AMATO REACHES PINNACLE WITH INDUCTION INTO HALL-OF-FAME TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 27) Joe Amato saw his first drag race at the early -- age of 14 and immediately said, "I want to do that." From that simple statement a top-flight drag racing...
AMATO REACHES PINNACLE WITH INDUCTION INTO HALL-OF-FAME
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 27) Joe Amato saw his first drag race at the early -- age of 14 and immediately said, "I want to do that." From that simple statement a top-flight drag racing business was born. Today, Amato stands as the most successful driver to have ever competed in the NHRA's premiere division, Top Fuel Dragster.
On Thursday, April 28th at the International Motorsports Hall-of-Fame in Talladega, Alabama, Amato will take his rightful place among the legends of the racing world in the distinguished company of NASCAR great, Darrell Waltrip, Formula One and Championship Auto Racing Team champion, Nigel Mansell, Chip Hanauer of the exciting hydroplane boats, and 10-time NHRA champion and Pro-Stock icon, Bob Glidden as part of the 2005 class.
"The thought of being inducted into the Hall-of-Fame with this cast of racers in indescribable," said an honored Amato. "There are thousands of kids around the country running the local tracks thinking; someday I want to win the Winternationals. Years ago, I was no different from those kids. Back then, all I wanted was to win a NHRA national event and be a world champion. That was my goal and target. To be able to live the dream was the greatest part of it all."
The moment Amato saw Don Garlits drive his famous Swamp Rat Top Fuel dragster down Indianapolis Raceway Park's quarter-mile at the 1960 U.S. Nationals; he knew that in six seconds he had found a lifelong ambition, beginning a career that has lasted for 18 years as a driver and 24 years as a car owner.
The native Pennsylvanian employed an eternally youthful work ethic to build a Hall-of Fame career consisting of five NHRA Top Fuel championships and 52 national event wins in 99 final round appearances. He won the Big Bud Shootout in Pomona a record six times while assembling a streak of 19 consecutive seasons in the elite top 10 in the Top Fuel points standings.
However, Amato will be the first to admit that his great ride didn't come without sacrifices, including giving up school at an early age to manage his family business. It is just one of the many reasons he can truly appreciate the honor being bestowed to him this weekend.
"We had a small auto parts store then and we were just trying to stay alive and feed the family," reflected Amato. "I was 16 when my dad got sick and I became the main money earner for the family, so I quit school to work in the family business. I have always been a car person. Even then, I was hooked on racing of some kind, playing with go-karts since I was 12 or 13.
"I had the goals, the dreams, of just going out and doing something. I struggled as most people do. I tried different classes and then I had a little success locally. It just takes time. You have to keep working at it to learn how to race. I was lucky enough to build a business at the same time so I could afford to go racing."
Despite the longs hours and the hard work, Amato drew energy from the excitement of his chosen career path, always taking time to enjoy the ride.
"Looking back, it's been exciting, and the fun we had is what really motivated me," said Amato. "I always tell people to enjoy it as you're going along; just don't try to rush through life. I'm a good one to talk about rushing because I've always been so busy in my life, with so much on my plate.
"Running the Keystone Automotive warehouse and building a giant automotive business while trying to run a racing team and win championships side-by-side, has always kept me pretty occupied But it was all a lot of fun and it went together.
"I think that is what drove me to doing well in both venues and being able to raise the sponsorship money and be involved with all the people over the years we have been involved with. Moreover, to this day, we're involved with them. Many things have happened to me in my life. However, it has all been great. It has been a great, great ride."
Two of the hardest instances that Amato had to endure in his stoic career came first in 2000 when he stepped out of the driver's seat and followed in 2004 with the sudden and tragic loss of his driver, Darrell Russell who sustained fatal injuries in a high speed racing accident last June in St. Louis. The racing community felt the loss, but knew Darrell would want the team to race on and win races for him. Young Morgan Lucas quickly rose into the spotlight and accepted the challenge and has since has kept the Amato's drive alive.
"When I retired in 2000, I had some issues with my eyes, which really isn't an issue as long as I'm not driving the car. It wasn't worth the reward/risk factor. To be honest, I had raced so many years I was somewhat ready in my mind to retire from driving and go to the next chapter. When I put Darrell Russell in the car, he did a great job of driving the car. Sadly, it ended in a tragedy that I'll be thinking about it the rest of my life. There was true potential championship driver and we'll never stop carrying his dream with us.
"Now, we have Morgan Lucas in the seat and he's doing a tremendous job. We're involved with the Lucas family and they are great people. It's been a great association. We're having fun again, I guess you could say. Wayne Dupuy is doing a great job as my crew chief. I have to say we have a great team this year. We having a lot of fun and we're trying to make it go to the next chapter and be a championship contender."
One would think that as Amato eclipses his 61st birthday this June, he would begin to slow down from his fast-paced life and start enjoying his time away from the cockpit, taking time to look back on his many accomplishments as a driver.
Think again. Joe Amato has the need for speed.
You can still find Amato at the track and his role as car owner hasn't diminished his enthusiasm for the sport. He keeps his thumb on his team's pulse, working closely with crew chief, Wayne Dupuy for more innovating ways of making their Lucas Oil hot rod quicker and faster.
He sees his present life as another opportunity to reach yet another milestone in his life, bringing along a young talented driver, Morgan Lucas and guiding his career in a championship caliber direction.
"We had a strong finish with Morgan over the final eight races last year and we have a lot of confidence that Wayne Dupuy will give Morgan a quick car to drive with the potential to win," said Amato, who retired from driving following the 2000 season. "We want to start strong and be a serious points contender.
"We want to be competitive," Amato continued. "We want to go to every race and think we have a chance to win. I think that's the way you have to feel. You want to wake up on Sunday morning and have the right mindset."
As part of Thursday's ceremony in Talladega, Bob Frey, longtime NHRA announcer, will approach the podium to offer a brief congratulatory speech about Amato before placing the medallion on him symbolic of the great honor. Frey has some experience in this matter conducting the same implementation last year for Shirley Muldowney's induction.
Joe Amato will then approach the stage to accept his accolades of a great racing career, with his excitement heightened even further by the realization that another chapter of his life is just beginning.