Racing Life Horizons: Woody Pitkat Driven To Go Fast While Realizing A Demand To Slow Down


It has seemed to become a moving target when it comes to those in the Southern New England racing scene trying to categorize Woody Pitkat.

Woody Pitkat

Ask around and one will get a plethora of different evaluations and descriptions of Pitkat, across a spectrum that runs from hardened and influential veteran to immature. Pinning down an easy and fitting answer to how the racing community perceives the driver from Stafford seems an impossible feat.

There are inarguable facts though. He’s a proven winner and dependable commodity when it comes to weekly division racing at the short track level, whether in open wheel Modified type cars or full-bodied Late Model type rides.

His passion is indisputable, his competitive drive unquestionable and his desire to be behind the wheel in competition seems never to wane. Bring it to the track with four wheels on it and Pitkat will likely drive to the front of the field or be  battling wheel-to-wheel to be at the front.

Though, when it comes to competition on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Pitkat feels like he has plenty to prove. He also feels like 2013 is the season when he can really make major inroads on getting that proving done.

“All the pieces are there to make it work this year,” Pitkat said of his Hill Enterprises Whelen Modified Tour team in 2013. “There’s no reason why we can’t show that we’re ready to win races and run for a title.”

Throwback Style

At Stafford Motor Speedway Pitkat is fifth on the all-time winner’s list in SK Modified competition with 25 career victories, sandwiched between track greats Mike Christopher (28 wins) and Bob Potter (24 wins). He’s also second all-time in victories in the track’s Late Model division with 36, nine shy of all-time leader Ryan Posocco’s 45 wins. He has two championships in the division.

He has SK Modified victories at all three Connecticut short tracks and SK Modified and Late Model championships at Thompson International Speedway.

“I’ve pretty much accomplished what I could in a Late Model, I’ve accomplished what I could with an SK [Modified], besides winning a championship at Stafford, and I feel like now I need to prove to myself and everybody else on the Tour and people in general that I can run consistently up front on the tour and win races and then maybe one day compete for a championship,” Pitkat said. “The biggest thing is running good. It’s been baby steps, but that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to run good and be there at the end.”

Pitkat is in his second stint with Hill Enterprises. In 2007 the team gave him his first opportunity in a Modified Tour car. He started with them mid-season and ran 10 races before he was let go in the offseason.

In 2008 he ended up with car owner Don King on the Modified Tour, a relationship that lasted until 2011. Last year, after running six of the first eight Modified Tour events of the season for team owner John Lukosavage, Pitkat found himself once again without a ride.

Then he reunited with the Hill family and ended up back in their familiar No. 79 Whelen Modified Tour ride for the final three races of the 2012 season.

Immediately a difference could be seen in the first race back together last September at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In his second race with the team in 2012, at the Fall Final at Stafford, Pitkat looked on his way to his first series victory before a mechanical issue late in the event relegated him to a second place. He led 128 laps in the race before losing the lead to eventual race winner Bobby Santos III with six laps left.

But it was over the winter when some around the series began to affix the tag of threat on Pitkat and his Hill Enterprises team in Modified Tour competition. The group went to the annual World Series in February at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway and dominated. Pitkat won three of six Modified events during the week-long series, and recorded second, third and fourth place finishes in the other races to win the Modified championship there.

And the whispers grew louder for those to watch Pitkat and his Hillbilly Racing team as a darkhorse threat to run for a Whelen Modified Tour championship this year.

“I hear that people are supposedly talking about me but I don’t really see it or feel it,” Pitkat said. “I don’t know if that’s just maybe me. I kind of get down on myself real easy and I’m hard on myself. I think it’s just my competitive nature. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get the recognition I should, but I think a lot of that is because I haven’t proved anything yet.

“Obviously winning the championship down in New Smyrna was huge, and it was just a huge confidence booster for all of us. Just getting in the car, I knew that we were going to be good every night. That’s huge, when you can have confidence in the car and the guys and you can just go out there and focus on racing and you can come in and tell them what it’s doing and they can take care of it. I think that’s huge.”

Team crew chief David Hill, son of team owner Sandra Hill, said he has seen a huge difference in the maturity level of Pitkat since his first run with the team in 2007. And Pitkat said he has seen a big change in improvement of operations as far as having cars ready to be competitive.

