By Phil Whipple
RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer. Photo By: Rachel Plant
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — In a landscape once dominated by the mighty IMCA Southern Sport Mod and Modifieds in general, there's a movement afoot to bring the Late Model back to it's premier status among weekly divisions.
While the ever-popular Factory Stock class grows day-by-day at tracks around the state, Late Models are also growing in numbers. In Pleasanton, Ray Doyon III and Michael Keylich are running a bonafide Late Model class now at I-37, and one particular San Antonio native has been their poster boy in 2020.
For 30-year old Frank Okruhlik, the new season has been more than kind. The 17-year veteran of the ovals has four wins and a third-place finish in five starts, numbers every driver would love in any class.
“I'm in a new car, and I have some really good support this year,” Okruhlik said of his strong start. “I've got some guys that are really smart helping me out. They are improving both me and the car, which is a Warrior chassis from Mike Knuckles. He's all about serving his customers, and is a huge help to me.
“Chris Swenson does my chassis setups, so between him and the Mars brothers at MB Customs, they keep me headed in the right direction. I've learned a lot from them in the past year or so. I'm lucky to have such experienced and skilled guys helping me, they're a big part of my recent success.”
With nearly two decades of experience in his resume, Okruhlik has paid his dues. He got his start in entry-level cars, but it was a different class that actually put him on the map. The skilled driver came up through the ranks like you're supposed to; learning, gaining confidence and honing his skills.
“I raced about a half season in a Mini Stock,” he said reflecting on the early days. “From there I moved into a Street Stock but didn't do very well. I dropped back to a Pure Stock because I figured I needed to, and that's where I started finding success. I won 15 features my first year and finished second in points.
“The following year, I raced Pure Stock again and won 18 races and my first championship. When I moved back up to a Street Stock, I was much better prepared. I won two championships there, as well. I raced a Modified for a year, but wasn't a big fan of that. I tore it up a lot, which didn't help matters.”
Once that brief and less than stellar season was over, Okruhlik tried his hand in a different division.
“I raced a Sport Mod for two seasons, but had always run a Late Model on and off,” he explained. “I was lucky enough to go race outside the area working with Brandon Brzozowski, traveling with the South Texas Late Model Series. That experience was good for me, and I learned a ton from Brandon.”
After competing in two classes at once the past few years, Okruhlik chose to focus on the Late Model alone for 2020. His early success proves that was the right move, and says the class is growing steadily.
“I think as long as they keep going the direction they're headed, it will work out well,” he said. “If they can hold on long enough to let it grow, they'll be all set. They've opened it up to allow the type of cars people have now; they have to control costs yet racers want modern cars. It's coming along very well.”
That new chassis underneath Okruhlik this year comes from one of dirt racing's top brands. It's a state of the art piece, one that with proper tuning, can carry the driver to new heights.
“I'm absolutely thrilled with my Warrior race car,” Okruhlik said. “They build world class equipment and produce cars that can run up front in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series. They stand behind their cars and help me out a ton.”
While the San Antonio-based driver is off to an enviable and impressive start in 2020, he'll quickly tell you that success is thanks to some key people behind the scenes. Feature wins aren't earned alone.
“I am fortunate to have some very talented guys working with me now who really know their stuff,” he explained. “I need to thank my crew chief Bubba Sowder, Landen Sowder and Alton Fambro. I also value the support of my wife and three babies, Wesley, Sarah, and Olivia. I can't race without them.”
Along with those key people working to keep Okruhlik's No. 99 ride ahead of the competition, he also has a sizable group of marketing partners who make his notable success out on the race track a reality.
“I'm lucky enough to have the support of several great companies on this race team,” Okruhlik said. “I have to thank Billy Bobs Tire & Truck Repair, Swenson Racing Shocks, Warrior Race Cars, 3D Landscaping & Irrigation; United Rentals; All In Designs; MB Customs and Rising Star Racing Bodies. I greatly appreciate each one and couldn't compete at this level without their partnerships.”
As we get into the heart of the season and things really get cranking, Okruhlik has a few goals in mind.
“I'm not sure if we'll run for the title, but I actually like points racing,” he concluded. “We'll run a few shows with Kody Hardage's STLMS tour. We'll also run that big event up at Texas Motor Speedway in the fall. If we can be competitive in those races and keep on winning locally, I'll be pretty happy.”