We lost a dear friend - God Speed Joe Wozney
Many, if not most of you did not know Joe Wozney.
He was the driving force behind the DC area track and driving events for the Mercedes Club and was instrumental in allowing people like us to participate in Benz Club Events.
Joe passed away from a massive heart attack this morning.
Below is his story, and mine.
It still hasn’t sunk in and I am not sure when that will happen, but I am not looking forward to it.
I had a few hours on the plane today and I spent most of that time thinking about Joe and the impact that he had on so many lives, especially mine.
It hit me today that I knew Joe for 21 years. Aside from family, I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve known that long.
He was my friend, but also a Mentor.
In reality, he was a Mentor to all of us.
I have my Uncle Sid to thank for introducing me, my Dad and my Brother to Autocross. The introduction is due in large part to Joe Wozney. I have Joe to thank for teaching me the value of Autocross and its subtle art.
“Slower is faster…Slower is faster” is the mantra of all Autocrossers.
It was Joe who taught me what it meant and showed me how to embrace the concept. Those lessons went much further than a parking lot. Consistency at some point, means more than aggression or a will to win. I don’t remember exactly when, but Joe insisted that I ride with him while courses were set up. I was always amazed that he had this vision of what the course would look like – at least I hoped he did. It always, and I mean ALWAYS worked out. He imparted that knowledge to me, Mike Wirt, Pete Gochman and a host of others. Joe had his way of doing things, but he encouraged others to be active participants and helped us to learn our own way. One thing that was always a mystery to me was why he didn’t drive at more events. Sometimes it was a problem with the car, but not always. I genuinely think he did it for us and I GENUINELY believe that he got more pleasure out of watching us tear through a parking lot than driving himself. Joe was consistently there to help us all succeed – even 1/10th of a second at a time.
Joe’s selflessness was and is a big part of his character.
The thought of going to a big track for the first time was one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences of my life and I will always remember it. “What if I bend my car?” Joe pulled me aside and said “Look, you should do this. Not because it’s cool, not because it looks like racing, but because it will make you a better driver. But only, ONLY do it if you think you can afford it.”
Like that REALLY mattered…
I was in college. I didn’t have any money, but after talking to Joe, I was going to rob Peter to pay Paul to make this happen. I still have pictures from that weekend with Joe. I pulled them out and realized that Joe wore the most god-awful ugly tennis shoes on the planet. Some of you will remember the “Spidey” shoes that he wore. I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. I also had to laugh at another picture... I started in motorsports through drag racing. In drag racing, you put the car number in the upper right hand corner of the windshield. Not knowing any better, I put my numbers there. Joe came up to me and asked “Ummm…at any point while you are on track, do you intend to look out the windshield? Because if you do, you’ll want to move those.” DUH! Then he laughed.
That single weekend sparked a love affair with performance driving and it became an integral part of my fiber, my being.
That was 1994 and there is no price tag one could mark that would do it justice.
Two years later, Joe approached me and asked if I would be willing to instruct at a Tri-O-Rama event at Summit Point. At first, I declined. I’d never instructed before and besides, I was 25 years old – who would listen to me!?!? I didn’t think that I had the skills and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to accept the responsibility, or risk, of guiding a novice at high speed around the track. Joe was very candid and said to me “We all have to start somewhere. You can do this. You are not alone out there and you have help.” For the next few months, at autocross and on the phone, he helped to prepare me for the experience. He was patient and supportive. When the day finally came to get in the “Right Seat” – of a very expensive automobile I might add, I can’t say I was comfortable, but at Pit Out, Joe gave me a “thumbs up” and all of my anxiety disappeared.
In the years following, Joe was a sounding board and always made time to listen. Not just questions about driving, tire pressures, organization or track/AX conditions, but people. There is success in that. It eventually led to me leading and running track events, for our group and others. His suggestions and techniques taught me patience, compassion and skills that carried beyond the race track. If you can keep a green driver from panicking at a 100 MPH, then dealing with a squirrely co-worker or a person on the street becomes almost easy, but nowhere near as fun or as rewarding.
I am a “car guy”.
