Brandon Gdovic will get a vacation day Thursday. Well, not really, because he’ll be driving in the K&N Pro Series East’s Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway.
But race days feel almost like a vacation for Gdovic, a 21-year-old York County resident. And when you look at his recent schedule, it’s little wonder.
Consider that he spent more than 15 hours in the Precision Performance Motorsports team’s garage in Gloucester on consecutive days earlier this week, preparing the car for Richmond. That’s in addition to the full class load the management major carries at Christopher Newport University.
And those were light days compared to the 24 hours straight he put in ahead of his first career K&N victory earlier this month at Greenville-Pickens, S.C. Race days are easier, though, because crew chief Ron Otto assigns everyone on the team a specific assignment, and Gdovic’s is driving.
“I enjoy working on the car, because it’s one big part of the entire process,” Gdovic said. “I want to know every single part of the car, because I can help the crew chief (with feedback) if I see something on the track.
“That’s why Kyle Busch is so good.”
Gdovic reckons he’s one of a small number of series drivers to spend so much time turning wrenches. Some he’s competed against the past two years are aligned with NASCAR big-timers like Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip.
That made the breakthrough at Greenville-Pickens on April 6 even sweeter.
“It was definitely very, very satisfying, because of the time and effort our guys put in,” Gdovic said. “I worked my butt off, too.
“To go two years before getting the win was tough, because we want to win every week, and to get it was the greatest feeling in the world. A team like Joe Gibbs’ is putting millions and millions into research, has a massive shop and engineers with master’s degrees.
“We’ve got a 40x60 shop and are storing our extra cars in Conex Trailers in a field.”
There is some validity to the “Little Team That Could” description, but Gdovic is part of a much more sophisticated organization than when he started two years ago. He remembers he and father Rick Gdovic, the team owner, as being fish out of water when they left the Late Model Division at Langley Speedway in 2011 to go K&N racing.
“It was a shot in the dark jumping in the series that year,” Gdovic said. “We didn’t know a lot about the cars or the series, but my inexperience actually helped me because I wasn’t intimidated by the other drivers.”
Rick Gdovic said, “I drove (in 2011) because it was my goal to learn as much as I could about the cars and the series. I actually won the Coca-Cola ‘Move of the Race’ award at Greenville-Pickens by going from 28th to 12th.”
But it was always about paving the way for his son, who is something of a natural behind the wheel. Gdovic won in 2009 in only his sixth race, a Limited Late Model event at South Boston, then set a qualifying record and led the majority of laps in the Limited Late Model race at Martinsville in the fall.
“I’ve never been afraid to drive fast, and I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil when it came to motor vehicles,” said Gdovic, who cut his teeth on 4-wheelers and dirt bikes. “If I had any fear, I wouldn’t be able to push the limit and find that limit faster than other guys.”
Rick, a successful entrepreneur who owns Aquis Communications — a telecom-and-pager business — set about supplementing his son’s talent with the equipment and engineering it would take to compete in K&N. A key, Rick said, is finding good equipment at bargain prices.
Among the bargains, many of which former crew chief Todd Lohse helped find, were a hauler at a third the cost, as well as five cars from Penske Racing — in various stages of disrepair — at $70,000 total. One of the centerpieces of the shop is a $100,000 pull-down machine. It is designed to help set up the car to get more traction by simulating the forces it will experience at a particular track.
Rick says upgrading the equipment is all about combining old-school hard work with new-school technology. Team manager Charles Denike, a mechanical engineer, spearheads the new-school effort.
“He’s taken us to the next level,” Rick said of Denike, whom he hired prior to the 2012 season. “Organization and preparation are the key, and he’s been the driving force.”
The goal, Rick says, is to continue moving Brandon up the NASCAR ladder as quickly as possible, because the window of opportunity for a young driver to get noticed by the sport’s top teams is small. He added that the next step might be a partial season in the Camping World Truck Series.
Brandon Gdovic, who has 15 top-10s in 28 K&N starts, is excited by the prospect. What psyches him up more at the moment is driving that new Toyota he’s worked so hard on all week, and building on his success at Greenville-Pickens.
“We’re really excited to race at Richmond, because we consider it our home track along with Langley,” said Gdovic, who finished fifth at the latter and fourth at the former in 2012. “Winning at Richmond would be twice as big as winning at Greenville-Pickens, because it’s a Cup track and everyone in NASCAR would see it.”
From a small operation that started two years ago, Rick Gdovic continues to add equipment and personnel that have made son Brandon Gdovic increasingly competitive in the K&N Pro Series East.
Team manager/mechanical engineer: Charles Denike
Hauler driver/fabricator: Bruce Kimmel
Driver, mechanic: Brandon Gdovic (full-time CNU student)
Mechanic, decals: Spencer Saunders (full-time college student, Langley Speedway Legends driver)
Crew chief: Ron Otto (works full-time for Michael Waltrip Racing)
Car chief: Kevin Cunningham
Mechanic, painter: Chris Raiford (Legends driver at Langley)
Mechanic, welder: Chris Hopkins
Mechanic, welder: Shawn Hopkins (Modified driver)
Public relations, logistics: Claire Hatch
Food, logistics, management: Kelly Gdovic
Driver, management: Richard Gdovic (team owner)
Videographer and musical scores: Patrick Gdovic
You can follow Gdovic and team on Twitter (@BrandonGdovic and @RickGdovic), and on Facebook (BrandonGdovicRacing, RickGdovicRacing, PrecisionPerformanceMotorsports).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times