Running a race team was something that Joey Gase had been keeping in the back of his mind for a while, he told me over Zoom, just before Christmas. Encouraged by those around him that pointed out that he’d be good at running a team, he had been working towards the idea of a racing team. Last season, unbeknownst to most, Joey ran his own car at both of the Xfinity races held in Talladega. In the fall Talladega race, he had finished fifteenth and spent a good bit of the third stage in the top-ten. This good result helped move the dream of a race team closer to reality, one of many things that fell into place and in Joey’s words, “Everything aligned and it made it the right time to do it right now.”
Going into the off-season, he had set up a meeting to look at the H2 Motorsports equipment. He had anticipated buying a car, maybe two, and miscellaneous parts. Joey came away from that meeting with the majority of the equipment needed to run a race team.
It was the right time to do it right now.
In NASCAR, there is so much that is out of a driver’s control. The off-track stuff – deals falling through or sponsorship dropping out despite best efforts, to the on-track incidents that happen when a driver is doing everything right and still ends up caught up with somebody else’s mess. With such a finite amount of things that a driver can control, it makes sense when Joey tells me that by owning his own team, he has “a little more control over where the sponsorship dollars go”.
Like all motorsports, cash is king and NASCAR is no exception to that.
In the underfunded teams, particularly, the drivers bring the majority of the funding to the teams. The drivers turn the sponsorship money over to the teams to fund the operation but it’s the driver’s responsibility to secure the money.
And the cost is steep.
Before the 2021 season, Carl Long and MBM Motorsports put on social media that they needed another full-time driver with the caveat that the driver needed to bring $650,000 with them to fund it. Quick math tells me that’s a little north of $20,000 per race.
Carl Long explained in the comments of this particular post that the $650,000 was just the operating cost with everything else — cars, haulers — already purchased. Long’s social media post was a rare glimpse into the financials of NASCAR – a subject that almost feels taboo to talk about. Sponsorship isn’t the only way that small teams especially, stay afloat – purse money is the other key component but NASCAR stopped sharing that information in 2016 so it’s hard to even guess at that.
All that is to say this — wanting to have your own team where you have a chance to control your own destiny, it makes sense.
Through our conversation, the careful way Joey balanced optimism and pragmatism stood out to me, level-headedness that I might’ve expected from someone much older, with much more ownership experience.
When asked about his realistic goals for his first season in 2022, Joey told me, “Our first foremost goal is to make sure that we make every race, and then we make sure that we finish every race. If we do those two things, the rest will take care of itself. That’s something I’ve had to take that approach on a lot of different things. I’ve driven for a lot of low-budget teams and when we owned our own stuff as a kid, if we wrecked our stuff left and right then we couldn’t afford to race. If we can do those things and collect the points that we can, I honestly truly think that the rest will take care of itself.”
Joey notes that top-twenty finishes would feel like wins for the team this season in an Xfinity field that he feels is the most competitive with teams that have been midpack starting to grow, buying cars, and starting to contend against the higher funded, powerhouse teams. The competitiveness of the field doesn’t dim his optimism though, telling me that “the equipment that we have will be some of the best equipment that I’ve had the chance to drive.”
Joey acknowledged the reality of NASCAR, a sport where budget tends to correlate with finishing position. And when sponsorship takes such big importance, Joey has found a way to turn this part of NASCAR which admittedly is the least fun part into something much more meaningful – to advocate and educate about organ donation.
Every state has its own organ procurement organization (OPO) that is in charge of procuring organ donations from donors. These organizations are who Joey partners with, each individual organization is its own unique partnership and they are all bound together with the same goal – to educate and facilitate organ donation.
Education is Joey’s ultimate goal — the importance of organ donation, how it works, and the process of organ donation, which sometimes is surrounded by misinformation. But Joey also wants to encourage people to have a conversation about it with their families and let their wishes be known about organ donation.
Organ donation can typically occur in two situations: after brain death has been declared or when the family has decided to withdraw life support once it is clear that the prognosis doesn’t include any chance of meaningful recovery (this is called donation by cardiac death, or a DCD). And unfortunately, the situations that allow organ donation are tragic, sudden situations — situations that don’t allow a conversation with your loved one to figure out what they would want, emphasizing the importance of having this conversation with your loved ones long beforehand.
For Joey, he and his family realized the importance of having this type of conversation too late. “We never had that conversation with my mom. But she was a very loving and caring person. She always wanted to be a blood donor. So we knew that if she wanted to do that then she’d want to do this. Her driver’s license was left at home so we couldn’t look at that for guidance but we did say yes. Later, when we did find her driver’s license, she was a donor on there so knowing we made the right decision for her was great.”
The decision to donate a loved one’s organs is a personal one, it can be a difficult one. Not because most people don’t want to donate organs but as Joey told me, “It’s super hard because it can feel like you’re letting go even though there’s nothing else that can be done. Knowing that even if you’re not donating their organs, they’ll still be gone.”
Instead of focusing on letting his mom go, he focuses on the people that her death has helped and the ripple effect that her organ donation has caused. “My mom helped sixty-six people directly with her donation but the ripple effect – which I didn’t realize until I met some of my mom’s recipients, you’re really helping thousands upon thousands people because each receipt knows hundreds or thousands of people and through organ donation, they’re able to continue affecting those people.”
Joey educates and advocates for organ donation like this – by sharing his story every chance he can get and by donning different OPOs on his cars, having those organizations at the track with him to educate and encourage race fans to become a registered donor. He also runs a special paint scheme that he calls the Hand Prints of Hope Scheme, noting that the scheme tends to attract a lot of attention and with that attention comes extra chances to educate and raise awareness which is the ultimate goal.
While COVID has changed the event, pre-pandemic, Hand Prints of Hope was more than a paint scheme, it was an event prior to the race where those directly impacted by organ donation have the chance to paint their hands to press onto the car and leave a message. Like many things, the event has had to move virtual but Joey is optimistic that it’ll return back to an in-person event soon.
A few weeks after our conversation, it was announced that Joey would be joining up with Patrick Emerling to form Emerling-Gase Motorsports and that they would be fielding the 35 car full time, running a second car part-time. The 35 car also would have the owner points from Our Motorsports 23 car’s 2021 season.
Emerling and Gase will be two of NASCAR’s youngest owners, citing a shared vision and goals as a catalyst for their partnership. They’ve been able to combine their equipment to field a car that will be more competitive than what either of them could field separately. And while I haven’t had a chance to catch up with Joey since the news broke, I circle back to something he told me about the formation of Joey Gase Racing and I imagine he’d say the same thing about Emerling-Gase Motorsports.
It was the right time to do it right now.
For those interested in registering to be an organ donor or would like more information about organ donation, that can be found here.
Emerling-Gase Motorsports will be apart of Pit Box Press’ Small Team Spotlight, a weekly installment that will follow small teams through the season.
Photo courtesy of Joey Gase’s Instagram