NASCAR & Auto Racing

Joey Hand looks forward to racing close to home this weekend

Joey Hand is no different from any pro athlete who was born and raised in the area and is returning to Northern California to compete. He has been getting calls from friends and family members asking for tickets.

“I’ve spent more time over the past few days getting tickets than I have figuring out the race car,” said Hand, who will drive Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT this weekend in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Laguna Seca in Salinas. “It’s a great problem to have, actually, because it is a home-field advantage for me and always a positive vibe to have so many friends and family at the track.”

Hand and Dirk Mueller co-drive the No. 66 car for Ganassi’s team; Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook drive the other Ganassi car, the No. 67. After three races this season, Hand and Müller are in seventh place.

Hand, 36, who grew up in Elk Grove and lives in Wilton, said he and Müller will be on the podium soon. The engine program is solid, Hand said, and the season has been free of engine and gearbox issues that plagued the team last season.

“After the testing series before the 24 hours race at Daytona, things were going so well that as a team we said, ‘Hey, let’s not talk about it,’ ” Hand said. “But then some small things started to happen.”

Those “small” things included the driver’s door flying open at 140 mph during the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix in Long Beach on April 16.

“Yeah, the door latch failed somehow. I think a cable got caught, and the door flew open,” Hand said. “I tried to close it but couldn’t, and we had to come in and pit unexpectedly. As soon as you do that in a short race (1 hour, 40 minutes) such as Long Beach, you’re done. You go a lap down with no time to make it up.”

Hand said both Ganassi Ford GT teams are looking forward to the 84th running of the 24 Hours at Le Mans in France on June 18-19. It’s not part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series, but the world’s best endurance teams will be there trying to win arguably the most prestigious race in the world.

“We’re all focused on Le Mans,” said Hand, who had a career-best third place at LeMans in 2011. “What an incredible race that is. There’s something like 300,000 people at that race, and from the podium you look out and see a sea of people. Fantastic. If I get on the podium again, I’m going to take a selfie with the crowd in the background just so I remember what it’s like.”

Hand said he’s sorry things didn’t work out with Scott Pruett of Auburn. They raced together during the 2015 Daytona Prototype season, but even a strong finish after a slow start couldn’t keep the team together.

Pruett now races for Lexus in an RC F GT3, but the car wasn’t ready for Long Beach, so he was there signing autographs.

“I always wanted to drive with Scott and got the chance last year,” Hand said. “We got a win together at Circuit America, and that has been a goal of mine for years. I’m not sure what happened because he’s still as fit, as motivated, as anyone driving today.”

Allard eyes another Bradway win

Nobody has won the Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial more than three-time King of the West champion Jonathan Allard, who will go for No. 6 Saturday night at Silver Dollar Speedway, his home track in Chico.

Allard, a Sacramento native now living in Chico, had one of his career highlights at the track in 2014 when he won the World of Outlaws-sanctioned Gold Cup Race of Champions. And Allard’s first King of the West 410 Sprint Car Series win was at the 2001 Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial.

Clyde and Marion Lamar, who own Allard’s sprint car, have won the Bradway Memorial twice, in 1994 with Rio Linda’s Randy Tiner and 1996 with World of Outlaws driver Paul McMahan. Bradway won numerous times in the Tri-C sprinter before being killed in a crash in 1987 at Washington’s Skagit Speedway.

“The Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial is such a big event for so many people out here in California,” Allard said in a news release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win it five times, and they all mean a great deal to me. Now that I drive for Clyde and Marion Lamar, however, it would definitely have a little extra meaning if I could give them another Bradway win. It won’t be easy, though, because we have a lot of great drivers in Northern California right now. From young guys to veterans, we’re extremely deep with talent, which makes it a lot of fun for everyone.”

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Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at