Zychowski zips along

Body: 

As Brock Zychowski limped onto a plane two years ago, he wondered how much he’d actually enjoy his vacation.

One of his legs was covered in road rash, with the skin scraped off nearly to his kneecap. During the flight, he felt the wound beginning to stiffen and scab over.

“It was disgusting. It was really gross,” Zychowski said. “I don’t ever want to have that happen again.”

But the 19-year-old can’t guarantee it won’t happen again.

It’s just one of the risks of quad racing.

“We’ve talked about getting a racecar — something with a roll-cage,” Zychowski joked. “We’ll see what happens in the future, maybe when I get a little bit older and not able to four-wheeler race anymore.”

Tammy Olson, Zychowski’s mother, wouldn’t necessarily object to the change.

She’s proud of her son and his success on the national four-wheeling circuit, but that pride is mingled with anxiety when she watches a race.

“My family actually makes fun of me because I’m one of those moms who can’t be around anyone. I’m just a wreck,” Olson said.

“Anytime he gets off the track on four wheels, I’m so happy.”

Crashes have been rare for Zychowski in the nearly six years since he began racing. The 2016 Superior High School graduate counts his spill two years ago as among the worst of his mishaps, but the crash didn’t deter him.

Zychowski recovered to finish the 2015 Midwest Extreme Dirt Track Racing season, and the next season he was named Pro Rider of the Year. It was Zychowski’s first year racing in the highly competitive Pro class.

This year, Zychowski is back racing in both the Pro and Pro-Am Limited classes.

“The competition just keeps getting stiffer each year,” he said. “It just keeps coming.

“At the end of the season last year we won a race and we thought, ‘OK, next year’s going to be awesome — top five, top three all the time.’ That’s not the case.”

Zychowski opened the 2017 Midwest Extreme Dirt Track Racing season April 8-9 in Belleville, Ill.

He placed fifth of 14 racers in the Pro-Am class and ninth of 15 in Pro for the first round. In the second round he was sixth of nine in Pro-Am and sixth of 14 in Pro.

“The first round didn’t go the greatest, I guess,” Zychowski said. “We have a brand new four-wheeler, and trying to get everything set up how you want it takes time. You can only do so much.”

Zychowski said it will take a few rounds to get the new four-wheeler “dialed in.” His hope is to improve each round and eventually get the machine to a point where he’s comfortable.

The third round of racing takes place Saturday in Fairfield, Iowa.

“I didn’t win over the past races, Round 1 and 2, but we still had a good time and we learned a lot,” Zychowski said. “You just learn something from every time you go.”

Track family

Zychowski began his racing career on ice with the Minnesota Ice Racing Stud Club. He switched to the Midwest Ice Racing Association in his second year and quickly became one of the top riders. Last season, he won three of the four MIRA races he entered.

On clay, Zychowski’s first experience came with the Minnesota District 23 Amateur Riders Motorcycle Association. He won the District 23 Quad Open Pro-Am title when he was just 16 and moved on to the national level shortly thereafter.

“That’s where I am now,” Zychowski said. “We started out racing in the Open A and Pro-Lite class.

“The (next) step from Pro-Lite to Pro-Am, and then to Pro, was just crazy.”

To keep pace with the competition, Zychowski has stepped up his training.

He begins his days at 7 a.m. with classes at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, where he is studying machining. At 4:30 p.m. he leaves school and heads to the gym for a workout. After that, Zychowski goes home to finish his training with another hour or so on his four-wheeler.

“There’s a lot to it,” he said. “It doesn’t come easy, but it’s always fun when you can get on top of the box and win. It’s all worth.”

Zychowski also spends countless hours in his garage in Iron River. There, he and his step-father, Mike, work together to build the four-wheelers Zychowski races.

“He taught me pretty much everything I know about motors,” Zychowski said.

The two begin with a stock four-wheeler and strip it down to the frame and wiring harness. Then they start the process of building a fully customized machine — one piece at a time.

“A lot of people send all their motors out to get built. I do everything at my house,” Zychowski said. “We build all the four-wheelers from the ground up.

“We know if something happens, it’s our fault; it’s not somebody else’s.”

That sense of ownership makes racing more meaningful for Zychowski, and it adds a family component to the sport.

According to Olson, racing is a way of life now for the whole family.

During the summer season, almost every weekend is spent at the track, Olson said. She estimates the family drives about 25,000 miles a year while traveling to racetracks throughout the Midwest.

“It’s kind of a family thing because my grandparents come with too,” Zychowski said. “We make vacations out of them. … It’s almost like we go camping.”

Once at the track, Zychowski’s “family” grows even larger.

