway?
Craig: Luxury. It’s a luxury because if it wasn’t here I know I wouldn’t be racing. I may go to Thompson here and there, but I would probably close up shop. When I win a race I thank the Venditti Family for letting me play in their back yard.
Kyle: Dream. I grew up watching my dad race and I was into other sports too, but it was wicked cool to watch my dad race. Then he got me into the SYRA and because of this I am where I am today.
Andrew: Humbling. I grew up going to the track. I was 7 years old watching Fred Astle and Rick Martin race. To compete there is just humbling, but then to win and be in the same “book” as all the famous racers that have won and raced at Seekonk is a humbling feeling; never mind the family side of it and your friends and sponsors that are there and the work that you put in. It is just very humbling to race.
Chris: Escape. I get strapped into the car, I get up in line, I just sit there and wait to go out, I rest my head, and I just totally zone away from everything that’s going on in life and I just focus on racing.
What moment stands out the most to you from all of your time in racing?
Craig: Every time I was at the track I remember watching from right up at the fence and when I was 12 or 13 years old and I was at Seekonk and Pete Wilson was leading the race and right toward the end pulled off into the pits. I scaled the fence in victory lane and was at his car before his crew had even gotten there. I asked him what happened. He told me that the rear end let go and sprayed gear oil all over the track. His crew finally got over to him and I was able to let them know what was going on.
Kyle: It would have to be the race when I led 18 laps and ran out of gas with 2 or 3 laps to go. It was a defining moment for me because we were so close and one little mistake cost us the win. (Craig then added that he had totally forgotten to add fuel to the car that night for the feature because during the heat Kyle had no breaks and he was so focused on getting that fixed.)
Andrew: It was the week before the last race of 2015 and we bent the frame in the front. It was such a team effort to get everything back together in time. Craig and I bent the frame back with his backhoe and my dad, Chris, and myself all worked together to reassemble the car to be ready for the last race. To win the championship we had to finish two spots ahead of Amy Arsenault, and because of all our hard work we were able to finish exactly 2 spots ahead of her. It was such a memorable moment for me because it took the whole team to get there.
Chris: I’m going to have to say my first win. The feeling of coming across the finish line was incredible. I was screaming inside the car.
What advice would you give a young driver that is just starting out in racing?
Craig: Don’t react in the moment. Look at the big picture.
Kyle: Welcome to the never ending drug. You think you’ll hate the person that takes you out, but you will probably become friends. Don’t hold grudges. And something SRYA specific…don’t let off the gas.
Andrew: Have patience and don’t give up. Think about all the work you put in and focus on driving.
Chris: Be smart about everything.
I had a lot of fun hanging out with these 4 drivers. Getting to know a whole team like this is such an awesome thing to do and I have been having so much fun going out to everyone’s garages for these interviews. Craig’s garage so far has had the most going on in it…from a wall of Jack to the 4 car team that calls it home to the loft with a huge TV and air hockey table…these guys must live here during racing season (and maybe even the off season too!). It clearly shows that they all share the same passion and love for a sport that many people do not understand. They are like a family and truly appreciate all that they have and are always there to help each other out. After this interview I can tell you that Craig, Kyle, Andrew, and Chris are all beyond thankful for all that racing has given them. They are all also thankful for the Venditti Family for opening Seekonk Speedway and enabling it to be a place for them to watch, grow, learn from, and compete in the sport that is clearly so important to them.