Mike Janis - Second Generation Driver

By Jim Luikens

Mike Janis finished second in last year’s IHRA Pro Modified points chase despite not attending the Edmonton national event. As a self-sponsored (at the time) racer and business owner he could not justify being away from his New York shop long enough to make the tow west. This is the story of Mike Janis who would have earned enough points by just attempting to qualify at Edmonton to be the 2003 IHRA Pro Mod World Champion.

Mike got started in racing young. He began going to the races with his father, Jim, at just four years of age. Jim Janis raced an A/G Willys during the late 50s and was well known throughout the drag racing world for his accomplishments. When Chrysler Corporation released their fabulous Hemi Darts and Barracudas Jim became involved in one of the Hemi Darts with driver Dick “Barney” Oldfield.

The Jim Janis family was consisted of eight children, a lopsided seven boys and one girl. Mike and three of his brothers worked in the family business, Jan-Cen Automotive. As a youngster Mike raced snowmobiles at upstate New York tracks like Batavia, Leroy and Elma. At age 12 he gave a preview of future successes when he won the local snowmobile championship.

After his snowmobile days Mike spent two years racing mini-bikes and motorcycles before graduating to his first real car, a 1964 Chevelle. Next came a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro with a 454 engine that he used for bracket racing as well as grudge matches at the local track. When he was just 19 he began “serious” racing with a 288 cubic inch Camaro that raced in G/Gas. Following the gasser was a C/SM and, with that car, he became a national record-holder at just 21 years of age.

Mike then took some time off from racing to marry and start a family. By the mid 80s however, he was back racing a 1984 Pontiac Firebird that was powered by a 588 cubic inch, nitrous-assisted big block engine in Quick Eight and Top Sportsman events. The high point of his career with that car came when he was a runner-up at Norwalk with a 7.70 second elapsed time.

The Firebird was followed by a 1988 Olds Cutlass that he primarily raced locally using the same 588 CID engine from his Firebird. In the Cutlass his best e.t. fell to 7.05 seconds and he was the 1988 and 1991 Cayuga (now Toronto Motorsports Park) Quick Eight champion with that car. In 1993 he updated his Cutlass to a Pro Modified entry and replaced his trusty 588 with a 707 CID nitrous engine. Needless to say his personal best elapsed time fell again, this time to 6.75 seconds. One year later he recorded another milestone when he made his first ever 200 mile-per-hour run.

1995 brought more changes as a new Camaro replaced his trusty Cutlass and he also switched to electronic fuel Injection. Mike was successful with this car as well, running as quick as 6.60 seconds and winning the London, New York track championship. Next a 1997 Corvette replaced his 1995 Camaro. His best elapsed time fell to 6.48 seconds and he upped his best speed to 215 miles-per-hour.

All of these experiences and accomplishments were really in preparation for the year 2000. Y2K was no bummer for Mike as he switched to a supercharged Alan Johnson-style engine and won two IHRA events, New York International and Norwalk. He also lowered his personal best to 6.112 seconds at Budds Creek and this time it was the IHRA national record as well.

2001 was a year for the record books. En route to the IHRA Pro Modified World Championship Mike won his first ever national event at Virginia Motorsports Park. Before the year was out he had gone on to win 5 of the 11 IHRA national events contested and was the runner-up at two more. To this day, 2001 was his best year in racing and proved a sharp contrast to 2002.

As good as 2001 was, 2002 turned out to be just the opposite as he spent nearly the entire year suffering from tire shake before finally recording a 6.13 second run at Rockingham that was not even as good as his 6.112 run from a year earlier. Recognizing that something needed to be done he had the car back-halved (after only 600 runs) to prepare for the 2003 season.

Positive results were seen immediately as Mike and his car returned to their former position of strength. He won two events, Milan and the Spring National event that was actually completed in the fall after being rain-delayed from earlier in the year. He also raised the Pro Modified speed record to 232.07 miles-per-hour at Budds Creek and, as noted above, came within a whisker of winning his second World Championship.

During this past off-season Mike received a major boost when he signed Eaton Automotive as a major sponsor. However, the 2004 season has been a mixed bag so far for the Eaton Automotive team when it comes to results. On the NHRA side they have qualified number 1 at Gainesville and St. Louis and been a DNQ at Bristol, Joliet and Englishtown. They lost in the first round at Gainesville due to a broken transmission and in the second round at St. Louis. The team did not participate in the AMS Pro Modified event at Houston Raceway Park.

Things have been much better on the IHRA side. The team has qualified for all four of the events contested to date and recorded the win at Rockingham. Along with the win they have a second round loss at Grand Bend and first round losses at San Antonio and Richmond. Mike is currently a strong second in the IHRA points race, a scant three points behind Harold Martin.

The team will no doubt take a hit in the points battle after the next event since, for the second year in a row, they do not plan to make the long tow to Edmonton. Instead they plan to stay home and match race Scotty Cannon. Hopefully the consequences of that decision will not be as costly this year as they were last year.

Looking further ahead Mike is already planning his succession. He intends to start his sons, Mike Jr. and Sean, in a Top Sportsmen car before eventually moving them up to Pro Modified. An admitted gearhead from birth, it’s hard to imagine Mike being replaced by another driver. When asked what he would ever do with all of his newfound spare time he offers, rather unconvincingly, that he would buy a boat. Personally, I’ll believe that when I see it.