I know a lot of people like to think Nextel Cup driver Mark Martin “discovered” Joe Gibbs Racing developmental driver Joey Logano.
Logano’s name was all over the place two years ago when Martin mentioned him as the next best thing to a group of reporters at a Nextel Cup event.
At the time Martin said he wished Logano could replace him in his Roush Racing ride. And with that Martin was automatically credited by many as the guy who “found” Logano.
Sorry Mark, you can keep Matt Kenseth as your find, but I’m taking credit for Logano.
OK, just joking, really, but each time I see a story about Logano I can’t help but think back to a cloudy October day in 1997 when I visited Tom Logano’s business in Portland, Ct. to meet Joey and his family.
I don’t remember exactly how we heard about Logano. It may have been from his family or maybe one of the legions of others involved in Quarter-Midget racing in Connecticut. I’m pretty sure someone sent us a package with photos and some information about this then 7-year old tearing up the Quarter-Midget scene.
One of the things that I’m excited about this racing season is getting the chance to see Logano behind the wheel of a race car live. Anyone that’s been a regular reader of the Courant’s auto racing coverage for the last few years knows that it’s rare for me to get excited about Busch East competition. That’s changed this year. The crop of drivers coming in has me excited to watch Busch East races again and Logano leads that class.
The other day I got a release from NASCAR about the rookie’s in the Busch East this year and it go me thinking about all the things I’ve written over the years about Logano. In October it will be 10 years since the first time I wrote about Logano.
I thought it would be nice to share some of those stories here, including the “discovery” story that the Courant ran about Joey in 1997. So if you've got some time on your hands here are a few of the big features we've done on Logano.
Incidentally, the lead of the first story we did is about Logano sending a message to Jeff Gordon that he would be his worst nightmare some day. I have to be honest, if someone had told me that day that there was a chance that might come true I would have given you 10,000 to 1 odds that it wouldn’t. Good thing I didn’t, because Logano is just a few steps away from sharing a starting lineup with Gordon.
This is the story we did about Logano that ran in the Hartford Courant on Oct. 24, 1997.
HE'S A QUARTER THE WAY THERE
By Shawn Courchesne - Courant Staff Writer
PORTLAND -- The timeline is simple in the mind of 7-year- old Joey Logano of Middletown. Finish up with Quarter Midgets and head south to drive a Winston Cup car. He's sure he can do it.
Logano said his favorite driver is Jeff Gordon. But Logano has a message for the 1995 Winston Cup champion: He will be Gordon's worst nightmare.
Logano is in his second year driving QuarterMidgets, mostly at the Silver City track in Meriden or the Quarter Midget track at Thompson International Speedway. Quarter Midgets are similar to Go-Karts, with a fiberglass body and a full rollcage.
``He's an animal out there,'' said Joey's mother, Debbie. ``He's just going in between cars, dodging everybody. When he's in the car, he doesn't have fear. He's definitely out to win. I guess people are telling their kids now to follow Joey.''
Logano competed this past summer in two different cars in two different divisions, winning Silver City track championships in the junior Honda and junior Super Stock divisions (6- to 8-year-olds). He also started driving in the Light Modified division, competing against drivers up to 15.
Junior Honda cars use stock engines with no modification. Junior Super Stocks and Light Modifieds allow bigger engines and some modifications. This year, Logano has won 24 Super Stock races and 17 Honda features.
Joey's father, Tom, said he spends three to 10 hours each week, depending on how badly the cars were banged up the week before, preparing the cars for races. He said the family got involved after watching a friend's son race last year.
``I knew nothing about cars,'' Tom Logano said. ``We went over there and watched and we kind of liked it and Joey liked it. I found a used car and we went out there and I didn't have a clue what I was doing. He was just spinning out and spinning out over and over again.''
Team Logano was better prepared this season. Tom Logano said his son has started to understand the car's tendencies and how to compensate for them during races.
Once, about halfway through a 20-lap race, Tom noticed the car's back and front right wheels were close to coming off the track. If both tires come off, a driver can be disqualified.
