Posted (06/05/2012) -
2012 marks the 40th Anniversary of racing for Ohio’s Joe Nonnamaker. Joe will be driving the Team Sahlen #43 Mazda RX-8 at this weekend’s ROLEX Sports Car Series EMCO Gear Classic event. When Joe started out in 1972, it was in a 1967 Corvette that he Solo raced around pylon cones in Ohio Shopping Mall parking lots as well as the Toledo Speedway. Even by Joe’s own admission, this would not be the recommended path to getting into racing.
“The “67” Vette had tons of torque and power, little to no handling, and zilch for brakes. This is not what you would consider ideal for running around a very tight circuit with little orange cones to get around. Additionally Toledo Speedway had tons of very scary concrete walls surrounding the whole facility. I decided soon enough that instead of driving such a fast car, with no safety equipment, that I might be better off switching gears to something with a roll cage and less torque.” Shared Joe
Joe’s foray into full door handle to door handle racing came at the time that the SCCA was starting the Showroom Stock class. And Joe’s car of choice was the Ford Pinto, with tires the size of space savers of today. This 1st season in 1974 also marked Joe’s 1st time racing at Mid-Ohio.
“Back in those days, Mid-Ohio did not quite look like it does today. Although it was always beautiful, that was in the pre-Trueman family era. This meant there was much less amenities as we have grown to be familiar with today. I never drove the track when it had the old dog leg in the back of the track. But even in 1974, there were trees between the keyhole and the back straightaway. I just remember how excited I was to be on the same track as those I had watched and admired in the old Trans Am and Can Am series of the 1960’s.”
In the beginning, Joe’s very small race budget did not even allow for a trailer or tow vehicle. The very economical Showroom Stock class was developed for street titled cars. So racers could just drive their cars to the track, unloaded it and raced. This worked well until one fateful event at Waterford Hills in Michigan, where Joe inadvertently flipped the Pinto. Joe had to take a jack and pry up the roof. Then he put his helmet on with visor and drove the car back the 2 hour drive to Bowling Green.
Always an Ohio native, Joe grew up in Findlay, Ohio. He attended Liberty Benton High School, a school recently made famous by Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft. While at Liberty Benton, Joe met his wife Kris, whom he later married after graduating from Bowling Green State University. From there Joe settled in Lima, Ohio – a short drive west of Mid-Ohio on Route 30. Here, he and Kris raised their two sons, Will & Wayne. Joe eventually moved east on Route 30, past Mid-Ohio, and settled in his current hometown of Canton, Ohio in the mid 80’s where he took a chance on a small franchise brand called Subway. Now, today, Joe finds himself owning several of the sandwich shops in the Canton & Akron area.
After his Pinto days, Joe evolved to the VW Cup series in both Sciroccos and Rabbits. As the 80’s approached , Joe jumped up to IMSA Racing Sedan series, in a one off Nissan Stanza, that took the family over 2 years to just build. When Joe’s 2 sons became older and wanted to go racing as well, Joe switched over to the Firestone Firehawk Endurance Championship. Today it is commonly referred to as the Continental Tire Series. During a decade plus of racing in this series, Joe achieved the dream of all grassroots racers, in winning the GS class title in 2003, co-driving with his son Wayne.
“One thing is true about racing, if you have not had any defeats or failures,,,then stick around and keep racing, because there are tons more lows than highs when it comes to success. Sometimes it just feels like you are spending your hard earned money to pay someone to punch you in the gut every weekend. Our family has had our fair share of those, including blowing a motor in the 1st hour of the ROLEX 24 Hours one year and breaking my neck in a wreck at Homestead. But we have had our fair share of good fortune. With many of those times being at my favorite track, Mid-Ohio. We have found ourselves on the top step here several times, which is just fantastic when you are in front of your home crowd with family and friends.” – shared Joe
One thing that has made Joe unique over years is that he has built, prepared and owned his own cars and teams. This is true even to this day, with Joe partnering with Joe Sahlen to campaign the 3 Mazda RX-8s under the Team Sahlen banner. And the variety of cars he has built includes a crazy assortment of over 30+ vehicles: Front wheel drive, rear engine, turbos, go-karts. And aas Joe has expanded beyond racing in just the Midwest, he has visited many, many tracks; 48 tracks to be precise. And with 40 years of racing, you can imagine that many of those tracks, such as Trenton Speedway, don’t even exist anymore
Also a consistent part of Joe Nonnamaker’s racing is family. Joe’s wife Kris has only missed 2 races in the entire 400+ events Joe has raced. In the beginning, Joe’s crew was his brother, cousin and father. Then it became Joe’s two sons. Now, the Team Sahlen paddock is busting with Nonnamaker family members that now includes Joe’s daughter in laws, and 3 grandchildren giving a helping hand.
The 2012 Team Sahlen campaign in the
GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series is supported by:
Mazda, Mazdaspeed, SimXperience, Alcon, Racetech, NGK, Cool Shirt, Racing Print Media, Mothers Polish, TheRaceSite.com, Western New York Flash, Grassroots Motorsports, ASC Industries, Iannetti Design Ideas, CM Racing, Quarter Master, BBS Wheels, MSI Racing Products, Endurance Karting and Akron Aeros