Traveling to races is part of the Zdroik racing history
By Joe Verdegan
Full Throttle Magazine contributor
For the Zdroiks, stock car racing has been, is and always will be a family affair.
Born and raised in Eagle River, no less than seven Zdroiks have either raced or plan on racing at some point in the future. Collectively they’ve competed in several different classes at dozens of tracks across not only Wisconsin, but in Michigan, Iowa and Arkansas as well. There are so many of them a scorecard would be helpful to keep track of them all.
It all started with Tom Zdroik, when K-G Raceway was built by Ken Glembin in Eagle River in 1975. Glembin carved a tri-oval into the woods, and racing got underway in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
A few years later Pat got his start in 1979.
“I raced in a class it was called the Lead Sleds”, Pat recalls. “The cars had to be those big, four-door boats. They were something else back then.”
Pat raced not only at his home track Eagle River, but many other ovals across northern Wisconsin as well.
“We used to race at the fairgrounds in Crandon (Forest County) up until around 1982 or so when it closed,” Pat says. “It was pretty much a local deal. Raced against Beetle Bailey there a lot. Iron River’s Putch Bentley, too. He’s running some asphalt stuff now at Sands (MI). We had some fun.”
In addition, Pat raced at a little known track that existed until it closed down in the early 1980s in Phillips.
“That was a pretty rough deal at Phillips, racing on it was like a rock field,” Pat says. “We got a lot of funny looks when we pulled in there the first time. We had windshields in our cars. We took a look at the track and swapped out screens real fast. It was brutal, but we had fun.”
From there, Pat went on to race against drivers like Jeff Hoogland, Duane Dunbar and Jeff Spacek.
“I moved into the WISSOTA super stock class years ago, and that was fun,” he says.
The move brought him to several tracks across western and northern Wisconsin.
“In the early 1980s we even ran in a Limited Late Model class,” he says. “We got around a bit, and even raced in some specials down in Arkansas in the early ‘80s. It was pretty neat, and there were a lot of those cars around back then.”
From there, Pat ran a WISSOTA Late Model in 2000, but primarily stuck with modifieds from that day forward.
“I really prefer working on the Modifieds as they are just more accessible to work on,” Pat says. “We can make adjustments and such on race night a lot easier.”
Pat also got a look at things on the other side of the fence, as he had a hand in promoting Eagle River Speedway on different occasions.
“We leased the track for awhile in the mid 1980s,” Pat says. “Then we did it again around 1997ish for a few years. Promoting is a lot of fun, but the hours you put into it it really is for a little pay. You will never make everybody happy when you are a promoter, that’s for certain.”
Pat and his younger brother Jim also built a lot of race cars over the years as well.
“Racing kept me out of trouble basically,” said Jim Zdroik, who with Pat are currently drivers on the Custom Windows Plus Badger Mod Tour presented by Gandrud Chevrolet. “I was not a good kid in high school. Pat gave me a Bomber car to run and it kept me out of trouble. He dragged me and set me straight. He told me to get that thing out. Tuesday night will be racing and you’ll be doing it. He didn’t give me a choice in the matter.”
Jim’s racing path has been well traveled, and includes a long stint living in West Bend near Milwaukee, and racing Modifieds and Late Models at the now defunct Hales Corners Speedway in Franklin.
“We won some championships down at Hales, and racked up quite a few wins down there,” Jim says.
Jim’s currently living back in his hometown of Eagle River. The 28-year racing veteran works as a civilian contractor for the United States Army, and wrapped up his third trip overseas last fall.
“I was there for four months this last time,” Jim says. “It got up to 120 degrees there much of the summer. It gets down to about 90 or 100 degrees at night. There are sandstorms frequently. It can get pretty nasty and I’m glad to be home.”
Jim plans on running the entire BMT schedule this year, with one exception.
“I’ve got to go back to Afghanistan in September, so I’ll miss the BMT finale at 141 Speedway. Other than that I’ll make all of the BMT shows,” he says.
Jim hasn’t raced at Eagle River Speedway in over 15 years.
“I won five titles at Eagle River in the 1980s,” Jim says. “I’ve probably got over 100 feature wins at Eagle River alone. It’s one mile from my house. The thing with Eagle River is that if you can run well on that tri-oval, you can pretty much run strong at any other track. The Badger Mod Tour guys are a real tough bunch. To see 22 of those guys on that tight track, it will be a challenge, no doubt.”
Jim ran Shawano’s BMT opener but failed to make the main, while Pat turned in a solid sixth place.
“I was just happy to race, because I’d only been back from overseas for a week and a half. I hadn’t driven anything at all for four months. My sons (Geoff and Austin) helped get everything ready. Victory Sign lettered our cars and did a great job,” he says.
Thirty three year old Jason Zdroik has also competed in dozens of racing divisions and at many tracks in his career, which started at the age of 15.
“I got my start at Eagle River, but we ran some other places like Adventure Mountain Speedway in Greenland, Michigan. That’s interesting running there,” said Jason.
Jason expanded to running WISSOTA Super Stocks and earned a fifth place in the national points in 2009.
“I ran over 60 shows that year and earned 30 clean sweeps,” Jason says.
His travels have taken him to tracks in Jim Falls, Tomahawk, Rice Lake, Ashland and others.
“My dad is Tony Zdroik, he raced for a year and a half,” Jason says.
Tony operates the Finish Line Bar and Grill which is adjacent to the Eagle River track.
Jason finished 19th in the final BMT points last year.
“I’m going to run all the shows but I missed Shawano’s opener because my car wasn’t done yet,” Jason says, whose primary sponsor is Hartmann Well Drilling of Eagle River.
“I love running with the BMT because it’s an accomplishment just to make those shows,” Jason says. “I’ll come back from running a BMT weekend and guys will ask me ‘How’d you do?’ I’d respond ‘I don’t know 15th or something.’ They are surprised that I’m not disappointed. The fans in Eagle River will see when the BMT comes to town July 4 just how tough those drivers are.”
“That will be a lot like Bristol,” Pat predicts. “There will likely be a little contact, but hopefully not too much for the BMT show in Eagle River. The quality of drivers in that deal is unreal. Last year three of the seven shows went without a yellow. The most Mods on the track at a time at Eagle River was 19. It should be pretty wild.”
As far as Pat’s pit crew members they include, but are not limited to: brother Jeff Zdroik and nephew Austin Zdroik.
“My main two guys who help me are Al Jacobsen and Chad Lederer of Eagle River,” Pat says. “Al’s an old school racer who’s 75 years old. He still helps me out, though.”
His sponsors include: Coffen Construction of Eagle River, Lakeland True Value and Lumber Lake Tomahawk, Oettinger Excavating and Septic in Rhinelander and Pat’s own business Badger Truck Repair in Eagle River.
(This article first appeared in the June 2013 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)