William Sawalich is among hundreds of young drivers with aspirations of one day racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Several obstacles stand in the way of those drivers reaching that goal but the 14 year-old Sawalich from Eden Prairie, Minnesota is determined to take the right steps to ensure that his on-track talent is properly developed and recognized.
Sawalich took a major step in separating himself from his competition by winning his first Carolina Pro Late Model Series race at Carteret County Speedway on June 19, which he credited to the tutelage of several people such as Lorin Ranier.
“My driving has improved a lot,” Sawalich said. “Pro Late Models are a lot different that Legends cars, so I had to learn a whole new driving style. Everyone has really helped me adapt very quickly and I am super thankful for all of them.”
While Sawalich was racing Legends cars up in Minnesota and Wisconsin early last year, his parents reached out to Ranier about further developing their son’s career in motorsports.
Ranier, whose father Harry owned cars for Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker and Bobby Allison in the Cup Series, knew that Sawalich would need a driving coach that would assist him with discipline as he transitioned from Legends to Late Models.
Ranier introduced Sawalich to Ryan Farbo, who previously mentored Sam Mayer in Legends cars before signing a deal with JR Motorsports that eventually turned into a full-time Xfinity Series ride.
Farbo has enjoyed working with Sawalich over the past year and praised him for his car control along with his ability to quickly retain and learn new information.
“William has a very high IQ,” Farbo said. “When you tell him something, he breaks it down, processes and remembers it. You can tell him one time to go try something different and he immediately applies it. William is the complete package and has a lot of the same traits Sam did at this point in his career.”
Farbo’s guidance translated into success for Sawalich in Legends competition. He capped off a busy and productive 2020 season with a victory in the Young Lions division of the INEX Road Course Finals at Atlanta Motorsports Park.
With Sawalich making the jump to the Carolina Pro Late Model Series in 2021, Ranier got him connected with former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Dennis Setzer and his son Brandon to prepare Sawalich for competition in full-bodied cars.
Neither Dennis nor Brandon initially knew what to expect out of Sawalich but both were impressed at how quickly he got comfortable behind the wheel of a Pro Late Model.
“William is really eager to learn things,” Dennis said. “He jumped into the car unbelievably fast right out of the gate. Brandon gives him a lot of suggestions and he automatically implements them. William is way ahead in his age when it comes to providing feedback, so he’s been very impressive so far.”
One aspect of Pro Late Models that took Sawalich by surprise was their drivability, which he said has been beneficial in his transition from Legends cars alongside the expertise provided by Dennis, Brandon, Ranier and Farbo.
“Legends car have a shorter wheelbase, so they are much harder to control,” Sawalich said. “With the Pro Late Model, I feel like I have so much more control. Getting into one of those was kind of easy compared to a Legends car but I’m still glad I got that experience before making the change.”
In addition to his victory at Carteret County, Sawalich has tallied four Top 5s in his six other Carolina Pro Late Model Series starts this year. His worst performance was a tenth at Hickory Motor Speedway in a race that featured 19 cars.
Sawalich’s efficiency is exactly what Ranier wanted to see in the first Pro Late Model season for Sawalich, comparing him to Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth during their early years in NASCAR.
“William isn’t just meeting expectations, he’s exceeding them,” Ranier said. “He’s extremely talented and smart but his ability to adapt is what’s going to make him ascend to the higher ranks of NASCAR and I couldn’t be more excited about a kid than I am with William.”
Although Ranier knows that Sawalich has the talent to one day race in the Cup Series, he understands that Sawalich still has many steps to take in his development that will include stints in Late Model Stocks and the ARCA Menards Series in the near future.
Ranier has also taken note of changes occurring with the Cup Series schedule and plans to have Sawalich tackle a healthy amount of dirt and road course races, all while surrounding Sawalich with talented and experienced people that will maximize his potential on the track.
“The most important thing is going to be keeping William around quality people,” Ranier said. “He’s learned the right thing from the very beginning and has all the knowledge around him to become a very good race car driver. We aren’t on a timetable with William either. We’re going to let him grow at his pace. He’s 14, so there’s no need to push him through the ranks.”
Sawalich still frequently competes in Legends cars to keep his skills sharp, which he knows will be important when he does start tackling tougher racing disciplines.
Sawalich wants to win more Carolina Pro Late Model Series races before the 2021 season concludes but is content on gaining experience and studying the cars so he can get the most out of every single race.
“Getting good results are going to be important,” Sawalich said. “I also need to listen to what Dennis, Brandon and all of my coaches have to say so I can be a better driver and be ready for what’s in front of me both physically and mentally.”
Many tough drivers and tracks are in front of Sawalich as he embarks on his methodical grind through the developmental ladder but is confident that he will one day race on Sundays with the strong support system by his side.