From sweeping floors in a NASCAR Nationwide Series shop to celebrating a Rolex 24 victory at Daytona International Speedway, Joe London’s two-decade racing career has shown that hard work and dedication can still take a person from humble beginnings to joyful success in motorsports.
The lead assembler for Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines’ prototype effort, London not only got to celebrate a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona last month, he and his six co-workers received the satisfaction of seeing the powerplants they built taking the first four positions in the grueling 24-hour race.
That’s quite an accomplishment for the small group that built 10 engines in 12 days.
“To do something that you know not many people have the opportunity to do and to accomplish the Rolex 24-hour win, knowing it’s a lot of endurance and there’s a lot of time and effort that goes through the company to even finish that race is pretty awesome,” London said.
“It was emotional because you’re up for 37 hours. It took everybody on the calibration side of the engines, to the building side, everything that went into it to win the 24. It was a big company win. ”
Even though it was the Mooresville resident’s first trip to victory lane in the Rolex 24, ECR Engines has won previously in sports car racing’s prototype division. In the last two years, the company has claimed the manufacturer’s championship in prototype on the engine side, and one ECR Engines-supplied team emerged with the driving title.
Even though London has worked in an engine department since the late 1990s, it wasn’t a job he envisioned when he began sweeping floors and assisting on the race car for a team co-owned by Greg Pollex and NFL quarterback Mark Rypien.
At the time, London was 19, and his stepfather, Fred Wanke, was the crew chief for the Busch Series (now Nationwide) team that fielded Fords for Chad Little. In 1993, he briefly stepped away from racing to join the Air National Guard; when he returned after eight months of training, he took odd jobs working on cars.
In late 1994, London joined his stepfather’s company, Fred Wanke Racing, which built turn-key cars for Rich Bickle, did work for Ultra Wheels Motorsports, built a truck for Dale Earnhardt’s team with driver Ron Hornaday and handled Darrell Waltrip’s truck effort until the end of 1995. At that time, London joined Waltrip’s Concord-based Cup team.
“When I wanted to get into racing, I wanted to be on the car side,” London said. “I wanted to be a fabricator, on the mechanic side of it. At the end of ’95, when I went to Darrell Waltrip’s to work on the Cup team, I went into the engine shop. I never was the type that tinkered on engines, so going into tear-down was a big eye-opener for me.”
In addition to working in the engine tear-down department for three years at Waltrip’s, London assisted the engine assemblers on the engine dyno and in the machine shop.
“I learned a lot,” London said. “Claude Queen was my first boss at Darrell’s, and he really helped push me along. He showed me the ins and outs.”
When Tim Beverly bought Waltrip’s team, London moved to Dale Earnhardt Inc. in April 1998. He continued in the same role at DEI, remaining in tear-down for another 21/2 years.
London began assembling engines at DEI, and “it just took off from there.” In 2004-05, he was engine builder of the year on Martin Truex Jr.’s two-time Busch Series championship team.
When ECR Engines was formed in 2007-08, London continued with the company, building Cup engines for a couple of years before moving to the Nationwide and Truck side. He also worked on dirt late model engines for a year before starting his tenure on the engines for professional sports car racing’s exotic prototype cars.
“It’s really been unreal,” the 40-year-old London said about his career. “Being on the engine side makes you want to win. You’re preparing for game day. To be able to get up every day and do it every day, it’s fun. I have fun getting up every morning and going to work. I’m there to win races.”
Joe Nemechek and son John Hunter will share the SWM-NEMCO Motorsports entry in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, thus allowing the team to run the entire season.
John Hunter will compete in 10 races at the track that allows a 16-year-old to race, while his father will handle the remaining 12 events.
Deb Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deb? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.