2017 marks the 45th Anniversary of racing for Team Sahlen’s Joe Nonnamaker. Through these years, Joe has driven in over 400 races, on over 50 different tracks in over 30 different cars. After this much racing, many racers would be looking to slow down,,but not Joe Nonnamaker. As Joe races through his 4th decade of driving, he is looking towards another exciting year of racing. Joe will be driving for Team Sahlen in their 2017 racing campaign. This campaign will include 14 races in 7 weekend events. Additionally, Joe will be splitting his driving in these races between Team Sahlen’s Porsche Caymans and Mazda RX7s. Not only are these cars separated by 25 years in age, but these are two distinctly different race cars, one with the motor in the back and one with the motor in the front. But one thing is for sure, Joe will be racing hard in both cars to be the 1st to the checkered flag.
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. Joe shared those early days of racing a Pinto – “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.
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
Joe Nonnamaker achieved a lifelong dream in 2013 when he was able to race a Prototype racer. During that season, Team Sahlen campaigned a Riley-BMW Daytona Prototype in the ROLEX Series. Joe shared his thoughts on this experience – “The Prototype was the ultimate experience that I will never forget. With all that downforce, low center of gravity, paddle shifters, huge horsepower and torque, it was an unbelievable experience. It was like nothing I had ever driven before. And in fact, I had to basically re-learn how to drive a race car to get the speed out of the car.”
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-7 and 3 Porsche Caymans 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 as Joe has expanded beyond racing in just the Midwest, he has visited many, many tracks; 50 tracks to be precise. And with 45 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 5 grandchildren giving a helping hand.