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William Sawalich on the rise with Minnesota pride

William Sawalich looks on after practicing his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the ARCA Menards Series at Phoenix Raceway. Credit: Joe Gibbs Racing

At age 16, William Sawalich is on the rise with Minnesota pride carrying him toward success in his NASCAR career.

Sawalich already has double-digit late-model wins and a win with Joe Gibbs Racing. He also has a top-10 finish in NASCAR after his April 14 Craftsman Truck Series debut at Martinsville.

Sawalich started 22nd and was in the top-15 for 120 of 124 laps. After a wild turn one save and a 10th-place finish in stage two, the 16-year-old finished ninth.

“It was fun. It was a good, solid P9 finish, good Truck race. That was a little different than what I was expecting but it was a good learning experience for the future,” Sawalich said post-race.

The Eden Prairie, Minn. native impressed many and moved one step closer to his ultimate goal in NASCAR.

“There has never been a NASCAR winner from Minnesota, so that naturally draws me toward that to be the first person to do something of that magnitude,” the young driver said.

#18: William Sawalich, Starkey-Sound Gear Toyota Camry. Photo by Barr Visuals, courtesy of Joe Gibbs Racing

Golden Valley’s Joe Frasson finished third at Darlington in 1972 and Texas World in 1973, earning the best NASCAR finish for a Minnesota driver, to date.

50 years later, Sawalich’s meteoric rise shows Minnesota’s seemingly-eternal NASCAR dry spell could soon end.

“I did quarter-midgets for about three-and-a-half years. Then, I moved into Legends cars at Elko Speedway [in 2019] and did a couple of races down here [in North Carolina] to get with the INEX series,” Sawalich said.

Sawalich turned toward late models, which allowed his career to take off last year.

In 2022, he earned 14 feature wins and 27 top-3 finishes racing in the CARS Tour, Southern Super Series, ACA/CRA and JEGS/CRA series.

That success attracted the attention of Joe Gibbs Racing, as the organization signed Sawalich to a multi-year deal in December.

“I thought that was special. I thought back to my career and thought that this was where I wanted to be at 5 years old,” he reflected. “It kind of felt like unreal but I know I’m good enough to be competing with Joe Gibbs Racing.”

#18: William Sawalich, Starkey-Sound Gear Toyota Camry. Photo by Barr Visuals, courtesy of Joe Gibbs Racing

All the while, like many other NASCAR young guns, he’s still a teen juggling school and his racing dream.

“It can be a lot at times but I do online school with Liberty Academy. That lets me free up my schedule and do a lot of racing stuff. I’m really grateful for being able to do something like that,” Sawalich said.

The dream allows him to rub shoulders with some of the names he grew up watching and even helped at one point.

“I enjoyed watching Jeff Gordon growing up. The first race I ever got to go to was the [2014] Brickyard 400 and he won that. Then, I got to meet him and Richard Petty, who my family actually fitted hearing aids for,” Sawalich said.

For any parent, helping your kid achieve their dreams is a dream in and of itself. William’s dad, Brandon Sawalich, is the president and CEO of Starkey Hearing, which has been a big supporter of William’s racing career.

Now, as a part of his deal with JGR, William Sawalich is trying to win the 2023 ARCA Menards Series East title for them. Already, he led every lap at Pensacola and won.

#18: William Sawalich, Starkey-Sound Gear Toyota Camry. Photo by Barr Visuals, courtesy of Joe Gibbs Racing

The 16-year-old also raced at Phoenix in the ARCA Menards Series. He led 94 of 160 laps and nearly won there too until a late-race spin took him out of contention.

Sawalich plans to race Tricon Garage’s No. 1 Toyota Tundra again later this Truck Series season.

In the meantime, he says he’ll do some CARS late model racing, super late model racing and “anything to keep him busy.”

#18: William Sawalich, Starkey-Sound Gear Toyota Camry. Credit: Joe Gibbs Racing


The history of racecar drivers from Minnesota dates back to the dawn of automobiles and auto racing.

In 1915, Fairbault, Minn. native Eddie O’Donnell won three AAA ChampCar Series races and finished fourth in the championship. In November 1920, O’Donnell died in a crash during the AAA race at Los Angeles.

The crash also killed Gaston Chevrolet. Before his death, he cofounded Frontenac Motor Corporation with brother and Chevrolet founder Louis Chevrolet.

St. Paul, Minn. native Tommy Milton won the 1921 Indianapolis 500 with Frontenac before they filed for bankruptcy in 1923.

In that same year, Tommy Milton won his second Indy 500. With it, Milton became the first multi-time Indy 500 winner ever.

Milton is the only Minnesota winner of the Indy 500, to date. He also won the 1921 U.S. National Driving Championship and, overall, won 20 of his 105 starts from 1916-1927.

Many regard Tommy Milton as one of the greatest racers of the early 20th century. Yet, he did it all while blind in his right eye and with partial sight in his left eye.

In NASCAR, Duluth, Minn.-born Bob Potter finished 15th in the second-ever Daytona 500, in 1960.

Nine years later, Golden Valley-born Joe Frasson made his Cup Series debut. He subsequently earned four top-5 finishes and 19 top-10s, including third-place finishes at Darlington in 1972 and Texas World in 1973.

More recently, Lakeville drivers Mike Garvey and Joey Miller raced in NASCAR in 2005 and 2006.

Garvey made 13 Cup Series starts from 2005-06. Miller finished runner-up in the 2005 ARCA points and 5th at Mansfield in the Truck Series the next year.

Before Sawalich, the last Minnesota driver to make a NASCAR start was Ulen-born Cody Erickson in 2021. Erickson finished 26th at Bristol dirt and 22nd at Knoxville that year.

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