Born: November 8, 1926
Home: Pittsburgh, PA Resides Now: Daytona
JOE MIHALIC: Remember When
by Don Gamble
1955, I attended my first race with my father at Mon-Duke Speedway. The
announcer spoke excitedly about one of the new young drivers at the
track, Joe Mihalic. As a youngster, Joe attended the races at
Large Speedway in South Hills of Pittsburgh to see the jalopy races.
Jalopies were cars with a steering wheel seat, an engine and a frame;
nothing else. He remembers Buddy O'Connor being there, fell in love with
racing, and decided that's what he wanted to do. In 1950, Joe built a
jalopy and took it to New Kensington Speedway to race.
When the Jalopies were discontinued,
Joe got into stock car racing. He didn't have a number
on his 1937 Chevy Coupe so he picked the #1 because it was an easy
number to paint. He ran it and won just about every race he entered.
Joe regrets that he kept no records of
features wins or anything from that era. Joe raced for several car
owners in the 1950's and occasionally fielded his own car. He drove for
the Palone brothers after Dick Linder was killed. He ran
most of the local tracks in his career. Arden Downs, Bedford, Blanket
Hill, Butler, Canfield, Claridge, Clinton, Columbus, Debo Park, Greater
Pittsburgh, Hagerstown, Heidelberg, Jennerstown, Langhorne, Lernerville,
Monduke, Morgantown, Motordrome, New Smyrna, Pittsburgh, Rose
Speedway, Schmuckers, Sharon, South Park, Spring Church,
Turnpike, Uniontown, Volusia County, and Williams Grove. Joe
turned many laps at the following NASCAR Winston Cup tracks. Atlanta,
Bristol, Charlotte, Darlington, Daytona, Dover, Richmond, Martinsville,
Michigan, Nashville, North Wilkesboro, Pocono, Rockingham, and
His favorite track was Heidelberg on
the dirt or asphalt. He really did not like racing at South Park. In
spite of his dislike for the tight quarter mile, he had a lot of success
there. One year, he did not have a ride, went to South Park, drove
different cars five weeks in a row, and won each time.
When the Palone brothers sold
their car to Pat Massaro, Mihalic went with it. He drove the
Chevy coupe for many years starting, around 1958, and spent a lot of
time in victory lane. In the early 1960's, Joe received an invitation to
go up to the Jennerstown Speedway for their season ending Championship
race. He had never raced the old 1/4 mile. Joe started last in the heat
race and finished last. He also started last in the feature and passed
the leader coming across the finish line to win. Trouble started because
the regular drivers did not like the fact that an outsider won the race.
The promoter asked him not to come back.
Joe said some of his toughest
competitors were Herb Scott, who was the toughest, and others
were Jim Bickerstaff, Bob Senneker, Ed Howe, Dick Linder, Gus Linder,
and Buddy O'Connor. Joe’s favorite competitor was Herb Scott.
Among the car owners that Mihalic drove for included: Palone
Brothers, Larry Jackson, Frank Vasko, Art Munch, Lou Viglione, Danny
Karalagas, and many more too
to mention. The Munch creation was a beautiful gold and white #57
Chevelle. Joe said that Art had a lot of knowledge about racecars but
had no financial backing. The team raced on a low budget and made the
best of what they had. Joe still turned in some very fine performances
in the car. It was completely different when he ran the Lou Viglione
#60. Joe said that he got anything he needed for the car. Viglione
treated Mihalic very good and made racing fun.
Joe changed car owners several times
during his career, but never changed his aggressive driving style. Joe
remembers the night he broke his back in a wreck at Heidelberg. Someone
lost a wheel during the race and Mihalic tried to miss it but hit it
head on. The car went airborne, came down on its nose, and rolled over.
His back took the full force of the impact and was hurting but he did
not go to the hospital. Joe was lying in the back seat of the car on the
way home when his wife convinced him to stop. The hospital took X-rays
and sent him home. The next day Joe felt good but was a little sore. The
family doctor called and said the hospital misread the X-rays and that
he had a broken back. He ended up in a body cast and traction with a two
week hospital stay.
The infamous confrontation at
Heidelberg with fellow driver Norm Benning, Sr. is something that
Joe regrets. He felt that Benning deliberately put him into the wall at
Heidelberg, so Joe slammed his helmet into Bennings elbow, injuring him.
