Joey Gase can turn a penny into a dollar.
Not literally, of course. The 26-year-old isn’t a magician. He’s a driver.
But the way Gase is able to stretch every cent given to MBM Motorsports, one of the smaller organizations in NASCAR, he might as well be both.
“Our team owner always jokes that he knows at the last minute, at the last hour, he can always rely on Joey to come up with some kind of money for that race weekend to help the team,” said Ryan Bell, crew chief of Gase’s No. 35 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series. “And it’s almost not a joke. Whether it be $2,000 or $10,000, it always seems like at the last minute we’re putting a (sponsor) sticker on, and every penny helps in our situation.
“That’s what sets him apart, and that’s why his career has lasted as long as it has.”
Nine years and counting.
Gase broke into the NASCAR national series scene in 2011 and has since notched 233 starts in the Xfinity Series, 38 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and four in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He became a full-time Xfinity Series racer in 2014, with a highlighted fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway in 2015.
At the time of his only career top five, Gase was with Jimmy Means Racing, another small team. He started that race 39th (out of 40 cars) and navigated his way toward the front as laps dwindled down, with Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Monster Energy Series practice tires on his car — they were used, but better than what Gase could otherwise afford.
That late charge showed what Gase could do with nicer equipment.
So when top-tier drivers from bigger teams question Gase‘s legitimacy and put him in the spotlight — like Kyle Busch did following the race at Las Vegas — the digs can get frustrating.
“Would I love to be in a Joe Gibbs (Racing) car tomorrow? Absolutely,” Gase told NASCAR.com. “That’s my ultimate goal. But at the same time, I’m here. I’m in NASCAR. And I’m having fun trying to live the dream and make the most out of what I have the best I can.”
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Ten years ago, Gase won the late-model championship at Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Iowa. He drove a 2004 Port City Racecar a family friend bought for $20,000 and gave to him. There was no team backing.
“It was just me, my dad, my uncle and my grandpa on my crew,” Gase said.
And then anyone his father could convince to help out after work — literally. He went into local restaurants and bars asking for volunteers. People did show up.
The Gases really put everything into Joey’s racing career. Mother Mary Jo was a hair stylist, but made it to every event before she died in 2011. His father Bob left a job at the power plant after 25 years, not wanting to miss a single moment. Younger sister Ashley helped from a public-relations standpoint once old enough. Uncle Jim didn’t have any kids of his own, so Joey received full attention. Clearly even the grandparents were involved if grandpa was on the crew.
“It’s a family story,” said Kevin Korsmo, the race promoter at Hawkeye Downs. “Where you see one, you see them all.”
Korsmo knows the Gases well, too. He raced against Bob for more than 10 years before Bob got out from the driver’s seat and let Joey take the wheel at 8 years old.
Hawkeye Downs, which has been around for nearly 95 years now, was the family’s local track. There, from past to present, Joey won his first-ever Jr1 Go Karts event in 2001 and raced his dad for the first time in 2019. It’s where he made a name for himself.
“Every little kid’s dream was to make racing a full-time thing,” Korsmo said. “You never think too much about it because around these parts in Iowa, we’ve had some success stories, like Landon Cassill and Michael Annett, but it’s just something most of us know we’re going out racing to have a good time. He made more of it. I was really impressed with how hard he worked to get where he is.”
After the late-model championship, Joey’s name started making rounds. He was introduced to one person after another until he ultimately met Archie St. Hilaire, who now owns Go FAS Racing.
Joey made his NASCAR national debut on Aug. 6, 2011, finishing 20th at Iowa Speedway in the Xfinity Series, and was then asked to do four more races that season — the beginning of his career.
“I’m like, ‘Joey, we can’t afford this. How much is it going to cost?’ ” Bob said. “It went from that to just so overwhelmed with happiness. I’m sure right after he left, I probably turned around and started crying just because he worked so hard and we all worked so hard. That was a dream come true.”
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Less than a week ago, Gase finished 38th in the Monster Energy Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He drove an old Hendrick Motorsports car that was originally bought from HScott Motorsports before it shut down at the end of the 2016 season.
“That just shows you how old some of our equipment is compared to the top teams that build a new car every single week,” said Joey, noting his team put on only two tires in the last 150 laps of the 267-lap race because that was all the budget allowed.
Meanwhile, South Point 400 winner Martin Truex Jr. pitted with 37 laps to go and switched out four tires.
“Joey, in that same situation, can perform at the same level,” Bell said. “It’s hard because fans don’t understand that. They look at a guy who finishes 33rd every week and say, ‘Man, that guy is such a terrible driver.’ No. He’s not a terrible driver.”
Look at Brad Keselowski in the 2007 Xfinity Series season. He did 13 races with Keith Coleman Racing, with an average finish of 35.5. Keselowski then joined JR Motorsports, a bigger team, for 14 races and increased his average finish to a 17.9.
Not many, if any, would call Keselowski a bad driver. But even he had to go through a rough patch before catching a break and eventually working his way up to being crowned the 2012 Monster Energy Series champion.
“You can’t just say, ‘Well, I don’t have $20 million. I could never race,’ ” Bob said. “That doesn’t look good for the younger kids in the world, those with dads that don’t have a business or millions of dollars. Are they supposed to just quit racing if they can’t win a race? That’s the bad part about everything. I don’t want NASCAR to have an image that if you’re not rich, you’re never going to do it. Because that’s not true.”
It just takes more effort.
Out of the three days a week he’s home, Joey stops by the shop at least once to help with the car setup, or “all the fluff-and-bull parts” as Bell described it. When he’s not there, Joey is talking with sponsors — the team has 30 this season. At the track itself, he gets involved with the tedious stuff, such as double checking that everything is up to code and pushing the car through inspection itself.
There aren’t enough hands right now, so Joey lends one where he can.
“Joey, over the years, has really adapted to racing under these circumstances,” Bell said. “I’m telling you, it takes a special driver to do it. I’ve worked with a lot of them, and some of them can’t adapt — can’t find that kind of magic.”