Story Drag Racing Action Online  Images: Phil Hutchison, Diane Kubicke, Robert Grice, Dave Milcarek, and David Smith

2022 NHRA Northeast Division Competition Eliminator champ Steve Szupka won his first ever Lucas Oil D1 title in one of the most unorthodox ways in recent history. During the 2022 season, Szupka didn’t drive just one car he had never sat in before the season started, Szupka drove two on his quest to nab his first ever Lucas title.

Szupka’s trip to the  title started in the winter of 2022. NED Comp regulars Pam and Mike Miskovsky were looking for a driver for their C/DA. As Steve tells it, “Mike was more interested in building the motors and tuning the car instead of driving. They asked me if I would consider driving the dragster and I said ‘yes’. It had been years since I drove a dragster, my dad’s C/ED Slacks Hoagie car. That car ran 7.20’s but it wasn’t anything like the 6.80’s Pam and Mike’s car runs.

“I went over to Pam and Mike’s shop and sat in the car and got used to where the controls were. The car was in pieces as it was in the middle of the off season, and I just sat in the chassis and familiarized myself with the controls The plan was to do some testing and see how it goes. As it worked out, “Testing” was the Thursday before Cecil Lucas race and we qualified #1 and won the event. And set a NHRA National Record too!

It wasn’t just beginners’ luck for Szupka as the team repeated at the Maple Grove Lucas race a week later. Things were looking good.

After the two wins in the dragster and a runner up at the Numidia Open, things started to go sideways for the team. “After qualifying in a good spot for the second race of the double header at Numidia in July, we were warming the car up before the second round,” Szupka recalls. “I heard a noise from the motor that didn’t sound right, and we checked it out and there was damage to the crank. With supply chain issues with the manufacturers, Mike could not get the needed parts and they decided to park the car.”

“We started off so well and were up in the points so of course I was disappointed. I knew we had a good team.”

Thankfully fate stepped in, and in a good way for the Northampton Pa. driver as a friend from his past reached out to Szupka. “A few days after the Atco Lucas race, my buddy Clint Neff called me and asked if I would be interested in coming out to the double header D6 race at Yellowstone Drag Strip in Montana and drive his K/AA Bantam. He knew I had a good shot at winning the division and wanted to make it happen.”

Clint Neff’s K/AA Bantam

“His dad Ron and my dad Phil both raced in Competition Eliminator when we were both teenagers and I have always kept in touch. I knew the car was competitive as Clint has won NHRA races with the altered, so I knew I had a good car to drive.” Szupka adds, “Clint said get up to Montana and I’ll tow the car to the track. So, I packed my helmet and fire suit and booked a plane ticket to Billings. I got to the track Wednesday evening and Thursday was my first time behind the wheel. My first question was ‘How do I start this thing?’

“I had driven Frankie (Aragona’s) Bantam when I was part of their team and I thought ‘I’ve driven an altered before and it would be identical to driving Frankie’s car, and it wasn’t’. So, I was behind the eight ball in the first race. I set things up the way I thought it would be like Frankie’s, but I was not 100% comfortable with it. I went red in the first round in a race I should have won so for the second Lucas race I set the controls up like Mike and Pam’s car and it made all the difference.

“The changes allowed me to make it to the finals where I lost to Codie Lane but with the runner up, I was back in the D1 lead after Yellowstone.

“I flew home from Montana, and it was the same weekend as the D1 Lucas race at Epping and I’m watching the results on the internet, and I was still in the lead. Clint had told me if you need to, the car is available for you to drive in Vegas at the fall Lucas race. Luckily no one passed me in points.

“Joe Carnasciale went to the Lucas race in Orlando and Santo Volpe went to St Louis in October to try catch and pass me.  Carnasciale was runner up at Orlando and If he had won the event Joe would have passed me for the lead.  The runner up in Montana made all the difference. Looking back, it was huge.

Reflecting on his championship season Szupka said, “It was wild. Driving a car for the first time and winning two in a row, parking the car, then getting a second chance behind the wheel of Neff’s car is unbelievable.

Come February of 2023 the Champ will have quite the month. After getting all the accolades and bling associated with his Comp win at the NED banquet in Hershey, Szupka will tie the knot with his longtime girlfriend Dranae Benyo on a destination wedding in the Florida Keys. Quite the month indeed.

Szupka would like to thank the Neffs, Jaime and Clint, and Pam and Mike Miskovsky along with his parents Phil and Sandy Szupka and fiancé Dranae for all they do. Also, Lon Moyer who helps Mike with the engines in the dragster along with long time supporters Slawko Racing Heads and HRE Intakes.

Szupka who has finished in the Top Ten in the NHRA D1 15 times before his 2022 title looks forward to the 2023 season defending his championship behind the wheel of the Miskovsky dragster along with driving his successful C/SA Pontiac Firebird.