``All of the sudden the back wheel started staying down for the rest of the race,'' Tom said. ``At the end I said `Joey, what happened?' He said `Daddy, I had to lift [off the gas] just a little bit going into the turns.' On the clock you couldn't even tell he was lifting and he was telling me he was slowing down just enough to keep the wheel down. I was amazed. He has a great feel for the car.''
Joey Logano’s style is basic and he readily explains it.
``I just hammer it,'' he said. ``And just go way down under everyone or just go high past everyone.''
Debbie Logano said she was nervous when Joey first began driving. She said she is more confident now in his ability and the safety of the cars, which average about 40 mph. She is glad she wasn't present for his worst accident yet.
Coming around a corner too fast during a warmup lap, Joey's car went up the wall and flipped. A chunk of Joey's helmet was taken off when his head hit the pavement.
``I picked him up and straightened him out,'' Tom Logano said. ``I said `OK, have you had enough? Do you want to go home?' He said `No Daddy. Fix the car.' We fixed it and pushed him back out. Within two laps he was flat-footing the car and went on to win the race.''
Debbie Logano said the accident was a turning point for Joey.
``That was the first time he ever had a really bad accident,'' she said. ``People said that would show if he had it or not. If he was gunshy. He wasn't. He just got right back into it and didn't stop.''
In 2001 Logano was part of a series we did at the Courant called “Starting Young” which looked at youth athletes excelling far beyond their pears in certain sports like figure skating, gymnastics, tennis, golf and basketball.
This story ran in the Courant, along with a Q&A with Logano on Dec. 27, 2001.
ON THE FAST TRACK
EVEN AFTER HIS CRASH, JOEY LOGANO HAS DRIVE
By Shawn Courchesne – Courant Staff Writer
Joey Logano doesn't really understand G-forces. The laws of physics and the comprehension of an object in motion remaining in motion are somewhat beyond his understanding.
What the 11-year-old does know is that when strapped into his Allison Legacy race car, he can't lean forward and touch the steering wheel with his head. He can't even come close.
And that's what really confused him that day in April at Coastal Plains Raceway in Jacksonville, N.C.
Joey doesn't remember much about the accident he refers to as ``the big wreck.''
He does remember sitting there in the mangled remains of his car, his head aching, after the cars had stopped spinning. Joey had made it through the initial collision, but the next thing he knew, his car had crashed head-on into another.
He sat motionless and scared.
Not frightened by the accident, but jolted because he couldn't understand how his head had rammed into the steering wheel with such force.
What Joey had just experienced was something that has become all too familiar in auto racing in the past two years. He'd suffered a head whip. The G-forces exerted on his helmet and head during the sudden stop forced his neck to stretch in a fashion otherwise not possible.
Basilar skull fractures resulting from head whips have been blamed for the deaths of four upper-level NASCAR drivers in the past two years, including seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
The accident at Coastal Plains brought home the realization to Joey's father, Tom, that even at the lowest levels of stock car racing, his son was susceptible to the injury that has become the most common cause of racing fatalities today.
``The moment that I got to the car and Joey told me how hard he had hit the wheel, I decided he wasn't getting back in that Legacy car without a HANS device,'' Tom Logano said. ``God forbid if something ever did happen. I've got to be able to look at myself and say that I gave him 100 percent the safest equipment possible.''
Beating The Older Kids
Joey began racing at 6 years old, competing in quarter midget cars, mainly at the Little T Raceway in Thompson and at the Silver City Quarter Midget club in Meriden.
He took to the sport with a fervor and ease that amazed his parents, Tom and Debbie.
By his second year of racing, Joey was beating 15-year-olds regularly. He also developed an uncanny ability to understand the tendencies of his cars and how to compensate for problems. Adjusting to the changing conditions of a car is a skill that takes some adult racers years to master, yet here was a 7-year-old with observations about what was wrong with the car and how he was going to compensate.
