Ten years ago, an ambitious young boy buckled into a bandolero race car at a track not far from the Twin Cities. Little did he know that in 2018 he would return to his roots where his racing journey began. On Saturday July 14th Joe Graf Jr. will return to the high-banked 3/8ths mile Elko Speedway with the ARCA Racing series presented by Menards. He will be competing in his No. 77 Big Tine Ford race car in the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 250. The race will air live on MAVtv July 14th at 9pm.
“This is so cool returning to the Twin Cities where we lived for a few years when I was a kid,” stated Graf. “This is where I got in my first race car and fell in love with racing. I raced mostly at Raceway Park and a few times at Elko Speedway. Raceway Park is gone now but I am happy to see Elko is still going strong. Elko, hands down is the nicest short track in the country.”
Joe Graf Jr. was in the second grade when his family moved from New Jersey to Minnesota where his father would start a job with Cargill. His father would take the family to Elko Speedway to watch the races.
“My Dad got a job in Minnesota and we lived in Medina, MN. I asked him if I could race back then and we started with Tim Brockhouse and his Great North Legends and Bandoleros…and I guess you could say that the rest is history.”
“We introduced Joe to many things while we were in Minnesota. He played football, baseball, wrestled and was active in cub scouts but racing is what he was the incredible passionate about” said his mother Nancy Graf. “It is amazing to think what started as a test drive of a Bandolero with Great North Legends has ended up with my son racing at a national level. Joe is very excited to return to Elko Speedway.”
Graf Jr. who now resides in Mahwah, NJ is in his first year of the ARCA Series and a challenger in the Scott Rookie of the Year battle. This season he and his Chad Bryant Racing Team have developed into a contender and have scored numerous Top 5 finishes and are very close to recording their first win in a historic finish at Talledega Super Speedway in Alabama.
“I have an amazing team with great people behind me,” added the 19-year old racer. “It takes a great nucleus of people to be successful in racing starting with our team owner Chad Bryant, my crew chief Paul Andrews, my Driving Coach Mike Bliss and my spotter Brian Crammer. I feel confident that when we unload our car it is prepared where I can be competitive right out of the box…and I am surrounded with people that can give me the input I need as a rookie in the very competitive series.”
It might seem that Joe Graf Jr. might be behind the eight-ball being a rookie and having never seen most of the tracks before he arrives at the race…but having a proven team and being surrounded by seasoned professionals gives him an advantage. Joe’s Crew Chief is the Nascar Champion Crew Chief Paul Andrews, his driver Coach is the Nascar Monster Energy Truck Champion Mike Bliss. Chad Bryant, the team owner, has won the Cometic Crew Chief of the year three times. When you add in the ability to utilize a race track simulator you have a strong combination that keeps Graf Jr. prepared for the races.
“I get a few hours on iRacing which simulates me racing at a new track which really helps, “said Graf. “My learning curve has been dramatically reduced and I believe we have a really good shot at Elko. It would mean so much to me and my family if we picked up the win at a track where it all began. My family and I still have friends in the area and I can’t wait for them to share the experience with me.”
Joe Graf Jr. will be a freshman at NYU in New York City in the fall where he will continue his education and major in Business, Media and Sports Management. It is all a part of his racing plans…to be a professional race car driver and get a great education. And to think it all started just south of the Twin Cities at Elko Speedway just ten years ago.