Prior to the 2011 race season at Shawano Speedway Nate Michonski of Clintonville wasn’t planning on racing the entire season.
“As the season got closer and we began getting the car ready, and with the rainouts at the beginning of the season, that’s when we decided we were going to run the whole season,” Michonski said.
Race fans may wonder why he wouldn’t plan on a full season. Michonski, 32, said it was family considerations.
“We were looking at getting my daughter into go-kart racing, but we pushed that back another year,” Michonski said. “I was looking at helping Dan (Nate’s brother), and then Dan had decided to not run a full season and that kind of turned me to run the full season. The crew really wanted to go with one or the other for a full season, so that played into the decision with Dan not running a full season.”
Now that the season is over at Shawano Speedway, Michonski is glad that he changed his mind and raced the full season at Shawano Speedway. He won two features during the season and had consistent finishes all year as he raced to his first-ever championship in the IMCA Stock Car division.
He battled Rod Snellenberger, who has several championships and more than 50 feature wins at Shawano Speedway, all season for the title.
“He’s a great competitor. He’s been racing an IMCA Stock Car since they came to this area,” Michonski said. “He rightfully holds the title as one of the best drivers around. Just to be able to compete with people of that caliber is really a confidence booster. Racing against a guy like Hot Rod, it pushes us to try harder to be better. People say that it was an ongoing battle between the two of us for quite a bit. It pushed us to try harder. It was really enjoyable.”
Michonski may describe the battle as “enjoyable,” but the fact the two drivers were within five points of each other for much of the season also created some stress for Michonski.
“You get nervous about things when you are that close in points, you worry about that much more,” Michonski said. “With the crew I have, they pushed every week to guarantee the car is going to be fine and alright.
Michonski said he didn’t change his driving style toward the end of the season in an effort to play it safe and just race for points. That doesn’t mean the thought didn’t cross his mind, and the minds of others.
“It’s something that my mom had even asked me too,” Michonski said. “You race for points and try to stay out of trouble. Actually with two weeks to go, the week before championship night, my mom came down to the pits after the races were done, and that was when Dan had won and I finished second, and she said, ‘What happened to the thought of taking it easy?’
“At the drop of the green flag of your race and when lines open up, basically you do what you do. If that’s what we feel comfortable doing, that’s the way we are going to do it.”
In mid-July, Dan Michonski made his first appearance of the year at Shawano Speedway, and before the season was over, clicked off four feature wins – two more than Nate.
When asked if he was okay with his brother winning more features than him, Nate responded with a laugh, “Yes, I’m okay with that. I have to thank my brother for not racing the whole season.”
Nate was quick to point out that since Dan didn’t race the first half of the season, Dan and the rest of the family were helping with Nate’s car.
“It’s a huge family thing, even the guys on the pit crew. These guys we’ve known for years,” Nate said. “Dan himself was an amazing amount of help. We’ve worked together for years on these cars. He started racing before me so there are a lot of things he picked up on before I had a chance to. We work together setting the cars up, primarily focusing on mine at the beginning of the season. Dan was putting all of his focus in set-up. When we scale the cars he has a great amount of focus when he starts working on the car. Dan putting that focus towards my car was a huge amount of help.
“And my parents, if it wasn’t for my mom and dad (Ruth and Ben Michonski), none of us would be where we are at. They are a great help and a great push. This goes all the way back to when we started ice racing years ago. They encouraged us to go for it. Every day we are there in the garage, dad is out there helping us. And mom is a great supporter behind all this. She helps where she can. It almost makes a guy speechless when you think about it.”
Not surprisingly Michonski said this has been his most memorable season of racing. Adding to the championship, one of the features he won during the season was on Child Cancer Awareness Night. On that night of racing, he put a special orange door on the passenger side of his race car in honor of Reed Luepke who is fighting leukemia. It meant even more to Michonski since he is a cancer survivor.
“The biggest thing is, none of this is possible without my sponsors and I ended up with great sponsors this summer,” Michonski said. “The help of my fiancee Andrea, I’m getting married this year too, so this year has just been amazing. I’m getting married in the fall, and she’s a huge supporter. She’s there every week with us. I couldn’t do it without her help too.”