By 1998, at age 8, Joey had won consecutive quarter midget national championship titles. It was a two-year span in which he won 71 feature races. Joey won his third consecutive national quarter midget title in 1999, but after that year his horizons changed dramatically.
In the summer of '99 Tom Logano sold his Portland-based hazardous waste hauling company and moved his family from Middletown to Alpharetta, Ga. The move wasn't made solely to further Joey's racing career, but that did have much to do with it.
``I wanted to go where it was warmer weather,'' Tom Logano said. ``We were going to move to the Charlotte area, which for racing purposes was good, but my daughter is a figure skater who skates five days a week and there were no skating rinks with good coaches in the Charlotte area. My wife found one in Alpharetta, Ga., so we actually moved to Alpharetta because of the skating rink and the fact that there were racetracks all around.''
Last year, Joey began racing in Bandolero cars -- miniature versions of Winston Cup cars, made for children -- at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. He quickly became the most dominant driver at both tracks.
But Tom Logano decided to give Joey a shot at something a little more challenging: Legends cars, a half-scale version of the coupes and sedans run in the formative years of NASCAR. The cars run on 1200cc motorcycle engines and produce about 125 horsepower.
Although the minimum age to drive the cars is supposed to be 12, Albany Motor Speedway in Albany, Ga., made an exception for Joey. On April 1, 2000, at the age of 9, he become the youngest driver to compete in a Legends feature. On June 4, 2000, at Lanier Motor Speedway in Gainesville, Ga., Joey, at 10, became the youngest feature winner in a Legends race.
The next step came this year with the addition of an Allison Legacy car to the Loganos stable of racing vehicles. The Legacy, a three-quarter scale, Winston Cup-styled vehicle powered by a Mazda four-cylinder engine with a five-speed transmission, marked a big step up from the Legends car. The minimum recommended age for Legacy drivers is 14, but another exception was made for Joey and at 10 he became the youngest driver to compete in a Legacy car feature.
``He's exceeded all of our expectations,'' Tom Logano said. ``We never expected any of this when we bought that first quarter midget.''
Tom Logano said the first money he spent on Joey's racing career was on safety equipment.
``It has always been that way,'' he said. ``His safety is my No.1 concern in all of this. Once the car is safe, then we can look for speed, but safety is always the top priority.''
But the accident at Coastal Plains Speedway was a wakeup call for him. Joey was driving at about 100 mph when the crash occurred.
According to studies done by Michigan State University engineering Professor Robert Hubbard, a driver doesn't have to be going 100 mph to suffer a fatal, head whip-induced injury.
Almost every form of stock car racing uses the five-point safety belt system, which harnesses the upper and lower body tightly into the driver's seat, but in collisions, there is little to prevent the head from moving. In head-on collisions, the force of the sudden stop whips the head forward with such energy that the G-forces alone cause the skull fracture, even if the head doesn't hit anything.
``It's not how fast you're going along, it's how fast you go into and out of the [stop]. It's the velocity change,'' said Hubbard, who developed the HANS device in collaboration with his brother-in-law Jim Downing, a sports car racer. ``I think one thing that people need to understand is that the speeds at which these basilar skull fractures can occur are not that high. ... It can happen down at the 40 to 50 mph range.''
Children racing at high speeds are much more susceptible because of a problem that very few take into account, Downing said.
``What many people don't realize is the helmets these kids are wearing are made for adults,'' he said. ``They don't really make a proper helmet for kids; what they do is just take adult helmets and put more padding into them. So these kids are wearing helmets that weigh 3 and three-quarters pounds when they should be wearing helmets that weigh 2 pounds.''
When a crash results in a sudden stop, the virtual weight of the helmet multiplies exponentially because of the G-forces exerted. In the instant the helmet flies forward, it's like having the head attached to a 300-pound weight.
``Kids' heads and necks and shoulders are not mature until they're [about 15], so there's a significant risk there with these heavy helmets and how youngsters' bodies can hold up to that force,'' Downing said. ``It's very scary, and I see that as a big problem as you see more and more kids moving up faster and faster in racing.''
