A little over four years ago, Monroe’s Paul Kusheba wasn’t certain if his racing career was going to be over at the almost unthinkable age of 15.
Now the 19-year old is hoping to become the Waterford Speedbowl’s SK (Stock) Modified Rookie of the Year, as the season winds toward its midway point.
Kusheba and his family, a mother (Jody) and a father (Paul), have never been able to fully get the date — March 27, 2010 — out of their minds. Ironically, it was the young Kusheba’s 15th birthday.
Emotions still run deep with his father, as he recently re-lived a Legends Cars crash at Waterford that shattered his son’s right knee cap and kept him out of the sport for the rest of that season.
“I had to start at the back of the field in that opening-day race because I didn’t have a good qualifying heat finish,” Kusheba recalled. “I had worked my way up to seventh and was on the outside with only a few laps remaining.”
What then occurred was very scary. As Kusheba was attempting to make a top-of-the-track pass going into the Speedbowl’s fourth corner, a driver came up from the bottom of the oval.
Kusheba’s car, which has exposed wheels, hopped over the other racer’s wheel. He was then airborne and heading directly for a concrete wall.
“I knew it was going to be a hard hit,” he remembered. “The force of the impact knocked me out. When I regained consciousness they were trying to cut the roof off of the car. I told them not to do it and I managed to crawl out.”
Once he tried to stand on the pavement, however, Kusheba went straight down as his mother looked on horrified.
“I was home for about a week stretched out and unable to move when I had my first surgery,” he said. “Basically, my knee cap was wired together and my tore two ligaments.”
Doctors also had to insert a pair rods in his leg for support. Three surgeries later, he was finally able to walk. He began thinking about a comeback.
“I’d been driving some form of race cars since I was five years old,” Kusheba said. “I was never a kid who liked stick and ball sports. I never played either baseball or soccer. I did like fishing.”
When he was just five, his father saw an article about the Norwalk Go-Karting Association, which runs weekly races at Calf Pasture Beach in the southern part of the city.
“Most of the time parents push their kids into racing because they were racers themselves,” his father said. “That wasn’t the case here. My son is a first-generation driver.”
Kusheba followed the usual path through Karts and the family decided that Legends Cars — high-powered by motorcycle engines, open-wheel cars with replicated bodies from modified racing’s past — became their route.
“The move for me from Karts to the Legends Cars was huge,” said Kusheba, presently a student at Naugatuck Valley Community College where he’s studying automotive tech.
“You need to be smooth to drive a Kart well. The Legends Cars are twitchy. You need to learn throttle control. That’s the secret to driving them well.”
Waterford has always had a competitive group and the one-third mile, moderately-banked track is a perfect surface for the cars which gain straight-away speeds of over 90 miles per-hour.
The family received help in the Legends Cars from Jags and Jason Palmer, a father-son combination from Berlin who both drove in the division for years.
After sitting out the entire 2010 season, Kusheba returned in 2011 and found that he had a touch for the cars.
He won two features that year before coming all the way back to win the track’s championship in 2012.
After one more season, the Kushebas decided they would move up to the SK Cars, the track’s premier series.
“We’ve always found people along the way who were willing to help us out,” Kusheba’s father said. “Racing folks are like that. Once you get on the track, however, then it’s everybody for themselves.”
During this past off-season, with help from Ansonia’s Vin Anglace and Greg and Jerry Kozera, both former drag racers who own a garage in Fairfield, the Kusheba’s bought an SK car once driven by Michael Bennett of Stafford Springs.
Misfortune, though, seemed to be with them again. The motor in Kusheba’s car expired midway through the season’s opener, a Sunday afternoon race in late March.
The Kozeras were there, however, with another engine and Kusheba’s career was back on track.
Another valuable member of the racing team is Stratford’s Tom Demchak, a handy-man when it comes to chassis set-ups and tire selection.
Currently 13th in SK Modified points with a pair of eighth-place finishes to his credit, Kusheba has outdistanced his nearest rival, second-generation driver Jeff Goodale, of Riverhead, N.Y., in his quest for rookie honors. Goodale is 21st, with 66 points. Kusheba is the youngest driver in the division by two years. Racing cousins Joey and Adam Gada, are both 21 and come from a line of drivers dating back to the early 1960s.
“This was a big move for both me and my family,” Kusheba said about going up to the division. “It’s expensive racing and we’re not a family with all kinds of money. We do get great help and that really matters.”
Kusheba is trying to get as much exposure as possible. That’s why, when he was unable to race during the 2010 season, he turned to computer simulated (IR) racing and recently competed last week in the Peak, IR Challenge at the Charlotte, N.C., Speedway. The three-day competition allowed him to exhibit his skills in Go-Karts, K&N Late-Model Stock Cars, a NASCAR stepping-stone division to the Nationwide and Nextel Cup Series, and to be a part of the Richard Petty Driving Experience on the mile-and-half speedway at Charlotte.
He flew out to Charlotte and was able to return in time to compete on Saturday night at Waterford.
Kusheba has come a long way from that near career-ending experience on his 15th birthday
To view more articles from the Monroe Courier written by Peter Vander Veer on Paul Kusheba be siure to click on the link above at monroercourier.com