GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Zac Zakowski

Tuesday Toolbox: Zac Zakowski

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | 1:35 PM
Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | 1:35 PM

You may have noticed in recent years that the Ironman GNCC is swimming in pink. One man behind that color change and the breast cancer awareness fundraising is Zac Zakowski. His name might sound familiar – though he now races his side-by-side in short course events, he is a former 4x4 ATV and UTV racer in the GNCC series. While he no longer regularly competes in GNCCs, he still returns for the annual breast cancer awareness fundraising. With the Ironman coming up this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to talk to Zac about how the fundraising got started and how the GNCC Racing Nation can help.

Zakowski was a longtime GNCC 4x4 ATV and UTV racer, before semi-retiring and focusing on short course racing.
Zakowski was a longtime GNCC 4x4 ATV and UTV racer, before semi-retiring and focusing on short course racing. Maz Photography

GNCCRacing: Why don’t you start off by telling us a little about yourself.

Well, I am Zac Zakowski, a semi-retired GNCC racer. We used to race pro 4x4 ATV and UTVs. We did that from 2008 until 2016. We still keep coming back to Ironman every year to do our breast cancer fundraiser that we have been doing since 2010.

Before we delve too deeply into the fundraising, which is going to be the bulk of what we talk about, can you give us some of the highlights of your racing career, as well as what prompted the retirement?

Yeah, I can. Pretty much every year that we raced GNCCs I was top-5 overall for the year in the morning race. We were Polaris-backed in 2009 and then I was Can-Am factory backed in the ATV racing until 2013 and then from 2013 until 2016 we were backed by Can-Am in the side-by-sides. We did it for a long time, and met a lot of really good people! Our heart was always kind of pulling us towards short course  racing though, and towards the end we had some opportunities pop up with short course, and decided to make the switch. I had blown out my knee on the four-wheeler and had multiple surgeries, the class kept getting faster and faster – it was just time for us to move on.

Since I am a bike racer, I confess that I don’t know much about the 4-wheeled side of racing. When you say “short course” racing, what are you talking about?

Short course racing is basically like a combination of TT and motocross but for off-road trucks and side-by-sides. It’s pretty cool! We get going up to about 85 in our side-by-side. It’s a whole different world from GNCC – no trees, as fast as you can go, and you’re bouncing nerf bars off each other. My background is more suited for this than GNCC was, since I grew up racing go-karts on pavement and dirt. It was a blast to do GNCCs while we were at it, but we always missed this style of racing.

Lookout for the setup this weekend, stop by and see us!
Lookout for the setup this weekend, stop by and see us! Courtesy Zakowski Motorsports

Understandable. Now I know you’re coming back for the breast cancer fundraising – will you race as well?

Oh yeah! I’m going to be out there, I wouldn’t want to miss GNCCs last side-by-side race! It’ll be all pink-ed out of course, and we’re shooting for a top-3 – we aren’t just going to be out there to ride around. Most importantly, with this being the last race, it seems really fitting to come back and end it right with all the guys we used to race with over the years.

Hopefully I can make it down to the line to say hello. An all-pink car shouldn’t be hard to miss – but the pink for Ironman thing has really grown a lot in the past few years, hasn’t it?

Yeah, it’s come a long way since we first started doing it back around 2009. When we started running pink, there was virtually nothing. I mean, a couple people would have a ribbon on their machine somewhere or maybe a couple of pink stickers, but for the most part it was non-existent. Right about that time we started doing our fundraiser and really went over-the-top with the pink. We had painted frames, body, everything! Then GNCC hopped on the bandwagon with us and now everything’s pink. It’s kind of crazy!

Yeah, it seems like almost a cultural thing now, almost everyone does it, which is pretty cool! What inspired you to get involved with breast cancer fundraising in the first place?

My mom, Linda, is a breast cancer survivor. She got breast cancer when I was about twelve or thirteen. She’s been cancer-free fifteen years now. So, she’s really the reason we started this – she wanted to do it, we wanted to do it, and we all wanted racing to be part of it ….. I mean, I wouldn’t probably be racing if it wasn’t for her. She loves the racing as much or more than I do, and now each year our fundraising associated with that just keeps growing.