It's a problem that John Bickford, the stepfather of three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, recognized when he introduced Gordon to the sport at age 5.
``You'd see parents stuffing socks and rags into these helmets just to get them to fit on these kids' heads, and clearly they were too heavy,'' Bickford said. ``The helmets are just too heavy for those pee-wee necks.''
Downing spent much of this summer working with Joey to develop the first HANS device for a child. The HANS device is a molded fiberglass piece that fits over the shoulders of the driver and is worn under the seat belt. The driver's helmet is then fitted to the HANS device, allowing the head resistance from angling forward during a sudden stop.
Since Joey's first year racing, Tom Logano has been amazed at his son's composure.
``The accident at Coastal Plains, Joey hit a 16-year-old kid, and they had to cut that kid out of the car,'' Tom Logano said. ``The kid had a broken leg. We took Joey to the hospital. He was banged up and had all kinds of burns from the seat belts digging into his shoulders. I thought for sure, `This is going to be the one. This is the one that slows him down. He's going to start thinking about it now.'
``Well, that happened on a Saturday and they gave him all kinds of painkillers. By Wednesday he was feeling good and by Thursday he was begging to go racing that weekend in the Legends car. I said no, and then he talked me into it. It doesn't affect him in the least.''
Joey is fully aware of the dangers in his sport.
``I'm not scared because of that,'' Joey said. ``That is part of the sport, but you can't be scared of that. If you're scared, you can't race well. With the HANS I feel even better in the car. That's the seat belt I need for my head.''
Q&A WITH JOEY LOGANO
THE 11-YEAR-OLD RACE CAR DRIVER
Logano, 11, who moved from Middletown to Georgia two years ago, won his first quarter-midget Grand National championship in 1997 and repeated in '98 and '99. Won Bandolero Bandits division national championship in 2000. Became the youngest driver (9) to compete in a Legends car. Later became the youngest driver (10) to win a Legends event . In 2001 won Bandolero division championships at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Became the youngest driver (10) to compete in an Allison Legacy car. Became the youngest driver to wear a HANS head and neck restraint device in competition. He spoke to Courant Staff Writer Shawn Courchesne about his experiences:
At what age did you start racing? 6.
How did you get involved? I just wanted to do it. I saw racing on TV and I wanted to try it.
What do you enjoy the most? The competition. I mean, I like the speed, the speed is fun, but I like the competition the most. Even if I'm not going fast, I like to race against people and beat people.
What does racing teach you that you can use later in life? I think it definitely teaches me how to drive a car better on the streets when that comes. It also has taught me a lot about how cars run and how to make things faster. I guess even if you don't end up [racing], learning all of it helps if I should ever be a crew chief or something like that.
Who has inspired you and why? Jeff Gordon. He's always been my favorite, and I really want to be just like him. He's awesome. He tries so hard and does so many things . . . I want to race against him someday.
Best memory : I don't think that's happened yet for me. Probably will be in the future when I really start to make it.
Biggest disappointment : The wreck I got in in my Legacy car at Coastal Plains Speedway (in Jacksonville, N.C.).
Hours spent each week practicing or in competition: Depends on what we have on the schedule. It's a lot, though.
What do you feel you have missed by being so devoted ? Nothing, really. If I felt that way I would just do different things. I have home schooling and I really like that. I don't feel like I'm missing anything by not going to school. I feel like I learn more that way.
What is your life like outside of racing? I think it's pretty normal. The home schooling I guess isn't what most kids have, but it would be hard with all the racing we do for me not to have home schooling. I play hockey in the winter and that's something I have fun doing.
How much are you willing to sacrifice for racing? I don't know. I don't feel like I have to give up anything that I want to do to race. I guess that could change, but I don't really know the answer to that.
Have you ever felt like quitting? Not yet.
Do you feel pressure to perform? No. My parents don't push me to do anything. I do this because I want to do it and if I want to get out of the car I can do it whenever I want.
