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Baranek: 19-year-old driver’s pursuits take flight

Danielle Dobczyk finished third her rookie seasas pure stocks driver 2013 Grundy County Speedway.  |  Kim Kemperman/For Sun-Times

Danielle Dobczyk finished third in her rookie season as a pure stocks driver in 2013 at Grundy County Speedway. | Kim Kemperman/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 14, 2014 6:38AM



The first time Danielle Dobczyk climbed into a pure stock on opening night at Grundy County Speedway last season, the instructions from her dad didn’t come with much detail.

“He just kind of threw me out there,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was like, ‘Dad, are you going to give me any advice or anything?’ He said, ‘Well, go fast and turn left.’ I said, ‘Thanks.”

She finished third in the heat.

“That was a good night,” she said, smiling. “That when I knew what I wanted to do.”

What happened the rest of the season was pretty remarkable, as Dobczyk went on a rookie adventure that left her third in points in the division behind champion Dan Schmeissing and runner-up Alex Gay.

This year the Morris oval isn’t the only place she’ll be flying.

The 19-year-old Minooka native is pursuing a career in aviation. A student at Southern Illinois University, Dobczyk already has logged 65 hours in the air. She had her first solo flight in February in a Cessna 172.

The pre-flight instructions were a little more detailed for that inaugural voyage.

“Oh, yeah,” Dobczyk said, laughing. “It was scary at first, but once I got up there I just saw the view and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m really flying by myself.’ That’s when I got a little less nervous and took it all in.”

Her fascination with racing has pretty much been lifelong.

“When I was little my dad (Robert) took me a lot to NHRA events,” Dobczyk said. “I actually wanted to do be a little junior dragster when I was little, but my mom never let me.

“The year before last my cousin (Dominic Perona) started racing (at Grundy). He was in a pure stock, and we’d come out and watch and help him out with the car. One night I was like, ‘Dad, I‘ve got to get into this.’ I begged and he got me one.”

Her flirtation with flying has been lifelong as well. Her mother, Laura, is a travel agent.

“She would throw us on planes to Florida since we were babies,” Dobczyk said. “I’ve always loved riding on planes, but I never thought it would be a possible career with me until we were looking at colleges. SIU is the top school for aviation in the nation so I thought, ‘Well, this might actually work out.’ ”

Dobczyk one days wants to fly helicopters for the coast guard on search and rescue missions.

“Either that or get into corporate or private jets,” she said. “Flying international, that’s my main goal.”

Which doesn’t leave a ton of time for racing.

“Well, I’m hoping that in the summers I can keep going at it,” she said. “They’re both my dreams. It’s just a matter of which one works out.

Memory lane

Last Friday at Grundy, late-model legend Larry Schuler unveiled his new paint scheme and it’s the same as it was in 1976 when he drove his “Junkyard Dog” Camaro to a national record-setting 43 feature wins.

It was all the buzz during a prerace “meet the drivers” event on the track.

“I think that a lot of what’s going on is that people talked about that car, and now the younger ones get to see it again,” Schuler said. “Now they know what the old people were talking about it.

“It makes it fun.The guys (from Harmonic Designs in Channahon) did a beautiful job on it.”

The original Junkyard Dog was so named because Schuler found the frame at a junkyard in Channahon named “Al’s Garage.”

Its whereabouts today, Schuler doesn’t know. Maybe a museum?

“It should be,” Schuler said, smiling.



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