NASCAR & Auto Racing

Local motor sports: Le Mans winner Joey Hand welcomes break

The Porsche 919 Hybrid No. 2 of the Porsche Team driven by Neel Jani of Switzerland, Romain Dumas of France and Marc Lieb of Germany in action during the 84th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, Saturday, June 18, 2016.
The Porsche 919 Hybrid No. 2 of the Porsche Team driven by Neel Jani of Switzerland, Romain Dumas of France and Marc Lieb of Germany in action during the 84th 24-hour Le Mans endurance race, in Le Mans, western France, Saturday, June 18, 2016. The Associated Press

With his first 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE-Pro Class victory behind him like the Ferrari he left in the French dust, and after a close second Sunday in the GT Le Mans class at the Six Hours of The Glen, Joey Hand was in the driver’s seat again this week but with a different goal in mind than a checkered flag waving over him.

He had to get his young son, Chase, to basketball camp.

“It’s back to reality for me,” Hand, 37, said two weeks after helping Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT win the annual endurance race. “But this reality isn’t too bad for me. I love getting a couple of days off to come home and spend some time with the family.”

Along with Chase, 9, the Hand family includes daughter Kaylee, 7, and Hand’s wife, Natalie. Hand takes every opportunity during the season to jet home to Wilton for a few days and do normal “dad stuff,” he said. The family has six go-karts and drives them at Prairie City’s track every chance it gets, Hand said. After he dropped off Chase at basketball camp, Kaylee helped her dad finish installing a 25-foot pole for the American flag, just in time for July 4, Hand’s favorite holiday.

Hand is the only American racing full time in the International Motor Sports Association’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM). He’s one of a handful of drivers in sports car racing history to win the “triple crown” of endurance racing – the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring. He teamed with Germany’s Dirk Mueller and France’s Sebastien Bourdais to win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and drove with Mueller last weekend at Watkins Glen. Hand and Mueller are at the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix this weekend at the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Clarington, Ontario.

Joey Hand is the only American racing full time in the International Motor Sports Association’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM).

Hand passed Risi Competizione’s Ferrari in the 18th hour of the 24 Hours of Le Mans to take the lead, and Mueller took the checkered flag. The win came on the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans, and most of the Ford family was at the track, Hand said. The pass was even more impressive considering Hand had to make up time due to a penalty when the steering wheel electronics kept the car’s engine running during a refueling pit stop.

“We had no issues other than the steering wheel, and we seemed to have the best car all week,” said Hand, who drove three-hour shifts three times during the race. “All we had to do is drive and drive.”

That’s what he does when he’s home in Wilton, too.

Wings or Wingless, or both?

The Wingless Series presented by Joe Hunt Magnetos will feature a rare Sunday night show at the Stockton Dirt Track as the sprint car series participates in the Salute to LeRoy Van Conett, along with the winged 410 cubic-inch King of the West sprint cars.

Van Conett, 81, was born in Stockton and raised in Galt and became one of California’s best sprint car drivers. “The Dragon from Galt” has the most wins (31) at Calistoga Speedway when it was a half-mile track. He also is second in wins (65) and championships (eight) in the Northern Auto Racing Club. He was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1999.

31 Wins by LeRoy Van Conett at Calistoga Speedway when it was a half-mile track

Van Conett will be at the track to sign autographs and meet fans.

Discovery Bay’s Barry Pries Jr. has a 32-point lead over Sacramento’s Zachary Kavert in the wingless division. Sacramento native Kyle Hirst, now living in Paradise, leads the King of the West Series by nine points over San Jose’s Bud Kaeding. Chico driver Jonathan Allard, also a Sacramento native, is third, 34 points behind Hirst.

For more information, go to racepmg.com.

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

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