What's your ultimate goal? Pretty much to make it to the [NASCAR Winston] Cup series as a driver. It would be just amazing. I like being involved with racing, but mostly I really want to be a driver.
If you don't reach that goal, how will you feel? It really wouldn't be bad. I know that it's hard to make it to Cup and become a great driver, so I don't really worry about it. If I can be in racing somehow I would be happy. It doesn't have to be as a driver. I would like to be a crew chief, too, if I couldn't be a driver.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years, I want to look back and say I accomplished ... Everything there is to do in racing.
Money spent by parents: About $30,000 a year.
Family's schedule: During the 10-week Summer Shootout Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Tom Logano's life revolves around Joey's racing. ``We leave [Alpharetta, Ga.] Monday at noon and get up to Charlotte [N.C.] around 4 or 5 o'clock. We practice from 6-9 and go to bed. Then we're at the track Tuesday at about 5 o'clock and race anywhere from 8 to 10 o'clock and then we'll get home at 2 or 3 in the morning. Wednesday we'll spend another four hours getting the car ready for Thursday at Atlanta. We'll leave at 2 [p.m.] Thursday and go race at Atlanta and usually get home by 11 p.m. Friday we'll spend another four hours getting the Legends car ready for Saturday. Drive 3 1/2 hours down to Albany, Ga., Saturday, race, and get home Sunday morning at 3 or 4 in the morning. I don't know how many hours it adds up to, but it's a tough 10 weeks. Other than that period, we're racing pretty much every weekend through the year.''
Last year at The Courant we did a series revisiting the athletes we featured in the Starting Young series. This was the story about Logano that ran in the Courant on June 18, 2006.
STILL ON THE FAST TRACK
ANY TEAM WOULD WANT LOGANO, BUT JOE GIBBS RACING HAS HIM
Cover Intro: Joey Logano was 11 when The Courant featured the auto racer in a 2001 series called ``Starting Young.'' Asked then about his ultimate goal, he said, ``Pretty much to make it to the [NASCAR Winston] Cup series as a driver. It would be just amazing. I like being involved with racing, but mostly I really want to be a driver.'' He is on target for that goal.
By Shawn Courchesne – Courant Staff Writer
His abilities behind the wheel of a race car drove three of the most famous NASCAR Nextel Cup teams into a bidding war for his services.
All before he could legally drive a car on the street.
At 16, Joey Logano is being touted by many in stock car racing as the next great young talent.
``He went to go get his driver's license and he was a nervous wreck,'' said his father, Tom. ``He doesn't get who he is. He goes and races against 45-year-old men that are champions of stock car racing and he's not nervous in the least, but he goes to get his driver's license and the kid is a wreck. I don't think he understands what he's doing. He just rolls with it.''
Logano, who turned 16 on May 24, signed a developmental contract last summer with Joe Gibbs Racing, which beat out Roush Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing to sign him.
His status as a racing prodigy can be difficult to comprehend.
``I'm pretty amazed by it all,'' said Logano, a Middletown native. ``Every year I say, `I didn't think I'd be here now.' Every single year I say that and it's weird because things happen and I take these jumps to bigger things. But now, signed with Joe Gibbs Racing, last year I would have never dreamed I would be signed to drive for a team like that.''
Logano's first experience behind the wheel came at age 4 in a go-kart, tooling around the parking lot of his father's hazardous waste disposal business in Portland. By the time he was 6, Logano was competing in a Quarter Midget at the Silver City track in Meriden and the Little T at Thompson International Speedway. At 7, he was racing against kids twice his age and winning on a regular basis.
By the time he was 9, Logano had won three consecutive Quarter Midget national titles.
``I was never a racer,'' Tom Logano said. ``I never watched racing, I never really followed it. I was a garbageman. We had that little go-kart and he would drive around and it was all he wanted to do. I knew nothing about racing. We just did it as fun. I was his T-ball coach and his basketball coach and he hated that. When it came to the racing, though, he just loved it.''
