NASCAR & Auto Racing

Local motor notes: Joey Hand, Scott Pruett and Kyle Larson are on Chip Ganassi’s racing teams

Joey Hand knows first-hand how a simple pleasantry can turn into something truly wonderful.

A “Hey, how ya doing?” from the race car driver from Sacramento to race team owner Chip Ganassi at last October’s Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta evolved into a new chapter of his career. After three seasons racing in Europe for BMW, Hand, 35, said he was looking for the right opportunity to return stateside and continue his career behind the wheel of some of the world’s fastest race cars.

He’s signed with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2015 Tudor United SportsCar Championship season and will join Auburn’s Scott Pruett and Chip Ganassi’s two IndyCar drivers, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam, for this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“My car broke that day (at Petit LeMans) and I was in plain clothes when I saw Chip,” Hand said. “I drove for him when Scott Pruett and I helped win the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2011 and have always wanted to drive for him full time.”

So Hand approached Ganassi, shook his hand and before he could move on, Hand said Ganassi asked him to come drive for him in 2015.

A more formal meeting was set where Ganassi asked Hand to join his No. 01 Daytona Riley-Ford Prototype team.

After mulling over the offer for a day, Hand made the decision to bring his family back to the United States and rejoin Pruett, his friend and mentor of sorts, who has a chance to become the first six-time winner of the Rolex 24 endurance race. Pruett, 54, is tied for the record of five wins with Hurley Haywood.

“(Hand is) incredibly talented,” Pruett told Jim Pedley of RacinToday.com. “We grew up together, somewhat, even though I’m a bit older than him. He’s just a great talent. He’s a wheelman, he knows how to get it done. It’s even more fun, I think for both of us, the fact that two American drivers will be with an American manufacturer.”

The fact that Ford is sponsoring a car that now has four American drivers is not lost on Hand. He also pointed out that Ganassi is employing three Sacramento-area drivers in the two cars his team will field this weekend. Joining the mix behind the wheel of the team’s No. 02 car is Elk Grove native and reigning NASCAR Rookie of the Year Kyle Larson. Larson teams with fellow NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray and IndyCar drivers Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

“Nearly half of our total team are local guys, and that’s pretty cool,” Hand said Wednesday in between testing sessions at Daytona. “(Pruett) helped me get the gig in 2011 with Chip, and we’ve been friends for a long time. We have a lot of mutual friends in the (Sacramento) area, and my wife and I had dinner with Scott and his wife on New Year’s Eve and just talked about what a small world it is.”

Hand is preparing for the Rolex 24, which kicks off the 2015 season, but is looking forward to the entire season rather than just a one-off assignment.

“I’m really excited to be driving with him, and the chemistry Scott and I already have will be big and will play out throughout the season,” Hand said. “I don’t think the transition will be hard at all.”

Gordon’s local start – Jeff Gordon, a Vallejo native and four-time NASCAR champion who announced Thursday that the 2015 season will be his last as a full-time driver, got his start as a youngster tearing up Northern California dirt tracks, including the Capitol Quarter Midget Association track in Rio Linda. He’s spoken fondly about the Rio Linda track in the past and no doubt will be thinking about his racing roots as he takes a victory lap of sorts at every NASCAR track on the 2015 schedule.

Monster Jam this weekend – When the big guys on the Kings leave for a road trip in late January every year, the big trucks take their place at Sleep Train Arena. The Monster Jam returns Saturday and Sunday for two days of racing and crushing cars like soda cans. For more information, go to www.monsterjam.com.

Mark Billingsley covers local motor sports for The Bee. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.

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