Joe Nonnamaker’s racing career dates back to 1974 when he began racing in a Ford Pinto. Since then his racing has taken him through many different manufacturers. In 2003 Joe scored his first Championship winning the Grand Am Cup Grand Sport title.
Joe’s wife, Kris, has only missed a handful of his races since 1974. Joe and Kris have been married since 1971 and have two children, Will and Wayne.
Joe started his carrer in motorsports with a Chevrolet Corvette. Getting into the scene in an affordable manner, Joe began in SCCA Soloing. The Corvette with its massive amounts of power made for an interesting challenge on the tight solo circuit. As Joe’s interest continued to increase in the sport of racing he realized he wanted to go beyond racing in solo events.
As he looked at a budget for racing a Corvette in real racing, and as he looked at a budget for raising a family with his wife Kris, he realized one had to go. Joe sold the Corvette and bought a 1974 Ford Pinto. With less than 100 hp, narrow tires, and a bolt in roll cage, Joe was off racing his new Pinto.
The 1976 season saw Joe score six SCCA National wins in seven races with the Pinto. As he looked towards what he wanted for the next season he realized he wanted more competition and decided to purchase a VW Rabbit to campaign in a new series called the Rabbit Bilstein Cup.
The 1977 season saw Joe get used to the new car and new series as he prepared himself for a full season campaign in 1978.
After getting used to the VW Rabbit in 1977, the 1978 season saw Joe compete once again in the SCCA Rabbit / Bilstein Cup. A full season of competition saw Joe score a seventh place finish in the standings with five top five finishes.
The 1979 season was less successful in the final standings (11th) but Joe did score a second place at Trenton and two additional top tens throughout the year.
The 1980 season saw Joe compete in a partial season of the VW Rabbit / Bilstein Cup. Setting track records at Mid Ohio and at Charolotte Joe’s best finish was a second place at Mid Ohio.
Nelson Ledges, a small track in Northeast Ohio, held the first ever Nelson Ledges 24 Hours Enduro in 1980. Joe grabbed the chance to run in the race with his VW Rabbit that he owned. A fourth place overall and first place in class was a great start to Joe’s endurance racing career.
For 1981 Joe would continue his Endurance career with a new challenge, an automatic transmission in a 24 hour race.
Joe made an attempt with an automatic gear box at the Nelson Ledges 24 Hours in 1981. An automatic transmission in racing is a very odd idea, but that is what Datsun wanted Joe to run, so he and his crew developed the car for the 24 hour race.
Two Datsun (now called Nissan) 280 Zs were given to Joe to run in the Nelson Ledges 24 Hours. The only concern with the cars were that they were an automatic gear box. Joe pressed on despite the complication and entered the Datsuns in the 1981 Nelson Ledges 24 Hours.
In 1981 the effot saw Joe score a fourth place overall finish in the race and a third place in class. While the Automatic tranny held together, the lack of the engine slowing the motor down caused the brakes to wear too quickly. Joe pushed for a manual transmission car from Datsun for 1982.
From 1982 to 1986 Joe Nonnamaker was working with Nissan to develop the Nissan Stanza for the IMSA International Sedan Series. The series was very much similar to the SCCA World Challenge Touring class of today.
When Joe first got into the IS series, the cars were somewhat near their stock counterparts. As the series progressed, so did the rules of what was allowed. The cars began to become more and more exotic and costs began to grow and grow. At the time Joe owned the team he was driving for, RR Racing, and the team was successful for the amount of funding available.
The series became a playground for factory efforts. Nissan wasn’t prepared to support the effort with the million dollars that Chevrolet was putting into the series so Joe helped progress the car along out of his own pocket. While the car was begining to become very competive, the series was becoming so that you had to have custom gear boxes, custom this, custom that, and the cost of building a car to win began to be only affordable to the factories and a few very well funded privateer efforts.
After four years of developing the Stanza, Joe decided to take a sabatical to focus on work. The Stanzas proved to be an excellent place for Joe to learn how to setup a car, how to engineer a car, and how to run a professional race team, but ultimately the class was too expensive for the funds available.
In 1989 Joe returned from his sabatical to test the waters of the IMSA Firestone Firehawk series.
Getting his wish Joe received a Manual transmission 280 Z for the 1982 attack on the Nelson Ledges 24 Hours. While the manual was easier on the brakes, a new co-driver was not. One of the co-drivers pounded on the brakes too hard and the car lost all rear brakes during the race. The team had to come home to a fourth place in class and fifth place overall finish.
