Editor’s note: NASCAR superfan of superfans, Joe Baumann, died on Friday in Erie, Pa., at age 81. We look back on an incredible life by sharing this story written by Autoweek’s Al Pearce in 2018:
Joe Baumann is such a NASCAR fan that he named two of his children Allison and Cale. He saw his first Cup Series race in 1963, driving from snow-choked Erie, Pennsylvania, to watch Tiny Lund win the Daytona 500.
He’s gone to races regularly ever since, visiting every venue multiple times. He was inducted last year into Darlington Raceway’s Fans Hall of Fame. In June, he was honored by Michigan International Speedway on the occasion of his 1,000th race.
The 79-year-old businessman discovered racing in the late ’50s, during a four-year hitch in the Navy. He attended some short-track races near Norfolk, Virginia, shortly before mustering out and returning home to join his family’s carpeting business. He dabbled briefly in Late Model and drag racing before starting his campaign to become America’s biggest NASCAR fan.
Race 1 still stands out. “It was snowing like a (expletive),” he recalls of that February day in ’63. “You couldn’t hardly see outside, but I drove all day and overnight to get there. I went to a half-dozen races that year and maybe doubled that in 1965. I began tracking them in the late ’60s, using ticket stubs and parking receipts to make my list. For 25 years I had a pool of about 100 people who rotated coming along. We went NASCAR racing somewhere almost every weekend for a long, long time.”
Baumann realized in the mid-’90s that 1,000 was within reach. He lived a lifetime dream in ’04 by doing all 36 races, leaving Fridays and almost always being home Monday afternoons.
“There may have been a few family-related things I missed, but not many,” he says. “My health has been good and I’ve been successful in business. And the thing is, I’ve always gotten where I was going. There haven’t been many on-the-road breakdowns (in cars or his motor home). In fact, I’ve never not gotten where I was going. Nothing has stopped me.”
His favorite tracks: Darlington, Bristol and Martinsville (tied), then Richmond and North Wilkesboro. His least favorite: Pocono, Fontana and Loudon, plus Watkins Glen and Sonoma. His favorite drivers: Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Richard Petty.
He likes Kurt Busch but not Kyle. He respected Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a man, but not necessarily as a driver. And he’s always been a fan of Junior Johnson. He feels that Cup Series racing isn’t as good as it once was.
“More teams can win, but fewer teams are up front, fighting for the lead,” he says. “There was more side-by-side racing and more fender-banging back then. It seemed like winning meant more to those guys. There wasn’t as much points racing or just riding. Everything is so aero-dependent now that drivers won’t touch each other. They took more chances back then because their cars were tougher.”
Despite all the time, travel and expense involved, Baumann has no regrets. And he isn’t stopping at 1,000.
“I’ve had the time of my life,” he said at Charlotte, Race 999. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’d do it all over again in a second. It’s been a really great life.”
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