Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: William Sawalich Winning His Way Up the Ladder

William Sawalich is an up-and-coming talent in the NASCAR pipeline. Only 16 years old, the Eden Prairie, Minn. native has scored victories in a variety of different series.

He nearly won the prestigious super late model All American 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway before his involvement in a nasty crash left him with a destroyed racecar and a concussion, ending his 2022 racing season.

In 2023 though, Sawalich has taken the ARCA series by storm. He leads the ARCA Menards Series East standings after five of the eight races on the strength of two wins. He also is 11th in the main series standings, highlighted by his victory at Berlin Raceway.

Sawalich also has made two starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Impressively, in his series debut at Martinsville Speedway, he finished ninth.

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As NASCAR silly season has begun, Sawalich already knows his racing plans for the next two years. He will compete again in ARCA, expand his Truck Series schedule and make his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut. Then in 2025, Sawalich will compete full time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Prior to the ARCA race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second of three straight runner-up performances for Sawalich, he spoke to Frontstretch ARCA editor Mark Kristl about how he has progressed up the ranks, how each racing series helps him develop as a driver and his feud with Venturini Motorsports drivers.

Mark Kristl, Frontstretch: You are 16 years old. What gave you the racing bug?

William Sawalich: So I started racing when I was 9 [years old] in quarter midgets. I loved that a lot but I didn’t really think I could make it from there because it was just something fun to do at the time. [I] moved to legend cars after four years of quarter midgets and then I found it there, started traveling to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia doing the Summer Shootout, Thursday Thunder and then I had a lot of success in late models. That went well and I kept progressing and now I’m doing late models, Trucks and ARCA.

Kristl: This year you’re running late models, ARCA and Trucks as well as some road course racing. Other than answering, “Because racecars are fun,” why run so many different series?

Sawalich: Seat time is important to me. Staying in the seat, holding a steering wheel the most you can, will benefit you the most as a driver.

Kristl: Obviously, these racecars are all different. So what do you take away from late models to ARCA to Trucks?

Sawalich: They’re different styles of racing. If I could take away anything from them, then I’ll take everything that I can. They’re different exposures to different types of racecars. Some are heavier, some have more power, different types of tires so there are a lot of variables that could change between cars and everything that I can apply to what I’m focusing on right now.

Kristl: In the ARCA field at Berlin, only three drivers finished on the lead lap. In the Truck Series, there are 10 playoff drivers. So how do the two series field sizes compare? And how much does the competition level change when you’re behind the wheel?

Sawalich: In ARCA, those three drivers are pretty good. It’s just those three drivers competing all year, but the Trucks is obviously a little bit different, a little denser field of competition. But there’s always the mid-pack section. And if you stay in front of that, you’re always in the mix and they always race hard.

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Kristl: You’re 16. ARCA has drivers like Frankie Muniz, who is quite popular, and Jesse Love, who is leading the points, racing in it in 2023. Other ARCA drivers have also graduated into NASCAR. Does it feel surreal, to you, to race professionally?

Sawalich: Yeah, it’s cool racing all these guys that I used to watch like five years ago on TV. It’s cool to learn from them. Just trying to take everything I can from racing in the Trucks. ARCA is more about learning myself and how the cars handle. So taking everything from it and trying to do the best I can.

Kristl: You’re young, almost half my age. So who was your favorite driver growing up?

Sawalich: Jeff Gordon. I mean, I always watched him and I got to meet him a few times and it was cool to meet him. We have a family connection with Richard Petty, so I have always looked up to him. He got hearing aids from our family company, Starkey. His hearing isn’t the best.

Kristl: Who has been your coolest driver interaction? Have you met Gordon yet since you’ve become a driver?

Sawalich: Yes, I met Gordon five years ago at Phoenix Raceway when I went there to watch the Cup race. It was cool to meet him and ask him a few questions. It’d be cool to talk to him now.

Now that I’m racing with everybody, I get to meet everybody all the time so it’s cool. And now that I’m meeting them, I see and treat them as people, not stars. It’s cool to have that connection with the guys, though.

Kristl: You have run a lot of races thus far. What has been the highlight of your racing career thus far?

Sawalich: It’s hard to pick one, but the All American 400 was a good race until it wasn’t. This year has been cool. I just think racing at Martinsville for the first time was probably the best experience I’ve had.

Kristl: Your feud with Venturini Motorsports drivers — I have to ask, what’s your take on it?

Sawalich: Me and Jesse talked [after Elko Speedway] so I think we’re all good now. So we’ll just move forward from it and race each other hard.

Love beat Sawalich for the victory. Sawalich summed that contact from the race as “over and done with, we move on.”

Love is not the only VMS driver who has battled Sawalich in 2023. Sawalich used a bump-and-run to pass Sean Hingorani for the lead en route to victory in the East series race at Flat Rock Speedway. Then at Elko, Hingorani spun Sawalich. For what it’s worth, Hingorani wrecked his teammate Dean Thompson on the last lap of the ARCA Mid-Ohio event, resulting in a one-race suspension for him.

Kristl: How about Hingorani, have you talked to him too?

Sawalich: I haven’t talked to him, but I know at Flat Rock, he moved himself off my nose. I was there, I stood my ground and I didn’t really see much wrong with that. There were 50 laps to go, so he could’ve got me back and he did get me back. So there shouldn’t really be an issue with him. I’m going to race him as hard as I can and as clean as I can.

Kristl: Nobody from the state of Minnesota has won in the NASCAR national series. You’re moving up the ladder into NASCAR. How cool would it be for you to become the first Minnesota driver to win in NASCAR?

Sawalich: It’d be cool to carry Minnesota with me. I’m always going to try to make that goal to become the first Minnesotan to win a race, win a championship, and I think that’d be neat for Minnesota.

I’m down in Charlotte a lot, but whenever I’m racing up north, like this week racing the Slinger Nationals, then at Iowa Speedway, I’m going to stay in Minnesota.

About the author

Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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