Mihalic was suspended, the races were cancelled and all the drivers went
on strike to protest Joe's suspension. Joe never forgot all the people
who stuck up for him. When he got out of the car after being put into
the wall he saw the gas running down the track and realized that a spark
could have ended everything he really got mad! “Ed Witzberger did
what he felt he had to do when he made the decision to suspend me,” said
race that everyone remembers at Heidelberg was the Tri State
Championship150 that Mihalic won on three wheels. I was in the stands
that day and will never forget the incredible driving performance that
Mihalic displayed. On lap 94, he was three or four laps ahead of the
second place car when all of a sudden the left front wheel came off the
car. We discovered later that his plan was to make a lap and give the
pit crew time to get the jack and new wheel ready but Joe discovered
that he had no brakes. Joe learned that the faster he went the better
the car handled. There must have been a good bit of wedge in the car
because he ran 54 laps on three wheels and won. I watched the race in
Heidelberg closed, Mihalic decided to try his hand at Winston Cup
racing. Lou Viglione really gave him a break and let Joe drive
his car in 1974 Daytona 500. Entering Winston Cup racing was just like
starting all over again they didn’t know anyone. The first Twin 125
qualifying race was pretty exciting. Joe waited in the lineup before the
race not knowing what to expect. He said, “Daytona is not a hard track
to drive, but you have to watch yourself because things really happen
fast. On the other tracks you have a good chance of getting the car back
and straightened out if you get into trouble, but at Daytona, it's a
example, during one Daytona 500, Jim Vandiver passed Joe and
several other cars but when he got to the third turn, he lost it and
took out seven cars. Joe’s car was done for. Mihalic raced in Winston
Cup for about five years running as many tracks as he could on a
shoestring budget. He often bought tires the other drivers threw away.
He ran his own car starting in 1976.
Joe reflects, "It was tough because you went up against good drivers and
cars and big money. I feel that I could have represented Western
Pennsylvania much better if he had more sponsorship. The money just was
Joe liked aggressive drivers like
Dale Earnhardt. Mihalic was always in favor of starting the fast
cars in the back, even when he raced on Saturday nights. “You work your
way through traffic and put on a show. That tells you how good a driver
you really are getting through the traffic. If you start the fast cars
up front, the race is over before it even starts. That is why I admired
Mihalic says that if he had to do it
all over again he would have moved to Florida early in his career. He
said, "I had my chance to do it but backed out. That was my mistake. I
should have been down there. There were guys who got jobs driving
factory cars that did very well."
Joe Mihalic moved to Daytona Beach,
Florida in 1986 with his wife Pat after he retired from his auto
repair business in Murrysville. I drive past his former auto repair shop
everyday and often wonder if the walls could talk?
Both of Joe's children Troy and
Trent live in Florida. Joe is glad that both sons are there. He
said, "When my first marriage broke up, I had to raise the boys myself.
It was a hard job being a single parent, running a business, racing and
everything else. I was also learning to fly at the time. I would work in
the shop in the morning after I got the kids off to school. We lived
right above the shop so in the afternoon I would run upstairs to start
supper before the kids came home from school. I would run back and
forth, working on cars then running upstairs to check the stove. My sons
and I are very close. One of the hardest things I ever had to go through
was when Troy was hurt in a racing accident at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania
Motor Speedway, shortly before he moved."
Joe and his wife Pat live about a mile
from Daytona International Speedway. He can hear the cars when they race
or during test sessions. He does not attend the races much anymore
because he would rather be involved in some capacity. Sitting in the
grandstands is not for him. He usually watches all the races on
Joe felt that people thought he was
stuck up and aloof but actually he is very shy until he gets aggravated
then look out. Time goes by and things change but one thing that will
never change is the excitement Joe brought into his thirty six years of
stock car racing and that he thrilled many fans whenever he raced. Joe
Mihalic is gone from the Western Pennsylvania racing scene, but he will
never be forgotten.
(Temp Photo - Real on the way...)
Daytona 1976 - JOE MIHALIC LAMPLIGHTER CHEVY
Mihalic - An Independant Driver in the 1970s.
Pittsburgh's Joe Mihalic may not be have been a front-runner
in NASCAR's top series, but he has a great story to tell
about being an independant driver in the 1970s.
(Duration: 12min:41sec; Size: 10.1MB)
Click here to listen.
There was a stellar Class of 1975 for NASCAR Rookie of the Year
Carl Adams, Grant Adcox,
Ferrel Harris, Bruce Hill,
Travis Tiller, D.K. Ulrich
winner? Bruce Hill
Mihalic Winston Cup DRIVER Statistics
Nascar Nextel Cup Series Tickets
Copyright © 2003
by Roland Via. All rights reserved. Revised:
06/08/12 08:11:27 -0400.
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