Woody Pitkat and Chris Kopec in the pits at Thompson International Speedway at the season opening Icebreaker

Pitkat and Hill both point to the growing role of car chief and former Whelen Modified Tour competitor Chris Kopec with the team.

“I think they’re getting to the point where more time is involved in the cars at the shop, which is huge,” Pitkat said. “Races are won at the shop. And then when they get to the track there’s not as much added stress on David as when I first drove for them.”

Said Hill: “Chris helps me to where I don’t have to concentrate on everything. He’s there for me whether it’s setups, engine tuning, whatever it needs to be. I was just strung out too far with too much to do before. Now I’ve got him to help me look after it and we work good together.”

Aged Resolve

The Whelen Modified Tour ride is just one of many this season for the 33-year old Pitkat, who got his start in racing at 16 years old competiting in the DARE Stock division at Stafford Speedway.

This year he will run full-time in the SK Modified division at Stafford for car owner Steve Greer. He also expects to make 5-8 starts on the Valenti Modified Racing Series for Greer. He will also run full-time in a Late Model at Stafford for car owner Billy Snow. That team may also make some appearances at Thompson or Waterford in a Late Model or possibly in American-Canadian Tour competition. At Thompson he will run full-time once again in an SK Modified for car owner Jimmy Paige.

It’s a slate that puts Pitkat in the category of throwback driver. Have helmet, will race.

But Pitkat, who has a 4-year old daughter (Ella) and is engaged to longtime Northeastern Midget Association competitor Erica Santos said he’s become very cognizant of the fact that he doesn’t need to be behind the wheel of some many cars so many days during the racing season.

“As you go on in life and you try to live a normal life, you need to realize there’s more to it than just racing, and that’s all I’ve kind of had,” Pitkat said. “I’ve got a four year old daughter that wants to do stuff and I’ve got a fiancé that wants to get married and get a house and stuff. Racing is great, but it’s going to always be there. So you have to eventually – not so much pick – because obviously she’s a racer and she loves racing too, but it just gets to a point where you need to slow down.

Woody Pitkat celebrates an SK Modified victory in 2012 at Thompson Speedway

“It’s not so much just being at every racetrack, it’s that you’re trying to help your teams so you’re at three or four different race shops a week, and none of them are close. Eventually it’s going to have to come to a point of, slow down. Which, I don’t have a problem with that. If I can run the full [Whelen Modified Tour] and a full [Valenti Modified Racing Series] gig, I’d be happy with that and get rid of the weekly stuff. The weekly stuff is fun, don’t get me wrong, but week in and week out, you never get time off, you never can go away in the summer, you can’t go on vacation, it’s just every week. It just takes a toll on you.

“You come to a point where you have to slow down. In life you have to make decisions. If I keep going down the road I go, it’s probably going to come to , ‘Are you going to pick me or the racecar?’ and I don’t want it to be that way. But, this is what I’ve done half my life. All I’ve known is racing. I just love it. It’s a drug to me. Once it’s in your blood you love to do it.”

Championship Hunting

Pitkat opened the Whelen Modified Tour season with an 11th place finish at the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway on April 14.

He understands one of the biggest hurdles he faces when it comes to how people perceive him as a Modified Tour driver is proving first that he can win a race in the division.

“You can’t put extra pressure on yourself because that’s when you’ll screw up even more,” Pitkat said. “When it’s your day it will be your day. The car felt perfect for us at Stafford [in the Fall Final] last year. We timed good, we ran good, we led a bunch of laps and it just wasn’t meant to be, the power steering pump just started failing with like 25 laps to go.

“I think if we can run like we did last year at the end of the year and run like we did at New Smyrna, there’s no reason why we can’t be championship contenders. We might not come out of the box and win one in the first four or five races, but I think we can finish top-five or top-10 in those first fives races and be in a good spot in the championship points.”

For David Hill, the optimism is pegged.

“I’m real excited,” Hill said. “I think we’re going to be one of the one’s to beat this year. Woody’s mindset, the good crew we’ve got right now, it’s just unbelievable. It’s all clicking right now. People will start to see this year, oh yes, you can bet on it.”

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  1. Dave Burnham says

    Excellent feature Shawn

  2. Sharpie Fan says

    See ya in Victory Lane Woody!

  3. Sounds like you need to lose the girl… Distraction to your racing papa doc.

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