Bethel Motor Speedway may just be a quarter-mile asphalt track, but running hundreds of laps there on a given weekend is anything but easy.
Joel Murns is running in three different divisions at Bethel — a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Swan Lake, New York — this season. He‘s currently third in points in the track‘s street stocks division, third in the track‘s enduro series with a win and second in points in the renegade division, having won the only race so far.
Between the three, Murns estimates there are nights he runs 300-400 laps.
“There are nights I don‘t ever get out of the car, and I really, really enjoy it,” Murns said.
Physically, racing that much on a given night is much more demanding, but Murns has also put in a new focus on his fitness, which has helped him become more prepared for the rigors of racing.
Murns quit smoking cigarettes in 2019 and started running. He‘s now lost about 50 pounds and runs about five miles a day. He and his kids all run together, and he‘s doing half marathons, 5Ks and 10Ks, which has given him another outlet for his competitive juices.
“You always want to place in your age group and do well,” he said. “I‘m a pretty competitive guy. It‘s just another aspect of racing, it‘s just I‘m doing it with sneakers instead of tires.”
Being in better shape physically has made driving a bit easier for Murns. He went from struggling to get a win to finding Victory Lane twice so far this season, his third running full-time at Bethel.
“Before, I didn‘t really think I was that out of shape until I started running more than one division in a night and realized I needed to do something else,” he said. “I‘m going to say it‘s extremely key. It‘s a tight little bullring so you’re constantly on the wheel. Most of your top-level NASCAR guys lose about eight pounds in just one race. There are nights I don‘t get out of the car for three or four hours and it‘s about the same. I‘m losing about eight pounds a night. A lot of it is water weight and stuff like that.”
In addition to his own focus on physical health, Murns credits friends and colleagues Jimmy Smith, Tony Garaguso, Larry O‘Donnell and Kyle Welsch, along with his family, with helping him find more success at the track.
Fans at Bethel have enjoyed Murns getting to Victory Lane as much as he does. Although he‘s relatively new to the track, he has built a friendship with a lot of the fans and brought new ones to the track through his work at the VA Hospital.
“I‘ve got a couple of vets that see me at the clinic and they come to the races now, too,” Murns said. “So it‘s kind of turned into another outlet for some of my veterans, too, to get out of the house and get back into society a little bit.”
Winning also gives Murns a chance to show off his “rooftop shuffle,” a dance he does on the top of his car after all of his wins.
“Even at 44 years old, I can still get my old butt up on the roof,” Murns said. “The kids get into it… I love when a driver gets out of the car and shows emotion. I‘ve been an announcer for over 20 years at a local track and there‘s nothing better than when a guy wins and shows emotion. I absolutely love it.”
Murns grew up going to races at Bethel. Now that he has been racing there for a few years, he said, “it‘s the same as I always remembered as a kid.”
And it‘s a place he‘ll continue to go to — and run as many laps as possible.
“I saw a meme the other day… when you‘re out on the track and you see a kid waving, you smile and wave back because I was that kid once. And that‘s kind of how I feel,” Murns said. “You‘ve got your hometown heroes there that I grew up watching. I don‘t know if I‘m becoming one of those, but sometimes I feel like I am. It‘s kind of cool.
“My kids come to the races with me and they help work on the car and it‘s absolutely amazing… As long as we‘re having a good time I‘ll continue to do this. And that‘s mainly the goal. I hate points racing. I don‘t like it. I never have. I‘m just trying to have fun. I‘m just trying to be that guy that people talk about Monday morning.”