Joe Graf Jr is our guest on Fan4Racing NASCAR & Race Talk, at 9 pm ET on Monday, May 13, 2019. Call 929-477-1790 or tweet @Fan4RacingSite with any questions or comments during our LIVE broadcast.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Nancy Montevechi Graf was given an opportunity to answer a few questions and discuss her role as a racing mom. She’s a lady with style and grace who lives life to its fullest and enjoys every day with her husband Joe Graf Sr., their daughter Andreah and sons Ryan and Joseph as she calls her racing son, Joe Graf Jr.
Joe Graf Jr, a freshman at New York University, along with being fourth in the ARCA Menards Series point standings, contending for the championship title for the season. Late in April, Richard Childress Racing announced that Graf is joining their organization this season as a marketing and communications intern and that he’ll drive the No. 21 Chevrolet Camero for team owner Richard Childress in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. The first race for the 20-year-old is at Michigan International Speedway in June
Learning more about Joe Graf Jr was only part of the conversation with his mom as throughout the discussion Nancy also touches on her life as a racing mom, family and her own heroic journey.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to share your role in Joseph’s career. When Joseph was growing up was there a profession that he wanted to pursue in the more typical suburban kind of way?
A: When he was little, he said he wanted to be a doctor…a Dr. Seuss…which we thought was adorable. From a very young age, he knew that he wanted to be a race car driver…and I have always imagined him that way.
Q: How was Joseph as a child?
A: He was always a very adventurous young man testing the limits and wanting to explore all of the possibilities. He was a great kid, a really great kid…but when he wanted to, he could really push your buttons.
Q: You are not your “I grew up at the racetrack” kind of Mom. How difficult a transition was it for you to blend the suburban life with the Mom of an up and coming racer?
A: The transition was easy; my husband Joe was already at the racetrack…so that was not the tough part. The difficult part was balancing my life between all of my kids and what it took to be Mom. I have pictures of Joe Sr. 15 years ago at the track so transitioning just meant another Graf at the racetrack.
Q: At what age do you think that Joseph was starting to lean towards a career as a professional racecar driver?
A: Definitely middle school. Some of his coaches at that time said I believe that we will see Joseph on television someday…and there he is on TV. Some parents try to imagine their child as a major league player or NASCAR driver…I’m not living my life through him; I’m just enjoying the ride.
Q: Let’s talk about you for a moment. You have battled through cancer twice. Please share your story.
A: Thank you for asking. My first bout with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was December 2011, the 23rd to be exact. It was two days before Christmas. I didn’t tell the kids until after Christmas and what followed was twelve rounds of chemo from January to June and at the conclusion, I was cancer free.
Life went on and I still went to the racetrack and Ryan and Joseph shaved their heads…it was very touching. In January of 2016 I went back for my yearly checkup and they didn’t like my test and unfortunately, it was back, and my treatment was even more intense than the first time.
First, we started with very aggressive chemo, I lost my hair in three weeks, then radiation, then more chemo and finally a stem cell transplant. I was in the hospital the whole month of May after I would sit at the races alone with a mask on my face watching Joseph…my immune system was weakened. Still, my family came first. And I loved watching Joseph on the track.
Q: Thank you for being so candid…what was it like for you watching your son racing?
A: When he was racing bandoleros it was simple. He started at Raceway Park in Elko, MN and when you saw the smile on his face it was easy to watch.
When he switched to Legends Cars everything changed, the car was safe but now he was racing against kids his own age plus adults that had so much more experience in a race car.
There is something to be said about watching your kid race against people much older, it was a learning year for me and Joseph.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or rituals while he is racing?
A: No, can’t say I do. I just tell him be safe, drive smart and have fun.
Q: What are your interests besides your kids and racing, what else is your passion?
A: I volunteer, I have always volunteered. To give back, whether at school, special events, the Mahwah Schools Foundation and I was co-president of the Don Bosco Mother’s Guild. Now, we have a pet shelter I volunteer at and I love to run and I lift weights for my bone density.
Q: Besides Joseph, you have two other children…tell us a little about them.
A: We have always pushed education and each of our children is their own person. Our daughter Andreah, 18, has been driven academically from day one.
She is always reading or writing a book. When she was in 4th grade the first Harry Potter book came out in October and by December she had read the entire series. She told us she would write the next book for them, we politely told her that she couldn’t.
Ryan is 13 and an interesting mix between Joseph and Andreah. He has no desire to get into a racecar. He plays basketball and lacrosse and is a very good athlete. He is so aware of what is happening around him.
As an example, if a new student moves in the area, he is the first one to go up to them to make them feel welcome. He has a gentle soul.
Q: Your husband and son have raced against each other; did you ever get the urge to make it three Graf’s in the same race?
A: No, never, they tease me that I drive fast. There was a point when they needed another driver to earn maximum points in the Legends Cars. Joseph told me I could run slow around the back. I told them I’ll leave the racing to you two.
Q: What you favorite Joseph Graf (Joe Graf Jr.) racing story?
A: It has to be Legends Stock at the Bethel Speedway. Joseph was leading Joe and I had to choose who to watch, I chose to follow Joseph and he and his Dad both won their class, but Joseph finished ahead of his Dad. It was the most exciting race; he beat his father.
Q: What is the funniest moment you can remember?
A: Joseph might not like this but getting his driver’s license was very funny. When he normally sat in my Suburban his seat was so far back that who was ever behind him was squashed. When he got into the driver’s seat the first time to actually drive his seat was so far forward, I told him he couldn’t drive that way.
Yield signs and turn signals were few and far between. In New Jersey, you have an instructor in the car when you are tested, the instructor asked me if he had any hobbies, I said he drove racecars, the instructor looked worried.
The next ARCA Menards Series race for Joe Graf Jr is this Sunday, May 19th for the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 at Toledo Speedway. Television coverage is available on MAVTV starting at 2 pm ET and ARCA members will also have available live timing and scoring along with a chat feature at arcaracing.com to keep up with the action.