Two weeks before the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, racecar driver Jeff Nowicki of Birmingham sips on a cold brew at McCormick Schmick’s in Troy as he reflects on his passion for all things Corvette.
Not that he’s had much time to relax these past several weeks. Nowicki recently worked out a deal to join Michael Baughman Racing (Team MBR) to compete in this weekend’s Chevrolet Grand AM Detroit 200 on Belle Isle in Detroit.
The race is part of an action-packed Grand Prix weekend June 1-3. This is the first time the series has raced in Detroit and it will be broadcast live internationally 5-7:30 p.m. on the motorsports Speed network.
Nowicki will be driving the No. 46 red Corvette for Team MBR. This is a debut performance for Team MBR with title sponsor George Matick Chevrolet, one of Michigan’s top Corvette dealers. It also is Matick’s first foray into a motorsports sponsorship.
“When Jeff (Nowicki) and his team shared with us a partnership idea, it clicked immediately,” said Karl Zimmermann, owner of George Matick Chevrolet in Redford Township and a Bloomfield Hills resident. Title sponsor Matick Chevy is joining ITS Partners, TeamMBR and others.
The 45-year-old Nowicki is excited to get the action under way. Managed by Baughman, who brings 30 years of motorsports experience as an owner and driver, the team has competed in Grand AM since the series’ inception.
“I’m excited to be a part of the race, especially because this is my hometown,” Nowicki said. The Corvette, too, was virtually born in the Motor City, he added, thinking about the days when his dad, a retired engineer for General Motors, would take Nowicki to the Design Center in Warren to show him all the Corvette designs.
“As we’re moving into the 60th anniversary of the Corvette in 2013, this is a most exciting race,” Matick Chevy’s Zimmermann said. “The Corvette is the iconic vehicle for Chevrolet and our entire Matick team can’t wait to race on Saturday. We’re ranked in the top 1 percent nationally of Chevy dealers for new car sales and look to transfer that success to the race track.”
“My dad is looking forward to seeing me race here in Detroit,” Nowicki added with a grin. He then paused as he peripherally took in a slowing Jaguar just outside the pub’s window. “Sorry, I couldn’t help but look; that’s the new one,” he said of the slick automobile from which restaurant patrons descend.
But back to the race: “I’m pumped up for this race; it’s hometown for me — there will be family and friends watching.”
More about Nowicki: man behind the wheel
On the Corvette: “It’s America’s sports car — it’s world class. The classic lines lend efficient aero-dynamics and minimal drag. It’s a great platform from which to build a racecar and has won a lot of championships. The engineers have done a great job taking the Corvette to the next level.”
Corvette’s 60th birthday (in 2013) highlights: “2013 will mark the final year of production for the current generation of Corvettes, so this will be the last year for the C6. The C7 should be awesome. But in 2013, Karl (Zimmermann, owner of George Matick Chevrolet and title sponsor for Nowicki and TeamMBR) tells me I’ll really love the cool Night Race Blue exterior color, as well as a lighter-shaded Supersonic Blue. And the new black-painted aluminum wheels are also going to be awesome, he tells me.”
On the track: “We have a crew of four and I’ll share driving with another driver. We’ll stop for fuel, but not tires. It takes about two hours and I’m thinking I’ll go 140 to 160 mph on the back stretch.”
Race lowdown: “There are 17 car styles in our GT class, so a full field of everything from Ferraris and Audis to Porches and ‘Vettes.”
He almost always wears: A watch. “Most car people are into watches.”
How he caught the racing bug: “My father (Ron Nowicki, 70, of West Bloomfield) was an engineer and worked for GM’s design staff. As a boy, I’d see the clay models at his studio, which was great. Then he’d take me to races, like the Michigan International Speedway in Jackson. I started racing in 1990 at a local Waterford track. My dad is excited for me — he’s my best friend and this is the first time he will see me race in a profiled event.”
What he drives around town: “I drive a big black Chevy Suburban … I’m like Men in Black,” he said with a laugh. “I purchased it from George Matick Chevy in Redford Township and it was delivered through Cauley Performance Automotive in West Bloomfield. I don’t speed, much. You get that out of you when you’re racing. So go with the flow. I’m always scanning the roadways when I drive.”
Best driver in the family: “That could be my wife,” he said chuckling. (She works in IT and drives a Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and a Mercedes.) She’s a good driver and even went through a driver’s school in California, many years ago before we met.”
Best four-legged friend: “My beagle, who of course we had to name something car-ish, so he’s called Woodward!”
Race-day rituals: “I visualize and try to relax. It’s a lot of work behind the scenes, getting sponsors, strategizing. So at some time, I need to start focusing.”
Other job: Nowicki runs Nowicki Autosport/Design in Birmingham. His company is involved with automotive design consulting, clay modeling, composites and motorsports.
More on Nowicki: He won his first of three consecutive Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) autocross class championships at age 18 in a race-prepared Camaro. In 1990, he stepped up to road racing, making an impressive debut winning the SSGT Regional Championship two years in a row and set new track records.
He later made his professional racing debut in the International Motor Sport Association’s (IMSA) Firestone Firehawk Series as a co-driver. Nowicki kept driving Corvettes, Camaros and Firebirds in Firehawk, IMSA and SSCA World Challenge events.
He placed fourth in his first race at Road America and, in 1992, Nowicki dominated the SCCA IT class and was asked to become a part of the Morrison Motorsports Corvette team at the final 24-hour event in the World Challenge series. In 1993, he won the SCCA IT Championship in a Corvette.