 “We go out to dinner with everybody and it’s like our own little race family,” he said.

One racer with whom Zychowski has become particularly close is Daryl Rath.

Rath, of Hutchinson, Minn., has served as a mentor to Zychowski since his early days of racing. He first approached Zychowski during the teen’s debut ice racing season and was his first official sponsor.

“I was on a stock four-wheeler, and he just came up to me and told me a couple of things I could do to try to better myself with what I had,” Zychowski said.

Today, Zychowski gets all of his A-arm components from Rath Racing. He’s worked with Rath at his business, learned set-up tips from the veteran racer and regularly races against him.

“He’s been racing for so long. I don’t know how he does it,” Zychowski said. “He’s 47 and still does it. He’s nuts.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Marshall Bridges.

Zychowski crossed paths with the Osceola, Wis., native in District 23 racing and saw something of himself in the younger rider.

Like Zychowski, Bridges has risen quickly through the ranks at a young age.

“He’s from Wisconsin, and so am I, so we figured help him out,” Zychowski said.

He assists Bridges with set-up at the track and passes on pieces of advice he’s heard over the years.

“I can kind of relate to where he is and where I am now,” Zychowski said. “I had Daryl help me, so I like to give back to them just like I was helped out in the past.

 “In the long run he’ll probably help somebody else, and it just keeps going.”

Zychowski, Rath and Bridges all race at the national level in the Midwest Extreme Dirt Track Racing circuit.

Through the first two rounds, Rath stands third in points in the Pro class while Zychowski is seventh. In Pro-Am Limited, Rath is second and Zychowski is sixth.

Last year, Rath finished fourth — one place ahead of Zychowski — in the Pro-Am series.

Bridges is in the top half of the Open A standings this season. He moved up a class after finishing third in the Open B standing last season and taking second in the 14-24 age category.

He placed fourth in the first two rounds of the 14-24 class this season.

“I can’t wait until he gets to Pro class and we get to ride together because it’s going to be interesting,” Zychowski said.

He is also looking forward to a future collaboration with Rath.

The two are attempting to launch their own small racing series at the Sioux Valley Cycle Club track in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“It will eliminate a lot of traveling for us and other people too that don’t like to travel to Missouri or anything,” Zychowski said. “And the track there is great. ... We’d like to get a national series going in South Dakota for all of us because the track is just awesome.”

If the series moves ahead, Zychowski said it wouldn’t be nearly the size of the Midwest Extreme Dirt Track Racing series. He expects no more than four races in a season.

“It’s just something we’re looking to try,” Zychowski said.

NOTES: Besides Rath Racing, other sponsors for Zychowski include Hoosier (tires), Empire Industries (exhaust systems), FLY Racing (suit), Performance Engineered Products (suspension), DPR Racing Engines, 75 Designs, Johnny’s Autobody, InTech Trailers, Mattson Rentals and Brockstar Motorsports.

“They get me to the race track. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” Zychowski said.

“Racing is so expensive that it just makes it difficult. It was really difficult to start out when you didn’t have any sponsors to help you out.”

InTech Trailers, based in Indiana, is one of the newest sponsors to offer support. Zychowski entered a contest to win a new trailer from the company and was among five finalists of the more than 600 who applied.

“There was no way I thought we were going to make it to the top five, but we did,” he said.

Zychowski didn’t tell anyone when he initially submitted his application on Facebook to compete in the contest. He listed a few of his accomplishments, submitted photos and then waited.

InTech Trailers was looking for unique applicants, and Zychowski turned out to be one of the few quad racers in the running.

“They’d never really seen that type of racing before,” Zychowski said.

For the top five competition, Zychowski had to make a video detailing what winning the trailer would mean to him. Zychowski shot most of his video in the garage and talked about the new four-wheeler he was building with his step-father. He also used a drone for aerial shots of him ice racing on the lake near his home.

“We talked about how there are 500 screws per tire for ice racing to get the traction we need, and about top speeds and how fast we normally go,” Zychowski said. “It was a cool little video to make.”

Zychowski did not win the free trailer, but the company was impressed enough by his story to offered him a large discount on a custom trailer, which Zychowski said should be ready in June.

“I think it was great what InTech was doing for the racing community,” Zychowski said. “Some people aren’t fortunate enough to have an enclosed trailer to go to the races in.

“We started ice racing — which is way worse than pitting outside in the summertime — with an open trailer. It’s -30 degrees and you’d have to use the truck exhaust to warm up the motor to get it started. But that’s how we got to how we are to today.”

Starting out was difficult, Zychowski said, but he is grateful for the challenge.

“I was never taught to have something handed to me on a silver platter,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to get to see and experience all the downfalls and quirks.”