Imagine working with, and among, the best in your chosen field.
Imagine spending your “vacation” time looking for a job. Every year.
Joey Gase, a 27-year-old father of twin boys from Cedar Rapids who drives in the major leagues of stock car racing, doesn’t have to imagine that.
He lives it every offseason.
NASCAR remains the most popular form of racing in the United States. The Cup Series is where young drivers aspire to make it, just like the kid dribbling in his or her driveway wants to make the NBA or WNBA some day.
Gase has made it. But unless you are among the elites and on one of the handful of elite teams, each offseason is a mystery.
“It’s really, for me, the most stressful time of the year,” Gase said in a telephone interview from his home in Charlotte, N.C.
That stress lessened last week when Rick Ware Racing announced it was retaining Gase for another Cup season, starting with next month’s Daytona 500.
“Joey has been a part of the RWR family for a couple years, and has always been great with finding creative ways to bring awareness to causes that mean a lot to him personally, and many across the world,” team owner Rick Ware said in the news release.
Gase raced full-time for Ware last season, finishing 33 of 36 races. Gase was confident he would be driving for Ware again, but it wasn’t a slam dunk.
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“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes into” getting on a team, Gase said. “And it’s a lot harder than applying for a normal job.”
He laughed after that last statement, admitting he’s actually never had to apply for a “normal” job.
When you’re racing at the top level — even with one of the lesser-known teams — you have to bring something to the table.
“How good you are in the car, how well you take care of the equipment,” he said when asked what it takes to secure a ride.
There’s also funding — how many sponsors you can bring to the team.
So not only are you looking for a job every year, you also have to find ways to help the team survive. And get paid yourself.
As Ware mentioned in his statement, Gase “brings awareness to causes that mean a lot to him personally.” Organ donation tops that list. Gase’s mother, Mary Jo, died when he was 18 years old and donated organs that helped 66 other people. He works closely with organizations with similar passions, like OPO and Donate Life.
One of his sponsors, Page Construction from Kansas City, also helped in Cedar Rapids after the Aug. 10 derecho, after a call from Gase.
Now that the ride is secure, the real work begins.
“It always is a good feeling,” he said. “But I’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
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So while prepping for the Daytona 500 — scheduled for Feb. 14, a week after Gase’s 28th birthday — he is doing a lot of office work, trying to find new sponsors and connecting with old ones.
And, of course, he wants a better 2021 than his “so-so” 2020.
Gase had two top-20 finishes last year, at Bristol in July and Talladega in October. His 17th-place finish at the YellaWood 500 on Oct. 4 was his best.
“We could have done a lot better in some races,” he said.
He said there is a lot happening at RWR, including a new crew chief in Pat Tryson who “won races on big teams in the past.” Gase will drive the No. 53 car at Daytona, but will spend most of the season in No. 15, with Tryson in his corner.
“We’re doing a lot of things to make the team better,” he said, noting some new technology, better cars, tires and engines.
He’s hoping for a consistent top-30 finish. His average placing last year was 33.03.
“It doesn’t sound like a big step, but it is,” he said.
He also thinks a top-15 finish at Daytona isn’t out of the question.
“We have to be on our ‘A’ game ... and be lucky at the same,” he said. “But I really think it’s possible.”
This is Gase’s 20th year behind the wheel of something. He started when he was 7 in Go-Karts and worked his way up to a Late Model season championship at Hawkeye Downs Speedway before moving on to NASCAR.
“I never even thought about that,” he said of his anniversary.
You’ll have to forgive him. He’s had a lot on his mind recently.
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