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HAMPTON, VA - JUNE 23: Joe DeGracia, driver of the #23 PJ DeGracia Contracting Chevrolet, looks on from his car during practice before the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour WhosYourDriver.org 150 at Langley Speedway on June 23, 2018 in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Joe DeGracia, driver of the #23 PJ DeGracia Contracting Chevrolet, looks on from his car during practice before the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Langley Speedway in June. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

Joe DeGracia Defying The Odds Behind The Wheel

The odds may have been against Joe DeGracia since day one, but that hasn’t hindered his climb up the ranks in motorsports.

From go-karts, to Legends Cars, to modifieds, DeGracia has been successful in just about everything he has buckled the belts behind the wheel of.

At a young age, he was diagnosed with Autism — but he has not let that diagnosis slow him down one bit.

“They told me I would never ride a bike,” DeGracia said of his childhood years. “I just go with what I am given. I am thankful for both the good and the bad. Racing isn’t something I take for granted.”

A successful stop in the go-kart ranks wasn’t actually what DeGracia had in mind when he first decided he wanted to fire the engine.

“I always thought about racing, but once I got into the go-kart, I told my dad I wanted to go motorcycle racing,” DeGracia recalled. “But he said I shouldn’t do that, there really was no head or neck restraint to them, so we decided to go to the go-karts. We were really racing around cones when I was out there driving back then. It was some real backyard racing.”

In his childhood, DeGracia played drums in school, quickly jumped through the ranks of karate and earned his black belt, and always had a passion for racing along the way.

RELATED: Getting To Know Joe DeGracia

“My dad told me I had Autism about my freshman year of High School,” DeGracia said. “I was so far along that it didn’t even really bother me. I was diagnosed at a young age and I really didn’t even know I had it. That’s when I decided I wanted to do Karate. I had an instructor who taught me how to throw punches, helped me through it. My dad bought a go-kart and I had a dirt bike, and I really liked them both.”

After years in the Legends Cars — specifically in New York — he was prepared for his next challenge: the modified ranks of the Northeast.

Fast-forward just a few years and he is competing on the highest level in the modified ranks with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour behind the wheel of the No. 23 PJ DeGracia Contracting Chevrolet.

“I’m not fully there yet, but we all are doing what we can as a team. Everyone has to learn, everyone has to start somewhere,” DeGracia said. “It’s cool because I feel like I have earned the respect of the other drivers, they have always been respectful to me. I know I am going to get lapped sometimes as a rookie, but in order to be successful, you have to learn the hard way at the start. Both as a driver and with your team, you have to learn.”

THOMPSON, CT - APRIL 7: Joe DeGracia, driver of the #23 PJ DeGracia Contracting Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150 on April 7, 2018 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Joe DeGracia’s No. 23 Chevrolet turns a lap around Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR photo)

RACING-REFERENCE: Joe DeGracia’s 2018 Season 

He made his debut as part of the season-opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway in March, qualifying in 27th, climbing through the field and taking the checkered flag in 20th position. Since then, his best finish was a 19th place run in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway. In the Eastern Propane and Oil 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July, DeGracia led his first lap in competition on the Whelen Modified Tour.

“I still feel like I am getting better every time out there, we have made some mistakes as a team and I have made a few as a driver this year,” DeGracia said. “But my dad is really good with the car, the setup and everything. I may underdrive, I may overdrive. I haven’t really been consistent just yet.”

Through nine races at seven different tracks spanning from Massachusetts to South Carolina, DeGracia feels like he’s inching closer to where he wants to be.

“I’ve really liked Langley, Stafford, New Hampshire and Thompson this year. My least favorites were definitely Riverhead and Seekonk, because the car is really technical with the big tires and big power,” DeGracia said. “I like the tracks that you can really use the power. My dad tells me I’m a short-track driver, but I like the tracks where I can use that power.”

No matter what happens, DeGracia just simply takes each day as its own. He feels like his day will come soon.

“I just take each day and I try not to think about the future, I go with what I am given and I use every tool that I have available,” DeGracia said. “Whatever is the plan, it’s going to be the plan. I don’t really exactly know what to expect. Sometimes everyday is good, and other times, you have a bad day.”

BUD “King Of Beers” 150: Entry List | Full Schedule | Race Center | Point Standings

Whelen Modified Tour News & Notes

Championship Battle Heats Up: With nine races in the record books, and just seven remaining, the chase for the 2018 championship is headed for the high-banks of Thompson. Justin Bonsignore’s dominant start has him 51 points up in the current standings over Chase Dowling on the heels of top-10 finishes in all events. Bonsignore won both races at the 0.625-mile oval earlier this season, and leads all active drivers in wins at the Connecticut oval. Dowling and Timmy Solomito, who are second and third in the standings, will need to quickly gain ground on Bonsignore if they want to have a chance at the title.

Qualifying Could Be Key: In the last 20 Whelen Modified Tour races at Thompson, a driver that started outside the top-10 only has been in Victory Lane once. And in two previous events on the high-banks this year, Bonsignore started third and fourth en route to his wins. Jerry Marquis (31st) holds the record for the lowest starting spot for a winner in the 140-race history. The last driver to win from the pole was Doug Coby in 2015, so qualifying on the front row isn’t a crucial part of success. But when group qualifying is complete, a quick look at the top 10 starting spots could provide you with the eventual winner.

Time To Put It All Together: In two previous events at Thompson this season, Ronnie Williams has shown plenty of speed in practice and qualifying. However, when the green flag dropped for both events, Williams didn’t quite have the race speed he needed to challenge for his first win. He scored the pole at the Icebreaker 150 but finished 19th, and started second in the Thompson 125 en route to a 20th place run. If he can survive the early stages of the race at the front, the Ellington, Connecticut, driver could be in contention for his first triumph in the Bud “King of Beers” 150.

Whelen All-American Series: The Bud “King of Beers” 150 is just the start of racing on the high-banked Thompson oval Wednesday night. The Division I Sunoco Modifieds, Late Models, Mini Stocks and Limited Sportsman will all compete in qualifying and feature racing, along with the NEMA Midgets, another open-wheel division with decades of history in New England.

Up Next: The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to the track  just eight days after the Bud 150 with the annual stop in Tennessee. The Bush’s Beans 150 from Bristol Motor Speedway will mark the 11th race of the 2018 championship points schedule.