Oxford, UK (June 3, 2009) â€“ Mostly when you hear race drivers talk about the highs and lows of racing and how much any one period of their career has been a roller coaster ride, they generally speak of a struggling performance, financial woes, or any number of other legitimate personal issues they or their team might have encountered. This May, 2009, my story is one of great progress, great success, and one of tremendous sorrow.
Since competing for the Team USA Scholarship program in October, 2008, then relocating to the UK in early 2009 to compete in the MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain, Iâ€™ve worked very hard and have been rewarded with some huge success. Early in the year, along with some good networking and many might say a real leap of faith, I happened to stumble into a small team, JTR, run by a young man named Joe Tandy. He was the owner of his own operation at just 26 years old. His brother Nick, 24, pilots the lone JTR British F3 entry, while I proudly drive his number 21 Formula Ford (one of two they field). Itâ€™s kind of a storybook team run just like the ones you hear about in some Gordon Kirbyâ€™s stories about the 1970s.
The team is located in the countryside of central England and operated from inside one of the smaller barns on the Tandyâ€™s family farm which consists of 200 acres. Joeâ€™s dad, Joe Sr., works the farm all by himself except for a few times a year when he calls on his boys and a few of their friends to help with the crops. One of his biggest chores is building innovative contraptions to scare off the birds! Joe Sr. is a racer too from way back when. He gave both Joe and Nick their start in racing Ministox when they were just 11 or 12 years old. A few years back, in order to build a racing operation that would move forward, Joe decided to retire from driving himself and leave those duties to his brother Nick. They rapidly moved from a one-car Formula Ford effort to what they are today. This move is what defined Joe Tandy as an owner and earned him the respect of his competitors.
Joeâ€™s team is just what the name indicates; itâ€™s a TEAM where everyone works together to produce the best result. Weâ€™ve got some great cars, some great people, all the equipment thatâ€™s necessary to win, and we always try and look professional when we race. When I joined JTR, Joe never treated me like a kid and he never treated me like an â€œAmericanâ€ â€“ he just treated me like a professional race driver. He was the first real car owner Iâ€™d ever worked with competing for a season-long championship.
During the month of May in England, I competed in six races and I won three of them. Although half of those races where in a Formula Palmer Audi car (Joe Tandy had won the FPA championship in 2005), Joe still sent along engineering help to look after me. Then, a couple of weeks later, Joe and a close friend of his were killed in a road car accident not far from his home. I, along with the rest of the team, was devastated, but we all vowed to continue his legacy.
This last weekend, our first without Joe as our leader, we had three Formula Ford races at Rockingham â€“ and Iâ€™m very grateful that I won one of those races in his honor. The most important thing is I felt like I could have won them all. Thatâ€™s how Joe Tandy always felt when we raced together and thatâ€™s why I believe we had such a strong connection. After winning at Rockingham I could only think of one thing….This oneâ€™s for you, Joe!
This picture was taken from a field at the Tandy farm which sits up high and overlooks the small village of Pavenham below. You can see the beautiful church off in the distance where Joe was laid to rest earlier this week. I know one thing for sure, from now on whenever Iâ€™m at the JTR shop, Iâ€™ll be glancing down at the church in the village below and reminding myself of how lucky I was to have a friendship with Joe.
Joe Tandy was a racerâ€™s racer and I will never forget him. He was more than my team owner, he was my friend.