Like he did during last year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 weekend, Mike Bugarewicz will take about a half hour before practice Friday afternoon at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway to talk to Lehighton (Pa.) High School students and their teacher Gary Potts about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The 37-year-old crew chief for driver Clint Bowyer is in his fourth year as crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing’s (SHR) No. 14 Ford Mustang. His talk to the students is as much about hope as it is career choices. He relates to the students in a special way – he used to be a student in Mr. Potts’ Earth Science class at Lehighton.
“He can tell my current students firsthand how he was able to reach his goal of working in NASCAR by having goals and working really hard to achieve those goals,” Potts said. “And, yes, a Lehighton student has the same chance as anyone of achieving his or her goals.”
Potts said he had a student last year tell him, “I didn’t believe it was possible to become famous or successful by growing up in Lehighton until I met Mike Bugarewicz! He has inspired me!”
Bugarewicz admits it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was one of those students.
“I went to Lehighton High School, and Pocono is home for me,” Bugarewicz said. “I was one of those kids once, so it’s kind of cool to be able to tell them I know a little of what they are feeling being in high school and trying to figure out what they want to do in their lives.”
Bugarewicz knows what he wants to do in his life and that’s win races. He admits Pocono would be a special place to notch his fourth career Cup Series victory.
“I grew up about 20 minutes from the racetrack,” he said. “I’ve raced up in the Northeast and attended many of the races at Pocono. I used to go to qualifying all the time there. Pocono means a lot to me. It would really mean a lot to me to have a win there at some point in my career. I haven’t been successful with that, yet, but I hope to change that shortly.”
Bugarewicz grew up competing on the high school football, wrestling and track and field teams. He also spent a lot of time watching his father race at Mahoning Valley (Pa.) Speedway and working on cars at his father’s business long before he even owned a driver’s license. He studied mechanical engineering and performed research for the U.S. Navy through Applied Research Laboratories in graduate school at Penn State University before heading to North Carolina to embark on a NASCAR career that has peaked at SHR.
He won a championship serving as the lead engineer on SHR’s No. 4 car with driver Kevin Harvick in 2014. He took over the No. 14 crew chief duties in 2016 for driver Tony Stewart’s final year of NASCAR competition. Bugarewicz’s decision to pit Stewart with 25 laps remaining in the race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway led to a last-lap pass for Stewart’s 49th and final Cup Series victory.
The victory propelled Stewart into the playoffs with Bugarewicz the only rookie crew chief among the 16 participants. The arrival of Bowyer in 2017 didn’t slow the success. The No. 14 won two races in 2018 with “Buga’s” race strategy pivotal in each.
This year, Bowyer arrives at Pocono ninth in the points with four top-five finishes and seven top-10s. The No. 14 finished 24th Sunday in the 600-mile race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway after surviving two accidents. Bowyer should be much better Sunday on the three-turn Pocono track where he owns two top-fives and 10 top-10s in 26 starts.
Bowyer goes to battle at Pocono carrying the black-and-red paint scheme of Haas Automation, Inc. Haas Automation is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. Founded by Gene Haas in 1983, Haas Automation manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are built in the company’s 1.1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.
“It’s time for us to win one of these things,” Bowyer said. We’ve run well lately but we need to capitalize. Pocono would be a great place. I can’t imagine what Buga would be like if we win this weekend in front of all his friends and family. We might get a smile out of him, but it would be cool to find out.”