Joe’s relationship with Datsun / Nissan developed in 1983 and Joe moved into the IMSA International Sedan Series to develop a two car Nissan Stanza program.
In 1989 Joe was looking to get back into racing after a short sabatical to focus on business. Joe rented a ride in a Honda CRX in the Firestone Firehawk Series and really liked the endurance racing format. The teamwork involved, the strategy involved, and the planning involved all interested Joe.
In 1991 Joe looked to run a expanded schedule of races. He intially drove a one off ride with Bill Pate in the Phoenix Promotions VW Golfs. At this time the Nonnamakers did not own the Phoenix team as they do now. The Phoenix VW’s were full for most of the 91 season except for the one Sebring ride that Joe ran. That left him with driving for TC Kline Racing for the remainder of the 91 season. Joe got some experience with the Firehawk Series and began to sharpen his rusty driving skills.
As the 1992 season started, Joe was looking for a place to land. With the Phoenix Promotions team full for the year, Joe signed with Mallard Bay Motorsports, a Mazda RX-7 effort. After two races Joe saw that the Phoenix Promotions team with Pate needed a driver (their driver had been tragically lost in a racing accident while not driving for the team). Joe signed with Phoenix for the remainder of the season and scored a best finish of second that year.
As the 1993 season was approaching, the Nonnamakers took on ownership of the Phoenix effort. The team scrapped the Volkswagens and worked with Mazda Motorsports to begin the development of the new Mazda MX-6. The car came along nicely and the team scored several podium finishes the first season. Joe continued with Pate as his co-driver, a partnership that would last until the end of the 2001 season (almost nine years).
In 1994 IMSA made a move that allowed the BMW 325 into the Touring Class. The Mazda MX-6 was simply outclassed and there was little hope of the car performing against the BMW that had nearly forty more horsepwer and much better handling characteristics. With no remedy in sight from the sanctioning body, Joe decided to cut the team’s losses midway through the season and the team skipped the last two races.
With the BMW 325 moved into the faster Sports class for 1995, the Mazda MX-6 once again stood a chance. With partial backing from Mazda Joe and Bill took home a win and six podium finishes. Joe also scored two pole positions that season, the first two of his professional career.
Continuing with Mazda support, Joe and Bill took home two wins and seven podiums. The Mazda was continuing to develop. Two bad races in 1996 were all that kept Joe from challenging for his first pro title.
The Mazda partnership continued into the 1997 season and Joe scored four wins with the now fully developed Mazda MX-6. The only thing that kept Joe and Bill from making a serious challenge for the Championship was a frozen brake caliper at Las Vegas. Dissappointed, Joe went into the 1997 off season motivated to score the title in 1998.
Mazda saw that the Mazda MX-6 was fully developed and now comissioned the team to begin development of the Mzda 626. While Joe and Bill ran the MX-6 the entire season, work was done on the four door 626 to develop and test it for the 1999 season.
After a near miss with the title in 1997, Joe really wanted the Championship in 1998. Three wins helped push Joe towards the title. However, the Championship was lost on the first lap of the last race. There was a major wreck in front of Joe. Slowing up to avoid the carnage, Joe was rear ended by another car. Broken but not giving up, the team fixed the car enough for Joe to climb back to third before the transmission gave way. Joe ended up tied for the Championship, but lost it on the tie-breaker, number of wins.
After a strong 1998 season that just saw Joe miss out on his first Championship, he decided to take a year off. After talks with General Motors about campaigning the Chevrolet Corvette in the American Le Mans Series in the GT class, Joe was chosen to be allowed to purchase one of the twenty special ‘kit’ Corvettes that GM made available.
The initial idea was to campaign the Corvette in the GT class of the ALMS. As the 1999 season approached the rules for the GT class continued to evolve and change. With the rules begining to look as if they were out of the operating budget of the Phoenix Promotions team that the Nonnamaker’s own, it was decided to not develop the car for the 1999 season.
With no full-time ride for the 1999 season, Joe turned his eye towards being a Team Manager. The 1999 season marked the first time that his two sons, Will and Wayne, would be co-driving together. With a brand new four door Mazda 626 from the factory and walking orders to develop the car into a race winner, Joe turned his eye towards helping his son’s 1999 season.