At least I thought I was until I met Joe. His knowledge, subtle passion for automobiles and motorsports was second to none. I especially enjoyed talking to him about the glory days of Formula 1. Before Bernie Eccelstone turned it into the world’s fastest ATM machine. I had always grown up learning about American Muscle cars. Joe educated me on Lancias, BMW, the wide array of Mercedes Benz, and countless other marquees that make being an automotive enthusiast fun. That and turning right and left is an amazing experience. However, based on Joe’s guidance, it would be a bad idea to ever own a Rover – ANY…. Rover. He also taught us that Porsche is pronounced “POOR-SHA”, not “POORSH”, and to discern “white” from “gray”.
That’s part of the magic of Joe Wozney. If we look around at the people who knew him (many received this email), to some extent, they are all “car people”. Funny thing is that many didn’t start out that way. His quiet passion stirred something in people and that drew them to him, to cars and…to each other. Many of our friendships grew out of “trying something new” – not many people wake up one morning and say “Gee…I think I will go to the race track/autocross today.”, but many did after a conversation with Joe. Now, many plan their summers around autocross and track events. I think that says a lot about Joe Wozney. Because of his influence, we have lasting friendships that transcend every conceivable echelon. We were all brought together through a common bond that Joe Wozney helped to forge.
It is important to mention, that for all his influence and contribution, there is another individual that made it possible for us all to benefit from our friendship with Joe. Bobbi Wozney should be equally celebrated when we talk about Joe Wozney. It is a very rare thing when you talk about the depth of love that two people share. Bobbi supported Joe and Joe supported Bobbi. I cannot fathom the sense of loss experienced by Bobbi, but I hope that she holds a solemn pride that her beloved Joe positively affected so many people and so many lives. It is important that Bobbi understand that SHE is as much a part of this experience as Joe. She needs us now…more than ever. And truth be told, we need her too...
Joseph Campbell wrote about the power of myth in society and how we draw inspiration from it. He said, myth emerges from human experience based firmly in the real world. A critical component to this is the role of a Mentor.
During any tale, the Mentor guides the principle(s) to a certain point in the journey. Convention dictates that the Mentor leave the story at some point to allow the principle(s) to find their own way using the knowledge and wisdom imparted by the Mentor.
Joe Wozney, as a FRIEND and Mentor left an indelible impression on our lives. His departure from this world into the next, makes him sorely missed, but his spirit, wisdom and passion resides within each of us. We carry his legacy in how we conduct our lives and our passion for all things, not just motorsports, but throughout our world.
Joe Wozney made us feel important and meaningful. Regardless of experience, skill, social standing or personality, we are all friends due in large part because of him. Without Joe, we would not know each other. Our paths might not never cross. Our lives would not be enriched from our individual experiences, knowledge, humor or passion. Although I still question the logic behind allowing Ben Weber ANYWHERE near a microphone…
We all owe Joe a debt of gratitude. Because of his influence, some of us have competed on a national stage, locally, or regionally, stood on the pit wall at Daytona – VIR – Watkins Glen – Sebring – MidOhio – Limerock – Road America – and other storied venues, driven teeth and claw with some of the best drivers in the world or simply enjoyed a weekend diversion. For most, we simply made ourselves BETTER without the need for competition. Not many can say that.
Most importantly, it brought us all together.
To think it all started with a quiet conversation with a simple guy named Joe is a pretty amazing thing.
There is a certain poetry in that.
Without question, there is a void left by Joe leaving us. However, it is replaced by a fullness that will carry us through. The next time that we slide into the driver seat and slip on a helmet, Joe Wozney is there. He will ALWAYS be there – in the flick of a steering wheel, a jab at a brake pedal or over a White Russian with friends that share a common passion, he will ALWAYS be with us.
That is an incredible gift. One that I will cherish forever.
God Speed Joe Wozney and I will see you on the backstretch.
I'm not from the DC area, nor have I had the priveledge to know Joe, but felt obligated to read the entire post.
Very moving words.....
My condolences to all that will miss him.
I don't know this Joe, but have met some really good people in the classy car clubs before and I am sorry to hear for the loss, but God has his ways of doing things in which we will never truely understand.
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