Support Breast Cancer Awareness, and purchase a $10 tee from Zakowski Motorsports!
Support Breast Cancer Awareness, and purchase a $10 tee from Zakowski Motorsports! Courtesy Zakowski Motorsports

You say you probably wouldn’t be racing if not for her - as she a former racer herself, or has she just done things to support your racing and keep the dream alive over the years?

She just loves it. Loves every part of it. She’d rather be traveling to races every weekend than sitting at home doing whatever it is normal people do on the weekends (laughs). She has always been the one saying hey, “there’s a race happening over there, we should go do it” even more so than my dad. In fact, she was usually the one prodding him to take us. She’s the heart behind it, you know what I mean?

Yeah, I understand. How did you guys get started with the fundraiser?

We started doing a little bit in 2009, and then we really started doing it in 2010. When we first came to Ironman in 2008, she was kind of surprised that nobody was doing anything for breast cancer awareness month. So, the next year in 2009 we had my 4-wheeler custom-painted pink. We were the only all pink machine, which kind of drew eyes to us. The next year mom wanted more pink out there, so we printed off some pink shirts with our Zackowski racing logo. We sold some to friends and stuff like that. Then next year we started doing shirts with funny phrases on them – I think our first one was “get your mammies grammed”. Cancer is such a horrible thing, so it’s good to try to bring a little humor into it to counteract that. We sold out of the shirts almost instantly. Then it kind of went from there.

How successful would you say you guys have been with the fundraising?

I would say super successful. It’s done more than we ever thought it would! You know, the first year we raised like 300 bucks (laughs)… The next year it was like 750, and then the year after that I think we jumped to like three grand. And now we’re consistently every year at 20,000. It’s also gone from people just buying shirts, to people donating more stuff to sell. We’ve raised almost 100,000 dollars since we first started, which is just a staggering number. And all these years we’ve only sold the shirts at Ironman and the final round of the IHATVHSS series in Iowa. So, the roughly 20,000 we raise every year has come just out of in-person sales two weekends a year. This year we’ve made them available on our website, so we’re shooting for even higher than 20,000. Here is the website address,, in case anyone is interested. We’d been talking about doing a website for years now, and one of our sponsors, Apex Moto Marketing helped me get it up, so we’re all pretty excited about that.

One of the many designs available this weekend.
One of the many designs available this weekend. Courtesy Zakowski Motorsports

And what are the charities the money usually goes to? Like Susan G. Korman?

Nope. We go after smaller, more local ones. Like Pink Ribbon riders out of Minnesota. They’re involved in snowmobiling and ATV racing. Another one is Pink Tractor Foundation out of Iowa, and we donate to Faith Alliance out of Indiana as well. We respect the work that the big foundations that research cures and stuff do, they’re crucial. But we prefer to focus on the smaller ones because they help the families that are going through this. We had help like that when my mom was diagnosed, and we know how much of a difference that can make in the lives of both the patient and the family. Whether it’s food or money or whatever… it can really help people in a boots-on-the-ground way that just donating to researchers does not. We’ve had people come up to us who actually received money for our donations and thank us for helping pull them through one of the worst things that can happen to a family. That really means a lot, seeing people who benefited in such a concrete way.

What are your fundraising goals for this year?

Our goal is to break through that $20,000 plateau this year. So, $21,000 is our goal.

Anything special besides the online ordering happening with this year’s fundraiser?

Yeah, we are going to have pink Walker Fowler autographed shirts for sale in the pits! We also have some stuff from Spider graphics, as well as this sick new pink and black design.

What are the ways that the GNCC community can help and get involved?

Well, buying a shirt or donating for starters (laughs). But sharing the website, liking the Facebook posts, and helping us get the word out all of that really helps. It’s super easy to take a photo of a funny shirt you’re wearing and post it.