His efforts were well rewarded as the two boys won the first race out with the sedan styled 626 and the two went on to win the 1999 ST1 Driver’s Championship of the Motorola Cup. Joe’s contribution was recognized at the year end banquet as he was named Team Manager of the Year for the entire Series.
Joe did find time to drive three races that season. He found himself with Andy Lally as his co-driver in a Team Spartanburg BMW Z3 at Road Atlanta. Only a failed caliper kept him from a likely podium finish. A top five finish in World Challenge might have materialized at Mosport had it not been for a BMW laying oil down in front of Joe. A one off ride with Scott Bove saw Joe try out the Porsche waters for the first time in his career.
As the season came to a close the organizers of the Motorola Cup made rule changes that allowed the Corvette to be eligible in a new class called Super Grand Sports. Joe looked towards building his dream car, a Corvette race car.
The building of the Corvette into a full fledged race machine had to be done in less than 80 days. The car was nothing more than a tube frame with a motor when the crew started on building and fabricating.
The season saw Joe paired once again with long-time co-driver Bill Pate. Neither driver had much rear wheel drive experience and the Corvette was a beast to drive. As they both progressed into learning the car, results began to steadily improve. A fifth place finish at Toronto was the best result of the season.
Once again Joe returned to drive the #43 Planet Earth Motorsports Corvette with Bill Pate as his co-driver. The season started off strong with a second place finish at Daytona International Speedway. The second race was at Homestead, but the car never made it to the race. A practice wreck totaled the rear of the car and injured Joe’s neck.
After a six month absence Joe returned to drive one of the team’s Acura Integras in the season finale. Another second place finish gave Joe two podiums in a season where he only ran two races.
As the 2002 season came upon Joe he was once again the driver of the #43 Planet Earth Motorsports Corvette. Same old car, but new co-driver. Bill Pate had found work to be taking up too much time to dedicate himself to driving so the team tabbed Shane Lewis to drive with Joe.
In a season the was riddled with bad luck, mechanical problems, and wrecks a shining moment of brilliance came through with an overall victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Joe and Shane shared the #43 Corvette en route to a small margin of victory over the defending Champions, Powell Motorsport.
At the end of the 2002 season it was decided to look into other avenues for the 2003 season. Although he was a lifelong Corvette fan, the team made the decision to sell the Corvette. The team bought SpeedSource’s wrecked Porsche 911 and began the process of r
The 2003 season was a remarkable season for Joe Nonnamaker. Coming into the 2003 season expectations were high for Joe. In 2002 he won overall in the Grand Am Cup Grand Sports I class driving the #43 Planet Earth Motorsports Chevrolet Corvette and now he would be moving into the Porsche.
The 2003 season would see Joe drive the #41 Planet Earth Motorsports Porsche. The car was the exact same machine that took Sylvain Tremblay and SpeedSource to the 2001 Grand Sport title. The 2003 season would also mark the first time Joe had ever co-driven with one of his sons for an entire season as he paired with younger son Wayne for the season.
The season started off with a victory at Daytona International Speedway. In the first four races Wayne and Joe took home three wins to secure a large lead in the Points Championship. The season continued to roll along well for the duo as they scored eight podiums and four wins to claim the Title over Terry Borcheller and Forrest Barber, who were driving for the Bell Motorsports program.
In addition to his primary focus of winning the Grand Am Cup Grand Sport title, Joe also ran select events in the Grand Am Cup Sport Touring and Grand American Rolex GT classes. In Sport Touring he teamed with Wayne to score a win at Watkins Glen in the wet. Joe teamed with older son Will to score three top five finishes in the Grand American Rolex Series at Barber, California, and Mont Tremblant.
In 2004 Joe had a dream season as he got to co-drive with both his sons in different series. In the Grand Am Cup Series he co-drove with his son Wayne to five top five finishes and a best finish of third at Barber Motorsports Park. Their efforts helped score the team a 1-2 finish in the Team Championship and also aided Craig Stanton in his Championship season with the Nonnamaker owned Phoenix Promotions effort.
In the Rolex Series Joe co-drove with his son, Will. Together Joe scored a fourth place finish in the Grand Am Super Grand Sport class while placing the team in third place in their first season in Rolex competition.
The 2005 season saw Joe continue to compete in both the Grand Am Cup and Grand American Rolex Series. The team had a strong run in Grand Am Cup, leading more laps than any other Porsche effort. The highlight of the season came when Joe and his son scored a third place finish at Mid Ohio in front of their hometown crowd.