Racing is Joe Graf Jr.’s life. There is nothing more exhilarating than strapping into a powerful racecar. What better way to spend a weekend away from the hectic life of a college student?
“The biggest thing I’ve had to learn is time management,” Graf said. “I had to learn to be disciplined with my time.”
Graf, who hails from Mahwah, NJ, is entering his sophomore year at New York University (NYU) as a business media and sports management student. His journey into the professional world of stock car racing started last year. At the wry age of 19, this NYU student was speeding through racetracks at 200 mph on the weekends, turning a partial schedule into a full-time effort in the ARCA Menards Series, NASCAR’s version of single-A.
He started running quite well, finishing near the top of the leaderboard week-in and week-out for Chad Bryant Racing, a brand-new team at the time. That didn’t bother Graf, who excelled on the track.
Eventually, Graf entered the winner’s circle. Just 16 races into his ARCA career, the New Jersey native captured the triumph at Berlin Raceway in Michigan. The victory caught the attention of Richard Childress, the legendary NASCAR team owner who fielded cars for the late Dale Earnhardt.
Not only did Graf sign a multi-race deal with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) for the 2019 Xfinity Series season, but he inked an internship that would go hand-in-hand with his college experience as well.
“It’s been a learning experience for sure,” he said. “It’s been tremendous to work with a team of this caliber. The history this team has is incredible.”
Graf took a semester off from dorm life at NYU and moved to North Carolina, working with the organization’s marketing and communications department throughout the spring of 2019. The journey with RCR will not only help his racing career, but it will excel his academic life, too.
“I helped the team with public relations,” Graf said. “I helped with different things they were doing for other drivers, not even myself. I didn’t run a race until the internship was almost over. When I wasn’t running ARCA or Xfinity, I helped the engineers out anyway that I could. I also sat in on the driver debriefs and wrote analysis papers on that.”
Of course, with the job comes plenty of pressure. The organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and that means expectations are even higher than usual. Teammate Tyler Reddick is battling for a championship, and Graf wants to celebrate in victory lane, too.
“It’s unbelievable to have this opportunity,” Graf said. “I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me.”
While interning in North Carolina, Graf also took a pair of online classes to meet his course requirements so he can graduate on time. Essentially, he was racing for two teams, doing an internship and taking classes—all in just a three-month span.
On June 16, Graf made his official NASCAR debut, competing in RCR’s No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro. Taking to the track at Iowa Speedway, he faced challenges, just like any rookie in NASCAR’s second-tier division. He started 21st and finished 19th on that day.
But the journey into NASCAR’s top rankings didn’t come easy. He took a gap year after graduating high school to focus on racing. When he moved to New York City, it was difficult to manage time between school and working with his team.
Graf started racing when he just was 10 years old. He thoroughly moved up through the rankings at local short tracks prior to making his ARCA debut in 2018. While chasing his dream is important, he understands the value of graduating from one of America’s most prestigious institutions.
“I don’t plan on not going to school,” he said.
Now, he’s going back to campus. He’ll live the life of a college student once again, not just the already-hectic one of a racecar driver.
“I’ll be back on campus this semester and I’ll be taking five classes,” he said. “They’re all classes that I can’t take online. If I get another internship or something else, I can take other classes in the spring.”
In the meantime, he wants to live life as a real New Yorker.
Graf has been exploring the area, too. Namely, he’s a major foodie. He loves pizza and has been trying out dozens of shops in the Big Apple.
He’s been to Long Island once, appearing in an event at Riverhead Raceway. But he hasn’t been back since. However, he plans to take the hike out to the area and try some of the island’s best food.
As this young racer continues to grow on and off the track, maybe, just maybe, he can be the driver Childress has been looking for.
“I learned so much in and out of the car in six months than I have ever really,” Graf said. “It’s really unbelievable what you can learn.”