Athlete of the week: Justin Pogones, Zimmerman, Auto Racing: Comfort Zone
by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
In the furious sport of auto racing, what serves Justin Pogones well is the comfort zone he creates by tapping the virtues of preparation and patience.
The co-owner of AJ Complete Automotive in Elk River is the Street Stock points leader at both Princeton Speedway (Friday nights) and Ogilvie Speedway (Saturday nights) while ranking second at Granite Speedway in St. Cloud (Sunday nights).
In 31 races, he’s got seven feature wins and 24 top-four finishes with just three DNF’s (two flats, one broken ball joint).
“Maintenance, that’s my key. We normally spend three to five hours the night before a race checking working on the car,” said Pogones, referring to pit guys and racing buddies. “Some drivers only spend a half hour to an hour. We go through everything, from top to bottom.”
Once the race starts, Pogones eases into the action in his blue-and-orange, No. 01, Monte Carlo (1987 frame, 1999 chassis) with a 350 Chevy engine.
“My key on the track is patience. I don’t hit the gas hard and try to win right away. I wait until everything looks good, then make my pass.”
The Zimmerman resident who’s been a racer since 1996 is defending champion at two tracks, pursuing his third straight title at Ogilvie and second at Princeton.
Pogones won the Granite City feature Wednesday night in a makeup date, beating points leader Dave Read, who’s ranked nationally. With that victory he’s won at four tracks this year including three at Ogilvie, two at Princeton, and one at Brainerd, on opening night in April, his lone appearance there.
Pogones, 34, has his children, Gina, 9, and Tommy, 7, in his pit crew, because they love the races, and wife, Cassie, in the stands. His main pit guy is Jim Landry, who works at his shop.
Along with his real family he’s got a racing family. About 150 people — drivers, sponsors, fans, family — typically gather after races at Ogilvie to chow down and talk about the races.
“Everyone I race with, I consider a friend,” said Pogones. “We (drivers) have a big barbecue grill in Ogilvie that we leave there, and we grill chicken and steaks.”
(There’s a heavy Star News area representation in Street Stock both at Princeton and Ogilvie, with Ryan Kostreba, Brad Schmidt and Pat Zerfas of Elk River, Kurt Becken and Amanda Milbrandt of Otsego, and John Adamson of Zimmerman among leaders at either or both tracks.)
Pogones, co-owner of AJ’s with Amy Beaudoin since 2007, has been an auto mechanic since graduating from Blaine and attending Pine Tech in Pine City.
Pogones did entry-level, Mod 4’s and Super Stock before settling on Street Stock. He did OK in Super Stocks at Grove City, Cedar Lake and Princeton, usually top five, but found the higher classification a little too serious.
“It’s not as bad in Street Stock. Everyone’s like a big family,” he said. “People ask me, are you gonna move up? You’ve dominated! But I have no interest. When I did Super Stock it was fun and there were plenty of people I liked, but it was so competitive. People would buy an $800 set of shocks just to try it out.”
Pogenes never tried any sports other than racing. From age 14 his primary interest was working on cars and small engines. He’s not much of a sports fan, just an occasional Twins or Vikings game with his wife for fun.
He’s not even a racing fan, not as a spectator anyway. Recently he watched races at Alexandria. “I just got restless,” he said. “I wanted to be down there myself.”
THE POGONES SCORECARD
Personal file — Age: 34 … Family: wife, Cassie; children, Gina, 9, and Tommy, 7 … Sport: auto racing … Occupation: co-owner of AJ Complete Automotive, Elk River
Favorite stuff — TV shows: “History Channel” fare … Movies: “Six Pack” and “Days of Thunder” … Reading: “All the Dirt” (racing newspaper) … Food: grilled steak and chicken … Drink: Diet Mt. Dew … Favorite team, athlete: None