Eugene Gregorich Jr. keeps family name in victory lane
By Joe Verdegan
Contributor to Full Throttle Magazine
Most race fans would be surprised knowing Eugene Gregorich Jr. won the Super Late Model track championship at Marshfield Motor Speedway last year in an old BACKAR that was built in 1991 for the late Jimmy Back of Vesper to race.
“That car actually sat in a trailer for more than eight years,” Gregorich said, who also took second in the SLM points at Golden Sands Speedway in Plover and third in the TUNDRA (The Unified Northern Drivers Racing Association) point standings a year ago. “I talked to Brian (Back, grandson of Jimmy Back) about it. It’s not the prettiest car underneath the body. It’s got a lot of seasons on it. There are five or six layers of paint underneath it. When we got it originally it had an old Cutlass or Lumina body on it. It’s that old.”
Last year the Kewaunee native who now calls Amherst home wound up racing a total of 35 nights on Wisconsin’s paved tracks.
“We ran a few dirt shows too, just for fun,” Gregorich said.
In 2014 Gregorich will focus on gunning for the TUNDRA Super Late Model title as well as running Golden Sands Speedway weekly.
“We’re kinda behind the 8 ball a little bit but things are slowly coming together for us,” Gregorich said. “My motor is getting rebuilt and hopefully we get it back in time. We’re running a completely new engine for this year. As long as there aren’t any issues with the dyno, we’ll be ok.”
Last season Gregorich had a 9:1 compression powerplant.
“This year we switched to the ACE motor,” Gregorich said. “It’s a cheaper motor overall as the 9:1’s are a little more expensive.”
Gregorich’s team is considered very low dollar compared to his competitors.
“We’ll do things like take other teams old used fenders they plan on throwing away to save some money,” Gregorich said. “We also don’t practice because racing fuel is at $8.50 a gallon and the more you practice that’s more wear and tear on your equipment, especially the brakes.”
Gregorich owns the familiar red No. 14 car. One of his main sponsors, Krings Motorsports of Arpin, assists with sponsorship under the hood.
“We have a motor deal through Krings and I guess you could say that I’m the guinea pig for them,” Gregorich said. “They test stuff with us before they give them to the customer. It’s good sometimes, and other times it doesn’t always work out that well. Overall it’s been better than it’s been bad I guess.”
Between chasing the TUNDRA series across the state and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at Norway (MI) Speedway, Gregorich has good reasons to enjoy Golden Sands Speedway’s every other week schedule of races.
“It’s really nice because even when I’m not at the track racing myself I’m still involved in racing in some capacity. My 11 year old son (Eugene Gregorich III), races snowmobiles in the winter and the Bandalero Series in the summer.
“He’s pretty good actually. We named him Eugene because we couldn’t spell anything else at the time so we kept it the same,” Gregorich joked. “He won a couple of features last year and we’re already talking about getting him into some type of a full-sized race car for next year. So that every other week deal at Plover actually works out for me pretty well.”
Gregorich also has a three year old son Owen.
Gregorich comes from a true racing family. His Uncle John Gregorich won 23 IMCA Stock Car features in 1993 and became the first ever Wisconsin IMCA national champion. His Dad Eugene Sr. still toys with an IMCA Modified from time to time and is a multi-time track Modified champion at Thunderhill Raceway in Sturgeon Bay.
“Dad keeps saying he’s getting too old for this but he still putzs around with it a bit,” Gregorich Jr. said. “From what it sounds like he’s going to keep playing with the Modified this year.”
With his son wanting to race, Eugene Jr. says he’ll support it.
“Honestly we wanted to steer him away from it at first. But when your Grandpa’s racing and your Dad’s racing and you’re out in the shop until 2 or 3 a.m. wrenching on the car, it just sort of grows on you I guess.”
His wife Sara is one of the driving forces behind his racing career.
“She helps out a lot, she really does,” Gregorich said. “Everybody tells me she’s a saint. She puts up with a lot. I guess she figured out real early I was going to spend a lot of very late nights at the shop. So she joins me most of the time out there and has really made my racing a priority in her life. We’ve been together 13 years now.”
Other crew members who assist Gregorich with the No. 14 car are Jeremy Grimm and Ryan Rohr.
Last year for Gregorich racing was sort of a “get back into a rhythm” type thing.
“We had actually taken some time off for awhile,” Gregorich explained. “Things went extremely well. We were in the championship deal everywhere right down to the wire at Marshfield, Plover and in that TUNDRA deal. I guess I’d have to say our goal for the year, especially in the first few races, is to keep the car in one piece and run well at both Plover and the TUNDRA series.”
In addition to Krings another of Gregorich’s major backers is Mechanical Services Incorporated in Stevens Point.
Gregorich’s career has come a long ways since he cut his teeth as a 14 year old in the Truck class on the dirt track at Luxemburg Speedway in the late 1990s. In 1999 Gregorich made the jump up to the Super Stock class on the pavement at 141 Speedway in Francis Creek, smashing the track record at the ripe of age of 15.
“The dirt was a lot of fun and I still jump in a car from time to time,” said Gregorich. “Biggest difference now on dirt is you get your basic setup, and with a few minor tweaks, you are good to go. On asphalt, you’re always changing, always chasing, always fine tuning things. We’re changing a lot more stuff on the tar.”
(This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)