NORWALK — In six national events this year, Grafton’s Ronald Matcham has been the top qualifier five times and won five rounds to make it to the semifinals just a few weeks ago in Bristol, Tenn.
Not bad for a 54-year-old rookie.
“One year,” Matcham said when asked how long he’s been racing. “I actually started down in Gainesville, Fla., in the beginning of the year. We’ve been to Charlotte; we’ve been to Georgia; we’ve been to Joliet and we’ve been to Englishtown, N.J.”
Despite the early qualifying success, Matcham isn’t ready to pat himself on the back.
“I’m still not a very good driver yet, but I’m trying hard,” he said. “I have a good, fast car … it just needs a driver to step it up tonight. It’s something that looks very simple to do, but it’s not that simple.”
Matcham won his opening round Friday night in the Super Stock division and his second round was rained out Saturday.
Matcham has been working on cars most of his life, and decided to buy a car for his son a few years ago. There wasn’t much of a decision when it came to picking out a model.
“I’ve always been a Mustang fanatic,” he said. “I bought a racecar in 2010 … I wanted a car for each of my boys. I was talking to my friends one day, and they said, ‘That’s really nice of you to give a nice new racecar to your sons, but what if something happens to you?’ So I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give them a racecar, but it’s going to be a used racecar.’
“So I decided that I was going to start drag-racing and it was something that I wanted to do since I was 16 years old … and I’m enjoying it.”
Bring a friend
Traveling with Matcham, also hailing from Grafton and making his NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals debut this weekend, is Michael Kubiak.
Kubiak has a bit more racing experience than his friend.
“I’ve been racing since high school … 20-plus years now,” Kubiak said. “I do a lot of bracket racing. I have a dragster that I run during the Saturday programs here in Norwalk.”
Kubiak drove a 2013 Mustang in the Stock division, and brought his own dragster to Norwalk to compete in the Super Comp division.
“The Super Comp car is just for fun,” he said. “Because we’re so close to home, I can bring it here and run the dragster. This is only the second time I’ve run the dragster this year.”
Kubiak was eliminated in Super Comp on Friday, and lost Saturday morning in Stock.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “I wanted to do well at my home track. I’ve been doing well in the silver car, it’s just really disappointing to go out in the second round.”
Now he’ll have a new duty this morning.
“I’m cheering Ron on every time no matter what, whether I’m in it or not.”
Probably one of the most well-known local NHRA drivers is Elyria’s Dave Connolly, who won the inaugural Pro Stock championship in 2007 and has served as Pro Stock driver Erica Enders’ crew chief the last two seasons.
But Connolly’s duties were reduced when Enders was pulled from the Norwalk lineup a few days ago.
“I’ve been in that situation where we’ve lost sponsorship,” Connolly said. “She was probably heartbroken at the time, but things have a way of working themselves out.
“We obviously knew there was the possibility that we wouldn’t be racing. They were still working on things until the last minute. Unfortunately on Wednesday at about 4 o’clock they pulled the plug. It was strictly Sportsman (for me) from that moment on.”
Connolly entered cars in the Super Comp and Stock divisions, and like Kubiak, was eliminated in the same rounds.
“Obviously I had higher hopes than a second-round loss, but the straps are already on that one,” he said. “So I’m just hanging out and getting ready to cut up a watermelon and preparing to watch (my father) tonight.”
Ray Connolly won the Super Gas championship last week in Joliet, Ill., and is hoping to earn the first back-to-back titles of his career.
“That was great to see,” Dave said. “Chicago, we’ve raced together quite a bit, and this year with myself running stock again, I’ve got to spend more time pitting next to him instead of pitting over there with the pros.
“It’s always good to see him win. It’s just as gratifying to see him win as it is to win myself.”
The Connollys aren’t the only Lorain County father-son racing pair competing at Norwalk this weekend. In fact, Michael and Edward Jirousek — both from Elyria — are related to Ray and Dave.
“It’s kind of nice getting to hang out with them,” Michael said. “It’s nice to keep close to my kids … we enjoy it. It’s kind of a challenge keeping these cars running and building them and stuff.”
Michael was eliminated from the Super Comp division Friday night, but Edward is still alive in the Super Gas division.
“I’ve been racing since I was 13 years old, and my (24-year-old) brother does it, too … so it’s been a whole family thing,” said 20-year-old Edward. “We run the divisionals around here — Division III racing — so we’ve been to Indy, Chicago and Bowling Green, Ky. (this year).”
Rain washed out the bulk of the Sportsman racing Saturday. Racing will begin at 8 o’clock this morning.
Local racers who will be in action include: Matcham in Super Stock; Oberlin’s Tim McGuire, Elyria’s Eric Manuel and Wellington’s Josh Gnandt in Super Comp; Edward Jirousek and Ray Connolly in Super Gas; and Avon’s Jerry Albert and Columbia Station’s Scott Wasko in Top Sportsman.
* Avon Lake’s Pat Ross lost in his opening-round matchup in the Competition division.
* Michael Jirousek, Kubiak and both Connollys were eliminated from the Super Comp division Friday night.