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Joey Gase’s dual role — NASCAR owner and driver
Cedar Rapids native was back in town Friday night for the Mid-Am Racing Series event at Hawkeye Downs Speedway
CEDAR RAPIDS — Joey Gase was a bit stumped by the question.
Is the Cedar Rapids native a NASCAR driver first and an owner second? Or is he an owner first and a driver second?
“I don’t know,” he said after some thought. “It depends on the situation and how the race is going.”
Gase, who came home this week to run in Friday night’s Mid-Am Racing Series at Hawkeye Downs Speedway, had an owner-driver moment a couple of weeks ago in the Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega Superspeedway.
He started at the back of the field, worked his way up front and finished ninth, his first Top 10 in the Xfinity Series since 2017 at Daytona International Speedway.
It was the fourth Top 10 of his career and the first for his racing team, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, which he founded in 2021 with Patrick Emerling.
That’s all good and encouraging for the 30-year-old driver — and not bad for the young owner.
But his car caught fire late in the race, engulfing him inside to the point where he had trouble breathing.
“I wasn’t scared, I just couldn’t breathe,” he said, now with a laugh. “I tried to stay in the car as long as I could.”
There was a chance NASCAR wouldn’t have let him back in the car had he left, but it all worked out.
So as a driver, he had a successful, and somewhat harrowing, experience. As an owner, he had some expensive fixes to one of his two cars.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” he said. “It’s definitely not easy, by any means. For the most part, it’s what I expected.
“I’m still happy to be doing it.”
Gase also is happy to be back home, where it all started. He won the 2009 late model division at Hawkeye Downs, two years before graduating from Xavier High School.
“I remember when I was a kid and watching my dad (Bob) race” at the Cedar Rapids track. “Hawkeye Downs means a lot to me. I would hate to see it not be there anymore.”
Local race tracks are struggling all over the country, but Gase thinks race director Brian Gibson is doing a fantastic job running Hawkeye Downs while improving the facility and experience for fans and racers.
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“Brian Gibson has been doing a really, really good job,” Gase said. “I’m certain it’s going in the right direction.
“He’s a racer just like I am.”
Gibson actually had two cars in Friday night’s season-opener, but, as Gase said, “he’s smart enough to know” you can’t run a race and race a race.
Gibson’s late model was driven by Danny Lehmkuhl and his sportsman had Gase behind the wheel for the Mid-Am event.
Gibson said “that is huge” when drivers like Gase come back and support their local track. But he does miss getting behind the wheel himself.
“I have two race cars and can’t even drive them,” he said with a laugh. “As much as I want to get in the seat, I have other priorities.”
Gase said running in a strange car can be, well, a little strange.
“You don’t always know what you have to do to make it go fast,” he said.
But as long as it’s a clean race — with no fire or smoke — he’ll be just fine. After all, he just wants to “have some fun, promote the track and hopefully win.”
That’s not too much to ask.
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