In the summer of 1999, Tom Logano sold his company and moved the family to Alpharetta, Ga., to further his son's racing dreams. Since then Joey has been home-schooled -- and has done some schooling of his own at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., regularly beating adults.
Two years ago, the Logano family struck up a friendship with Nextel Cup veteran Mark Martin, whose son Matt had competed at events with Joey.
Last June, competing in his second race in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series, Logano became the youngest driver ever to win in the division. Not long after, asked by reporters whom he would pick to be his replacement at Roush Racing, Martin shocked many by saying Logano.
``I would put him in that car in a heartbeat,'' Martin said. ``I'm telling you, he's ready. He's good enough to do it.''
Because of the relationship with Martin, many expected Logano to sign a developmental contract with Roush. But Gibbs won.
``The hardest part was with Mark Martin,'' Tom Logano said. ``Mark is a friend. He really wanted Joey to sign with Roush and we really didn't want to let Mark down. But it had nothing to do with money. It really came down to how the whole situation was handled for 4 1/2 months with Roush, which was tough on Joey. When Gibbs approached us it was 4 1/2 days and it was a done deal. The hardest part was not really letting down Roush, it was letting down Mark Martin.''
Tom Logano said he flew to Florida to personally break the news to Martin after the family decided to sign with JGR.
``It was devastating to me,'' Martin said last weekend at Pocono Raceway. ``But I'll get over it. Our relationship hasn't changed. We're still good friends and I'm still his biggest fan. I'm going to be standing there saying `I told you so' one of these days.''
Joey said he knew quickly after being exposed to the Gibbs operation that it was where he wanted to be.
``It was Roush, Ganassi and Gibbs,'' Joey said. ``We came back one day and I had three contracts in my hand. My dad asked me, before we even opened them and looked at them, `Which one do you want to sign?' I said, `Joe Gibbs Racing.' So that was the one we signed with.
``As soon as I walked in there I could tell it was a class act, but really a family organization. I felt at home as soon as I walked in the place. It's a really comfortable atmosphere with Gibbs. I have no problem walking right up to Joe Gibbs or [JGR president] J.D. Gibbs and just talking to them about anything. It's just such a family atmosphere.''
JGR is grooming Logano for NASCAR's Busch Series, the minor league of the Nextel Cup. NASCAR rules mandate that a driver must be 18 to compete in a national touring division. Until then, JGR will field a team for Logano in the Pro Cup Series.
``He's got a freakish gift for what he's doing,'' J.D. Gibbs said. ``Everything he's raced in, he's won with. He's shown so much to date that we just felt that he was someone we had to sign now. We felt that if we could put him in our stuff, he's really going to shine.''
Logano doesn't earn a salary from the organization yet, but JGR is financing all of his racing endeavors. The family has moved to Huntersville, N.C., where JGR is based.
``Financially, it's a hell of a lot better for dad,'' said Tom Logano, who personally fielded Joey's racing teams until signing with JGR. ``But for him, it's brought a lot more professionalism to what we do. When I had the race team, I could only do so much. They've surrounded him with a bunch of quality people that really know the sport. There's just a wealth of knowledge around us.''
For Joey Logano, who has sprinted up the racing ladder, waiting until he can compete in the Busch series can be frustrating.
``All I can do is make the most of it right now and learn as much as I can so when I'm 18 I'll be more than ready,'' he said. ``I go to the shop just about every day and I just try to learn everything I can.''
Joey also spends time at racetracks, chatting up strategy and style with Nextel Cup drivers from whom he once dreamed of just getting an autograph.
``I tell people I talk to these guys and they think it's amazing and the reality is, I think it's pretty amazing, too,'' he said. ``That's definitely one of the coolest things. Even cooler is that I go up to these guys and they recognize me and they know who I am.
``All this is sort of dreams becoming reality every day of my life. Just going to Joe Gibbs Racing every morning and seeing all the cars there. That's something not everybody gets to do and I really appreciate that. It's pretty weird. I guess it would be for anyone.''
Shawn Courchesne, 8:34 p.m.