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Joe Machnick, inducted into the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2017, is an avid short track race fan. (US Soccer)

From The Pitch To The Pits: Machnik Recalls Experience Behind The Wheel

For many, it’s probably difficult to find a connection between soccer and motorsports.

Soccer finds players running on grass or turf kicking a ball towards a goal, while drivers in a race battle on either dirt or asphalt chasing the checkered flag. If you are in the grass behind the wheel of a race car, you are probably not having the best day at the track.

However, for Joe Machnik, the connection between the two sports is definitely apparent, and both of them have helped paved his path throughout his career.

Machnik has done just about everything there is to do in the sport of soccer — whether it was actually playing on the field, coaching, being a referee, or even a broadcaster. Just last month, Machnik was enshrined into the National Soccer Hall of Fame as a builder.

But the veteran and current broadcaster for FOX Sports, who is nicknamed ‘Dr. Joe’ even found time to sprinkle in some auto racing in his career — both behind the wheel and in the grandstands.

“I grew up at a time where the sport (soccer) wasn’t going anywhere in America, and obviously, it has come a long way,” Machnik said. “I played a part in that in various different roles. But nothing was as exciting compared to the six years where I had a NASCAR license.”

VIDEO: Machnik Enters National Soccer Hall of Fame

Joe Machnik raced in the entry-level classes in New England in the early 1990s and still follows short-track racing. (Courtesy Joe Machnik)

Last Saturday, Machnik found himself at the race track instead of in his home preparing to help with television coverage of a soccer game. He visited Myrtle Beach Speedway for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opening Performance Plus 150.

“When the modifieds came here last year, I had to be here, and one of the kids that was in my crew when I was racing is on the crew for the No. 15 (Chase Dowling),” Machnik said during the meet-and-greet session prior to the race. “He was only about 12-years-old when he started hanging out in the garage where my car was being held while I raced.”

Machnik’s connection with one of Dowling’s crew members stems from his own days behind the wheel, where he competed in New England. Machnik drove in races at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and New London-Waterford Speedbowl in what is now the Limited Sportsman division.

One night, his life flashed before his own eyes.

“On a Saturday night at Thompson, they had time trials, and I won them. I came in about third in the race, and we had a lot of confidence, and we decided to go to Thompson the next day, but we had to make a lot of changes to the car to fit the rules there,” Machnik said. “We got up there, I started in the back because it was my first time there, and I was coming out of turn four and I didn’t get down low enough, someone tapped me, I went sideways into the wall and then rolled down the frontstretch about five times. It was definitely memorable.”

Although that one experience is something Dr. Joe will definitely keep with him for the rest of his life, the experience of sitting behind the wheel of a race car — and competing at top speed — was something he will never forget. And it doesn’t compare to anything he has done before.

“The adrenaline of getting into a race car, it’s like nothing else. I refereed a game inside Madison Square Garden, and growing up, that meant a lot to me because I was in New York.  … It’s just special. I started at 46-years-old, so I was racing against kids that were in go-karts since they were young.”

Even before sitting in the cockpit, Machnik was a fan of racing.

“When I was racing, and even before that, I went to most of the (Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup tracks as a spectator. I’ve been to at least 15,” Machnik said. “Growing up in New York, you would think I wouldn’t know anything about racing. But had Freetown, Islip, Riverhead and more. There was a lot of racing.”

Saturday’s season-opener saw Jon McKennedy pass Dowling in the final laps to end up in Victory Lane for the first time in his career. For Machnik, the Whelen Modified Tour provides what he thinks is some of the top racing in the country.

“I think it’s the best racing in NASCAR. You can be up close and personal, you can meet all of the drivers at almost every race,” Machnik said. “The competition is so good. I was a fan of the late Ted Christopher as well.”