Week in and week out we hear superstar names like Gordon, Busch, and Johnson.
NASCAR's elite drivers can drive 500 miles in just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. If a driver runs every race on the circuit in one season, they will have covered over twelve thousand miles, at an average speed of over 100 miles per hour.
Meet Joe Bender, a NASCAR driver who covers over thirty five thousand miles a year, at an average of forty miles per hour.
Joe is just a few gray hairs over 60 years old. Compared to the young guns of Sprint Cup, Joe's average speed does'nt register on a radar gun.
There is an explanation for why Joe drives so slowly. It’s not his crew chief Mary, or the fact that he has no pit crew.
Joe is a gifted mechanic, so it’s certainly not his 700 hp. diesel engine that keeps him in the slow lane.
The problem is aerodynamics and weight.
Fact is, what Joe drives is fourteen feet high, fifty five feet long, has a living room, two baths, full kitchen, lots of other bells and whistles, and weighs over one hundred thousand pounds.
Joe is a NASCAR motor coach driver for Slugger Labbe.
Duryea, Pa. is a small town near the Pocono Mountains. In 1965 Joe and Mary Bender were newlyweds just getting started.
Joe's father owned an auto repair shop, and Joe was a natural as a mechanic.
“When NASCAR first came to Pocono, full time teams were un-heard of”, said Joe.
“Teams would pick up locals to help out in what ever town they were in that week.”
Joe offered his services to Tiny Lund, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next 25 years the Benders would raise two sons, and Joe would work for DK Ulrich and Morgan-McClure.
As a mechanic for Morgan-McClure, Joe would collect three Daytona 500 rings, wearing one of them proudly on his right hand during this interview.
“Racing is in my blood, there is nothing else I would rather do than be involved with racing.”
Career seems to the word that defines the Bender family.
Joe is a retired Naval Master Chief and Jimmy has been a life long racer also.
It was Jimmy and his skill as a tire specialist that brought Joe and Mary to their present career.
“Slugger was crew chief for Michael Waltrip at DEI, he wanted Jimmy to come to work for him, but only if I would drive his coach also.”
That was back in 2005. Mary was working as a human resources manager in a hospital, and Joe was still running the auto repair business.
“We had talked about it a few times, but never really acted on it”, said Joe.
“Finally one day I told Mary I was selling the shop and I was going to do this. If she wanted to join me, then she could come along when she was ready.”
I guess Mary was ready; she retired from her job immediately, and sold their house within one day.
A few other “drivers” show up at the coach and Joe calls them by nicknames. They share some jokes and talk about the weather. Dinner plans are hashed out.
We here all about the NASCAR family, how close knit the drivers, crew members and wives are.
We never hear about the family in the motor coach lot. A community of mostly retired men and women, some, life long married couples sharing their golden years together, who travel the roads in these rolling palace’s ten months out of a year.
When its lights-camera-action, these geriatric Geronimo’s’ are no where to be found, because they work behind the scenes; the grunt work; help each other day in day out, from track to track.
“When will you stop doing this Joe?”
“When they throw dirt on me.”
When it’s in your blood, it’s really in your blood.
Joe: “You’re not a mass murderer or anything like that?”
David: “No sir, I never really got into that line of work.”
Joe: “Good, but if you are, I am a gentleman, so ladies first.” Pointing to his wife Mary.
Sources: Okie-Dokie, Haircut, Shoeshine, Buster, Jimbo, and everyone else who gave me the warmest welcome a person could ask for. You truly are the most fabulous group of people I have ever met. God bless you all and safe travels.