Get ready for some company, Andrettis, Rosbergs, Unsers, and Villeneuves: the Hand family is preparing to start a racing dynasty of its own.
As he heads into this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Joey Hand will also celebrate Father’s Day with the knowledge that his son Chase is following in his footsteps.
Already a six-time winner this season in karting, Chase Hand is on the way to qualifying for his first appearance at the SKUSA Supernationals in Las Vegas.
“All he wants to do is race,” the proud dad told RACER. “He’s very into it. Chase is a good student. As long as he keeps it up, I don’t mind spending money on racing.”
With his mom Natalie, a former karting champion, and a Le Mans-winning father as role models, Chase was seemingly destined to enter the family business. Joey traded baseball for karting at 13; Chase started practicing in karts at five and made the call to start racing in March.
“I decided last year that I wanted to quit baseball and go karting,” he said. “We’d practiced a little bit and I thought it was fun. I like passing. I like the racing part, fighting with another person for track position.”
Joey and Natalie met at the Prairie City track while competing against each other as kids in the greater Sacramento area in Northern California. As his success as a factory driver grew and multiple karting titles were scored, Chase’s father put his earnings together and bought Prairie City, located within 20 minutes of where they live today.
Hand would sell the kart circuit when he relocated to Ohio as his junior open-wheel career took off, but it continues to hold a special place for the family. Years after his parents met and raced at Prairie City, and long after his dad sold the facility, it’s become Chase’s favorite venue.
And in a special moment for Joey and Natalie, it’s also the site where Chase captured his first victory — in only his sixth kart race. He’ll do approximately 20 races this year and spends most afternoons — once he’s out of grade school — turning laps in his kart.
“I don’t think I won on my sixth race,” Joey said with a broad smile. “We want to give him that track time and experience he needs to get better and better at the fundamentals, like putting the kart where it needs to be and passing. That’s why we’re go out so often.”
Having lived at karting tracks throughout his youth, Hand is taking a less intense approach to his son’s introduction to racing.
“I raced 50 times a year when I was a kid,” he said. “We raced every weekend except for Mother’s Day and Christmas. I would run 5-10 classes a weekend. When we go out, we race both categories he can race in. If there are any other cars in the class, we race them. We want to maximize racing laps…the fighting, the battle. There’s no substitute for racing time. I’ve come a long way as a racer who didn’t have my own financial backing, and Chip [Ganassi] will tell you, he always looks for the guys who can get it done under pressure at the end…make the pass, whatever it is.
“Without saying it, that’s what I’m trying to get Chase to do. To learn how to race. Knowing the race craft is really how you can go far. I can teach him to drive. I can tune the go kart. The race craft is what is an experience thing. He really enjoys it, I can tell. He loves watching our racing. He has a lot of questions and you can see he really gets it. But also, I can see the wheels turning when he’s driving, about when he should go inside, things we’ve talked about with turning and trying to get the run, things like that.
“The nice thing is, every time he races we sit and talk about it. Whether they are little or big conversations, on the drive home, we kind of hash it out. What happened, what he can do better. What I would’ve done. He only has a handful of races under his belt. That’s what Natalie tells me to tell myself.”
Just like his mother and father when they were karting, Chase is expected to get his hands dirty and help with whatever’s needed at home and at the track.
“He helps me with what he can,” Hand said. “Nuts and bolts; wheels and tires. We’ll start from there.”
When Joey isn’t racing full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, or spending the week in Le Mans chasing a second victory in his Ford GT, he’s supporting Chase’s karting ambitions. And when he’s able, Chase joins his dad on the pro racing circuit to see what his future might hold.
At 39, Hand has many years left in his sports car career to complete, and provided his son continues winning, retirement plans will be moved further into the future.
“I was happy when he decided to race,” said the two-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner. “I always wondered, from a monetary standpoint, how far could I get him? Racing is expensive. Golf would be a lot cheaper! I could buy him the newest clubs three times a year for 10 percent of what I spend on karting. But I was excited because I’ve taught so many kids his age in my life and gotten close to families who have me help out their kids.
“It was fun to think I get to help my kid now, who I was hoping would have the good genes from Natalie and I for racing. Both of us were racers. I would say it’s pretty rare to have two parents who have raced and won anything, so I was excited about it and I wanted to teach him. As of now, we’re at the level we can afford it. I just want to keep it the way I did with my dad. We work in the garage; we do our own thing. We’re not hiring mechanics or anything. We go to the track together, we test together, we race together, I just want to keep it like that. Thankfully I can do it. I can manage the weekend, I can tune the car engines, I can mount the tires. We can do it together and that way he can learn. We have a good time.”
As a veteran driver who’s represented major automotive brands like BMW and Ford, Hand knows how to carry himself on and off the track. Those lessons are also part of his son’s education.
“I can tell when Chase doesn’t need to have a conversation about something that happened on the track,” Hand said. “I can tell when he knows he made a mistake, so I don’t push it. I’m not easy, that’s for sure. I have a high standard for my kids. Mainly, it’s about how you present yourself and how you hold yourself in times of good and bad.
“We had a tough weekend one weekend where he felt like he had to win and gave it up on the start and he was really upset with himself, but the key is, you’re always going to be battling these same kids, so how you show your emotion or don’t show your emotion, that’s what we’re learning. For me, I’m big on respect. We’re going to respect each other.”
Like Alex Gurney and Graham Rahal and so many other second-generation drivers that came before him, Chase Hand wants to represent the family name in motor racing. And like his dad, Big Hand, who’s always searching for ways to improve his craft, Little Hand is cut from the same cloth.
“I want to get better at passing,” he said. “I don’t have as much experience at it so I’m not as good at it yet, but I’ll work on it.”
One gets the impression Joey doesn’t need a Father’s Day present this year. That gift is being delivered by his son.
“It’s fun for me,” he said. “I’m having a blast.”