Justin T. Pawlak: From UTI Grad to Formula D Racing Star


Whatever Justin T. Pawlak does, he does with full commitment.

Whether he's locked into a power slide around a corner during a drift race or he's fabricating parts and customizing his own race car, he puts 100% into whatever he's doing.

Discipline and ambition are at the core of who he is. As a student at Universal Technical Institute (UTI), he used these traits to propel himself to the top of his class and to take in everything he could from his automotive education.

“One of the key things was just going to class every day and being on time. I had perfect attendance and the passion and drive to be there and learn. It’s the same thing with drifting–I’m fully committed in the same way. I was driven to succeed at UTI and have carried that with me.”

Since 2005, Justin has been dedicated to Formula D racing. He's racked up many accomplishments, having placed second overall in the first round of Formula Drift in 2011, and has since continued to place in Formula Drift Championship races.1

This love of cars and the motivation to make them better started when he was young. At 15, he was making modifications to the steering system of his first car and just a short jump later, at 17, he was making modifications to his first turbocharged vehicle.

Finding his way from being a teenager tinkering with his first car to being behind the wheel of a Roush Performance Supercharged Mustang wasn't free from obstacles.

Justin Pawlak looking at his car

From off of the Soccer Field into an Uncertain Future

Though Justin liked working on cars, any aspirations he may have had to work on or race them professionally didn’t materialize while he was in high school. Instead he dedicated himself to athletics and academics.

His skills at soccer and baseball provided him with a scholarship to a university in Wisconsin. His 100% level of dedication to sports and school landed him a starting spot on the school's soccer team.

But whether you’re on the soccer field, or on the race track, or just in life in general, there are things that happen that are beyond anyone’s control. You can dedicate yourself completely to something, only to have it ripped away without having any choice.

For Justin, an injury on the soccer field took him out of the game. All that he had worked so hard for was handed over to someone else who took his starting position. He was stuck on the sidelines, watching what he had once dreamed of, being played out by someone else.

His identity and the clear path that lay before him were now obscured by uncertainty. He now had to come up with a different plan and find new goals he wanted to reach. But when all you’ve been going after is one thing, it can be hard to realize what other options you may have.

Formula D cars drifting off a turn

Finding His Way to Universal Technical Institute

Without any idea what he was going to do next, Justin left college in Wisconsin. He moved back to Michigan and started over at a community college where he got an associate degree.

After his parents moved to Arizona, he decided to pursue his studies further.

He enrolled at Arizona State University, where he was working on a bachelor's degree. But that drive and ambition were gone. That level of commitment that was so easy for him to tap into had vanished.

His dad saw that something was missing in his son. He encouraged Justin to get back to something that he loved, and that was cars. Justin enrolled at UTI and that passion and drive poured back into him. Once again, he was 100% committed.

He excelled academically and was one of the highest-achieving students UTI has ever had.

Justin drifting his car at high speeds

Building on His Foundation

Before he enrolled at UTI Avondale, Justin had experience with working on cars, but his time there helped expand this foundation.

“In school I had a good understanding of cars going into it. But I think that going to UTI filled in a lot of the blanks. Just all the little things from suspension, brake systems to electronics, all those gaps were filled in by going to school.”

Justin knew that the resources at UTI and the instructors were there to help him broaden his mechanical knowledge and skills. He thinks that students enrolled at UTI should appreciate and use all that is available to them while they’re attending.

“Pay attention in class and put in the effort. Take advantage of all the resources available because the lifts, tools and instructors to pull knowledge from are all a huge opportunity to expand your knowledge that you may never have available to you all at once again.”

The Mind of a Racer and a Mechanic

Having a hands-on background in automotive has helped Justin in his career as a drift racer. Some Formula D class racers have the financial means to have others do all the important work on their vehicles.

But for Justin, and a small handful of other mechanically inclined racers, he is involved with his car down to the smallest details.

He developed his own suspension kits, changed the geometry of his race car and customized the rear suspension. From fabricating parts, doing TIG and MIG welding, to tube bending, he’s part of that rare group of racers who work alongside their team and also race.

Formula D cars drifting to the finish line

After the Final Checkered Flag Falls

Justin has achieved a great deal in Formula D racing and still has an exciting future in front of him. But he knows that at some point he’s going to have to change direction.

Putting together his own team, finding a way to inspire kids and being an ambassador for the sport in some way are all things that he’s thinking about doing when he’s finished with racing.

Justin found himself before in a position where he needed to change direction, and whatever he decides to do, you can be sure that he will be 100% committed.

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1 ) UTI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.
2 ) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit www.uti.edu/disclosures.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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