NO MORE EXCUSES FOR ISMA'S JOE PETRO
Oswego, NY -- Joe Petro has been an on and off competitor on the tough ISMA Lucas Oil/Helping Hands of America supermodified series circuit, mainly due to his work schedule. In 2005, Joe is ready to meet the challenge of a full season head on. He has a new car, a new car number (33) and the strong desire to prove to himself he can be competitive. "The real goal for 2005," said Joe, "is to take all the excuses off the table. We've got the car and the engine, now it's up to me."
Petro may not look like the ordinary guy around the racetrack. He may look more at home as an executive in a board meeting, but Joe's family background yielded both his racing and business careers.
His dad, a veteran of drag racing, brought his son into the fold at an early age. As Joe puts it, "My dad was a drag racer I followed him from the time I was about 7. He went from gas dragsters, alcohol, rear engine dragsters, funny cars and then he ended up with a jet dragster when I was 17 when he decided to retire. He was actually quite successful, and was known as the guy who could get things done on the least amount of money. He was beating the Joe Amato's at the time who were just coming up.
Joe's dad's retirement from drag racing launched a college career for Joe. "I made the decision to go to engineering school because I wanted to drive and I thought I was going to end up driving jets. After dad had sold the car, I sat in my room and kind of said 'what's next?' I knew I couldn't really do it myself because I didn't have the money. I went to my guidance counselors and they told me about engineering, about liking math and working with your hands. That's when I decided to attend the University of New Hampshire and got my degree.
"I moved to Michigan and worked for General Motors right after getting my bachelor's. A master's degree from Kettering University came next. Then one day my dad called me and said he had discovered these things called supermodifieds. I was 26 or 27 years old by then and had no idea what a supermodified was. I had never even seen one. In fact I had never been to a live, oval track race before. He told me he was building one of them and going racing again. He talked to Tim T (Trefethen) and Butch (Valley) after he had bought an old car and he started refurbishing it for Star Speedway. When I went home that Christmas for a visit, the car was in the garage and I began to work on it a little bit. I hadn't actually worked on racecars for a long time but it didn't take long to get back into it.
"And, there we were again, back racing. I was his crew chief for a couple years. Soon I knew that I really wanted to get into it myself and I realized that dad wasn't going to step away so I bought Chris Perley's old car (44) that he had run at Star for a long time. It was an old Belfiore car. Basically I refabbed that and we ran a two-car team for about a year -- my dad and I -- at the local tracks, basically at Star. This was around 1995. That was just a nightmare, doing two cars, because we basically had the same crew that we have now -- me, my parents and my wife at the time and one or two crew guys."
Soon after the nightmare 2-car year, Joe's dad hung up his gloves and Joe decided t o run ISMA. "It's funny." Joe continued. "We went up to Oswego because I had never been there before. I had heard about it. We sat in the back grandstand to watch the ISMA race. I can remember to this day turning to my father and saying ' this is NOT local racing'. I was watching Ordway and Doug Saunier battle in a heat race and realizing that ISMA was going to be a different game and it would take awhile. That race was awesome and I still think about it coming out of turn two at Oswego."
So Joe did what many drivers of the era did, he went to one of the best car builders in the sport. "I contacted Fred Graves just as he was leaving to go down south and bought one of his cars. That's still basically the car I have. It was a standard Graves with the leaf spring in the front. Over time we have changed it. After I saw the independent cars, I wanted the independent front end. Because of my engineering background I felt I could do it. I sat down with a bunch of documents on how to do this and designed a car. Then my dad and I fabbed it."
Joe embarked on his ISMA career , but his plan on running fulltime was short-lived. Work caught up to Joe at this juncture as he tried to juggle both ends of his career. "We stopped trying to run a full schedule about five years ago. It was because of the travel and how many hours I spent at work. I remember getting ready to leave for Sandusky about five years ago and I was on a conference call. Something was blowing up at work . My parents were already on the road with the rig coming to pick me up. I had to walk outside and say 'I can't go'. There was this catastrophe at work and I was going to have to take care of that first.
This year the situation is different. Joe has switched jobs. "I had always worked for somebody else," said Joe, "but this year I am Vice President of Product Development and Operations for a software company where we develop content software. I have people who work for me here and in India. I should have more time for racing."
Joe is serious about competing this season with ISMA. He's a franchise car owner. He has a new car and a new number 33 which he asked for after Jen Chesbro's retirement. "We have built a new car. We worked with Jim Bodnar who helped with the design. It's a 2005 version of a Bodnar creation -- cantilever up front and torsion in the back. We missed Thompson last year because we started the new car then and I haven't had a day off since!
Joe also found time to get married again and this time he jokingly added a clause in his marriage vows that indicated he would put the relationship first -- except for when he was racing. Actually his wife Lisa is one of his staunchest supporters along with dad and mom.
As to the goals for 2005? "Obviously we want to win. But, realistically we know that you have to run in the top five before you can win. If we're not running in the top five each week, I know either I don't have it or the car doesn't have it. The real goal for 2005 is to take all the excuses off the table. You know it's because 'the car's a little older or we didn't do certain things with the engine' -- just take those off the table. The new car is one component. We worked with Ricky at R&R on some of the machine work and then assembled the engine ourselves. That's another element. For 2005, I wanted to just put it in my hands as the driver, crew chief and tuner to get us up front. I hate getting out of the car at the end of the night and saying, 'if I'd just done this or that'. So, we're taking all those rationalizations away and putting it in my hands. No more excuses."
Joe lists his crew for this season as Joe Sr. (JAP), crew chief, his mom Nancy -- resident psychic, his wife Lisa, CFO and Jason, who does the real work. All kidding aside, Joe says he could never do any of it without the help of his dad. "He's the guy who gets me there. He's retired and works full time in the garage. With all the million hours I put in at work, I couldn't do it without my dad."
The number 33 team is sponsored this year by Yours truly, Oliver Racing Products, Peterson Fluid Systems and Dan's EmbroidMe. The new car will either be pure silver (unpainted) or Lamborghini Orange, depending on who wins the vote, which is 3-1 against silver right now. Whatever the color, the Petro supermodified No. 33 will roll onto the track at Waterford Speedbowl on May 28 with the whole family behind it. Getting to the front will be up to the driver!
Joe Petro Jr. and his wife Lisa reside in Windham, New Hampshire with their pit bull Sr. Isaac Newton. Petro's new super is housed dad's garage in Londonderry, NH.