North Canton, OH -- There are not many drivers in the Grand-Am Cup who have been driving for as long as Joe Nonnamaker, having started in a Corvette in 1971. From there he has driven; Ford Pinto, VW Scirocco, VW Rabbit, Datsun 280ZX Turbo, Nissan...
North Canton, OH -- There are not many drivers in the Grand-Am Cup who have been driving for as long as Joe Nonnamaker, having started in a Corvette in 1971. From there he has driven; Ford Pinto, VW Scirocco, VW Rabbit, Datsun 280ZX Turbo, Nissan Stanza, Toyota MR2, Honda CRX, VW Golf, VW Corrado, Mazda MX-6, Mazda 626, Mazda RX-7, BMW Z3, Porsche 911, Porsche 911 Cup, Corvette ZO6, Dodge Neon, AGT Chevrolet Corvette, Acura Interga GSR, Acura Integra LS. In 2002, Joe achieved his lifetime dream of not only racing a Corvette, but winning a race overall in a Corvette. Additionally in 2002, Joe drove in four different race cars in Grand American competition.
For 2003, Joe will focus his efforts on the Grand-Am Cup GS II class where he will be driving Planet Earth Motorsports' SpeedSource Porsche with support from GOJO and ORISON Marketing. His co-driver will be his youngest son Wayne, the 2002 ST II class champion. Currently they will be the only father/son combination in the series.
Question: When did you begin racing?
Joe Nonnamaker: I started in 1971 with a 1967 Corvette 327/350HP in gymkanis (what has now become known as Soloing). The first experience in real racing was in 1974 in a Ford Pinto in showroom stock.
My career in endurance racing started at Nelson Ledges in 1979. This was the first ever endurance race for showroom stock; as it later became infamous as the Longest Day. We won our class, showroom stock SSC, in a VW. In 1996, I was lucky enough to campaign the last Longest Day ever run with my sons as co-drivers in nothing else but a Volkswagen.
Question: Which track is your favorite and why?
Joe Nonnamaker: I would say Mid-Ohio because it was a sort of first love. This was my first track on which I raced. It is close to home and I remember going there as a kid with my brother to watch the Cobras and Corvettes go at it. I was there the weekend that they brought the Chaparrals to race.
Question: Which track do you find most challenging? What makes it challenging?
Joe Nonnamaker: Mosport. The track has changed character over the past few years with track widening, taking out the bridge and the trees at Moss. These changes did not change the character, which is a very fast track with high speed corners, hills and off camber turns.
Question: What is the most enjoyable part of racing?
Joe Nonnamaker: The family. I started in 1971 with the Corvette Coupe and took my wife and oldest son, Will, to all events. When I got the Pinto I also acquired a van so that the family could go. In 28 years my wife has missed only three races. Kristine has always fed the crew, timed the cars and helped drive the rig to and from the track.
At the track, my sons have been to almost all of the races. When we went the boys were there with us. They have missed very few races and have been at the track for races versus attending high school graduation, they have attended when they had mono, and in Wayne's case he attended his first race when he was three weeks old.
Away from the track, it is still a family affair. We not only spend weekends at the track together but work on nights and weekends in between races on the cars. Our businesses are all family run and we work together on a daily basis outside of racing.
When the boys were younger and I was doing my own prep, they were there helping.
Question: As a long time competitor in Street Stock Endurance Racing, what are your thoughts on the current state of the series?
Joe Nonnamaker: Grand Am Cup provides competitive racing on a wide variety of tracks all across North America. I am pleased with the administration of the series and feel that if the economy holds that the series will continue to grow and prosper.
The biggest concern with the series has been a factor in racing for my entire career, the funds to run the cars. Present purses are not reflective of the cost of fielding a car. This may be the biggest problem which the series will face. I am not saying this is the fault of the sanctioning body. This problem has existed in road racing for my entire career.
Look at the stands at most of our races. We need fans for this form of racing to survive. The future is dependent upon the success of Grand Am and they seem committed to the long-term of the series. The bright spot of Grand Am is that you can depend upon what they tell you. When they say that we will run a race it happens. When they say we will get a purse, I can count on the check.
The bottom line is that we have a great series and I am happy to be a participant.
Question: How does it feel to be racing with your son Wayne this season?
Joe Nonnamaker: I have already told you that the most important part of racing is the family. Well racing with Wayne this year is the next step for me.
What a thrill to not only be racing with my son but at the same time to have a two time champion who is willing to drive with me. It is like having your cake and eating it too. It should be a great year.
I look forward to the near future when we will have a car which will allow me to race with both Will and Wayne in the same car.
Question: Is it difficult to be a driver and a team owner?
Joe Nonnamaker: Yes. It is better now that anytime in my career. In the past few years my sons have been taking over the duties of running of the team from my wife, Kris, and I.
I tip my hat to the team owner, who is also the driver and crew chief. I did that for years and it is difficult to do everything and then get in the car and drive to the best of your ability.
Question: What kind of hobbies do you have outside of racing?
Joe Nonnamaker: Actually none. I gave up on most of those when I became serious about racing. I used to play golf but one of the problems was when I played golf I did not see the family. With the work commitment which I have always had it was more important to me to be with the family then chase a little white ball.
We do like to travel and, boy, do I like to eat. With the racing and the business travel I get to enjoy a lot of travel and eat at restaurants all over the country. Remember that my wife and I work together so that she travels with me on almost all business trips.
Question: What is your most memorable moment of the 2002 season?
Joe Nonnamaker: That is easy. The win at Phoenix. We won heads up against the competition and did not back into the win. I feel that some of the best road racing is in Grand Am Cup and I have a lot of respect for the top teams in GSI. That win was great.
This is not to forget the team championship and the fact that Will and Wayne were co-champions. It was just such a personal achievement to win in GSI.
Question: What do you feel is the most challenging part of racing?
Joe Nonnamaker: Coming back year after year. I have seen so many teams come and go. By now I can normally tell how long a new team will last by how they are spending their money. I have no respect for teams that come in with a big splash and are gone in two years. It is the same as being real fast at the start of the race and leading and then at the end of the race your engine lets go or your tires are just used up and you finish tenth.
My respect is with the teams that come back year after year to field competitive race cars.
Question: What is your favorite thing about racing?
Joe Nonnamaker: The racing. Sounds silly but it is the challenge on the track against other competitors and your teammates. I still have the same drive I had at 20 to win races. I go racing to get away from work and there is no time for work at the track.
Question: Do you have any superstitions?
Joe Nonnamaker: Nope
Question: What goals have you set for yourself?
Joe Nonnamaker: To continue to race in a high caliber road racing series as long as I can compete competitively and safely and to recognize when it is time to retire to team management.
Question: What do you feel has been your greatest accomplishment?
Joe Nonnamaker: Being able to race for 28 years and to form a race team on which all of the crew are close. Also, recently to be able to share the running of the team with my sons, still get along, and be able to race with my sons. You did not say racing only so I have to include marrying my high school sweetheart (we started dating when she was 15) and still being married after 31 years.
Question: What has been the key in making your team so successful?
Joe Nonnamaker: Simply put we are a TEAM. Everyone has duties and everyone is shown respect for their opinions and talents. That makes for the environment that everyone enjoys and bears the best product we can provide. We have a weekend crewman who will make his 100 straight races sometime in 2003. Quite an accomplishment and it speaks well for the entire team that he stays with us.
Question: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?
Joe Nonnamaker: Live long and prosper and bring your relatives out to the races.